From their B&Bs to waterfront parks, Minnesota’s small towns are some of the most scenic and fun, but a lot of people don’t know about their history.These 20 towns are beloved by many a Minnesotan, and now, you’ll know how they came to be!
We’re aware that these uncertain times are limiting many aspects of life as we all practice social and physical distancing. While we’re continuing to feature destinations that make our state wonderful, we don’t expect or encourage you to go check them out immediately. We believe that supporting local attractions is important now more than ever and we hope our articles inspire your future adventures! And on that note, please nominate your favorite local business that could use some love right now:
Drawn to the beautiful bluff country of Minnesota and the agricultural opportunities of the Root River, people flocked to Lanesboro in the late 1800s after it was founded in 1868. When the rail service was abandoned however in the 1900s, the town was struggling to hold on. In the 1980s though, things took a happy turn when the old railroad line was developed into the Root River State Trail. Local artists also created the Lanesboro Arts Council and the town became a center for arts and recreation and a tourist favorite.
Stillwater was incorporated in 1854, on the same day as St. Paul. It is one of MN's oldest cities. Settlers were drawn to the place for the logging opportunities the surrounding area and river provided. It was also the location of the territorial convention that led to Minnesota's statehood, and was chosen to host the territory's first prison. It remained a busy logging town throughout the rest of the 1800s, and was also the site of the automatic pop-up toaster invention in 1921.
3. Taylors Falls
It was the previous site of the the "Battle of St. Croix Falls" in which the Chippewa drove out the Sioux and Fox tribes in the area. When Native Americans ceded the land to the US, this area was immediately used for the potential of the falls. In the 1800s it was a big logging community, although the river dalles caused many log jams. The community also used the power of the water for milling, and finally the building of the hydropower plant.
Founded and named by Joseph R. Brown for his mother's family, this small town has been around since 1852. It lies in the historic Minnesota River Valley, an area turns out most of the nation's sweet corn.
5. Two Harbors
The two natural bays on Lake Superior were originally two separate communities of Agate Bay and Burlington. When the ore dock was built in Agate Bay, the community began to thrive, and the two joined to form the town of Two Harbors. It was formed in 1885, and was the birthplace of 3M in the early 1900s.
An agriculture, lumber, and milling town on the Cannon River, Northfield was founded by New England immigrants. For a while, dairy operations also took over the town industry, although now the main crops are corn and soybeans. It is also a college town, hosting 2 schools, and the community is still growing. It is known as a great tourism center, and each year the town celebrates when the town foiled the attempt of the James-Younger Gang to rob the First National Bank of Northfield.
7. New Ulm
Named after Neu-Ulm in Germany, this town founded by the German Land Company of Chicago is home to the August Schell Brewing Company. The town was attacked during the Dakota War of 1862 (twice in fact) and the town was also a center of conflict during WWI when the heritage of the town brought any antiwar discussion under extreme scrutiny. During WWII, German POWS were housed just southeast of the town. It has many historic sites like Turner Hall and the Hermann Heights Monument.
When a detachment from Fort Snelling was sent to guard a shipment of supplies in 1820, their camp was in a location that would grow to a trading post, and eventually become the town of Hastings.
This town has been around since 1869 when the railroad reached the site of the town. It is situated in a perfect spot for diverse farming, and thus has a history of great agriculture and dairy production.
Daniel Lindström and a group of Swedish settlers found their perfect spot to land in 1880, and the town was formed in 1894. It is a center for Swedish heritage, and pays tribute to author Vilhelm Moberg's novels about Swedish emigration with a togo logo of the two main characters, Karl Oskar and Kristina.
From fur traders to gold ro iron ore, Ely was always booming with people trying to make their fortunes. With the railroad, came even more mining operations. It was also home to a logging and milling community that slowly faded away, while mining continued. The town was named for mining executive Samuel B. Ely of Michigan. The town has now become a center for recreation, particularly in and around the BWCAW and Voyageur's National Park.
12. Walnut Grove
Incorporated in 1879, this town is known as the home of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum. Her little brother, "Freddy' was born in Walnut Grove, although he died before his first birthday. It was originally a pioneer settlement, and grew into an agricultural community. It is still a small town, although in recent years it has had an influx of Hmong immigrants.
Pipestone County Historical Society has been around since 1880 because of the town and areas rich history. The stunning prairie in which Pipestone sits was the homeland of the Dakota , where many animals roamed and a sacred place to many. It is home of the largest pipe in the world and many visit to see the national monument and watch pipestone being carved into crafts and pipes.
14. Grand Marais
This favorite North Shore town was a center for fur trading, and is named for the French translation of "Great Marsh" for the nearby marsh on the bay where the settlement began. It was a trading center that was incorporated in 1903, and while it remains small today, it is known as a wonderful arts community an a gateway to the BWCAW.
15. Red Wing
Originally the site of wheat farming and milling the town was named after a Sioux Chief. When the railroad began to connect the rest of MN to the Twin Cities and their milling industry Red Wing's port lost business. The settlers built up shops with the trades they previously worked in New England, and in 1861, the glacially deposited clay was discovered and the pottery and stoneware industries took off.
A township originally called Smiley, was renamed to Nisswa an Ojibwe word meaning "in the middle" or "three", when it was incorporated in 1908. Logging was a big industry in the area, and it was also along the former Leech Lake Trail that Native Americans would travel along. The town was established along the railroad, which almost went a different route, but due to expensive construction costs, was remapped along the Leech Lake Trail. To some, Nisswa is known as "the city almost never was".
Another northern fur trading town, the Ojibwa pushed out the Dakota, and were followed by settlers in this area. After the railroad was built, the town was founded and named after Thomas B. Walker the logging business owner to hopefully bring a sawmill, which instead was set up in Akeley. However logging grew, and then as it declined in the later twentieth century, tourism became a primary focus. It was also the home of the Ah-Gwah-Ching Center for tuberculosis patients, which later became a state nursing home for psychiatric patients before being closed in 2008.
Meaning "iron" or "valuable" in the Ojibwa dialect, this town was also an area of native important, and later of trading significance. It was then settled by gold prospectors and miners. It was incorporated in 1893 and the mining industry sustained the town for quite some time. As mining slowed, agriculture and tourism have taken over.
Originally a Native American community called Keoxa, this area was settled in 1851 by people from New England, and was a massive center for logging, milling, steam boating, and railroads. The port was crucial in the growth of the Mississippi River industry. The railroads grew, and the Railway Bridge was the second of its kind to span the river. It is known know for its historic architecture, and culture of art and music.
Another of MN's mining towns, Hibbing was named for a businessman and iron ore prospector who found the deposits that allowed Hibbing to grow. Hibbing was the birthplace of Greyhound Buses, which started as a line between Hibbing and Alice. It is home to the world's largest iron ore mine, and in fact, the town was relocated when the Oliver Mining Company wanted to expand the mine around 1920.