Before beginning on the early history of Finley, it is only fair to mention the men and their corporations that promoted this area, and in turn helped give birth to the present city of Finley.
The Red River Land Company was incorporated April 18, 1880, in Minneapolis with a capital stock of $500,000.00. The original directors of this company were J. A. Steele, President, S. S. Small, Vice-President, and E. H. Steele, Secretary-Treasurer, all of Minneapolis.
October 15, 1880 the Red River Land Company purchased all of the Northern Pacific Railroad Company's land in Townships 144 to 146, inclusive, Ranges 55 and 56, now known as Easton, Sherbrooke, Melrose, Hugo, Carpenter and Colgate Townships, this land holding consisting of every odd numbered section. At the time of the purchase there were not more than a half dozen inhabitants within twenty miles of the present City of Hope. They began an intense advertising campaign to boom the sale of their lands to Easterners. In the spring of 1882 they began the erection of a forty room hotel, electrically lighted, in order to accommodate the land seekers. The building and its fixtures cost $40,000.00 and the "Hope House" was famous far and near and proved to be a fine asset to the Town of Hope.
It was through their efforts that a hardy and determined class of people became the pioneers of Steele County. It was also partially through their efforts that the railroad was extended into the county in 1882 and completed through it in 1896. On Sunday, November 1st, 1896 an excursion train from Hope made its first stop at the twin cities of Gilbert and Finley on its way to Aneta.
Even before the railroad was completed through the county, several enterprising settlers had begun what was to become the City of Finley. The purpose for some of these settlers of course was purely speculative. They could buy the property at a low enough price and after the railroad came through sell their property realizing a fair profit. For some, of course, these investments were to become their livelihood and their homes.
The first town in what is now the city of Finley was called "Gilbert". This enterprising village was located on the Northwest 1/4 of the Southwest 1/4 of the Northwest 1/4 of Section 32, Township 147, Range 56. For those of you more familiar with Finley, this would be approximately within a. line from Mason Linnell's house south to Ted Jacobsons; then east to Art Johnsons, then north to Willard Jacobsons, returning the line then westward to Mason Linnells.
The original plat for this town was filed on September 18, 1896 by Mary E. Patterson. It had been surveyed sometime during that same month by Frank A. Smith. Some of the earliest settlers there were: Mary E. Patterson, William Patterson, Robert D. Patterson, C. J. Long, B. F. Wade, C. K. Norcott, A. B. Cochrane, Nels Arneson and Nels Qualey.
At approximately the same time another town was begun just on the west side of the railroad tracks on what is known as the Original Townsite of Finley. This town, named Walker, was an inspiration of The Dwight Farm & Land Company. The town was named in honor of a Bishop Walker, who used to travel the state and give his sermons from the back of railroad cars. Sometime during the fall of 1896 the Dwight Farm & Land Company learned there was another town called "Walker" on the Great Northern Railway line and they changed the name of their town to "Finley" in honor of J. B. Finley, an official of the Great Northern Railroad Company. An early misconception was that the town had been named after L. O. Finn, of Hope, who had erected the first building in the town. This building was the office of the Dwight Farm & Land Company, and is believed to be still standing. It is presently owned and occupied by Earl Spriggs, as the Spriggs Barber Shop on Main Street.
In October of 1896 William Patterson's town of Gilbert seemed to be leading Finley as C. K. Norcott had a general store doing a thriving business; there were also a livery stable owned by Horace Long, a restaurant, blacksmith shop, and a coal and wood yard. A petition had also been circulated for a post office with Mrs. Norcott as postmistress. There were also plans for the Cargill Brothers Elevator Company and the St. Anthony Elevator Company to erect houses there. Finley had only a land office and a town pump. Then the roof seemed to fall in on Gilbert. There had been thirteen business lots and two residential lots sold to the early settlers. The persons however, who had been selling. the lots did not have clear title to the land and it reverted to the legal owner, W. H. M. Philip.
Then in January of 1897 a deal was made whereby the owners of the Townsite of Finley purchased the entire Townsite of Gilbert. The two towns then combined under the name of Finley. Finley was incorporated as a village in November of 1903 with the following officers elected: President, Frank E. Curry; Clerk, H. C. Bergum; Trustees, E. J. Pepper, Alf Windness, R. D. Patterson and B. J. Long. The Marshall was W. H. Potter.
On July 12, 1926 Finley was incorporated as a city. The officers were: Mayor, B. J. Long; Clerk, Halfdan Petterson; Treasurer, E. H. Gilbertson; Aldermen, Samuel Oxton, A. H. Nelson, Knud Furos, and A. B. Mickelson.
Source: Finley 75th Diamond Jubilee 1897 – 1972 Page 1