Minnesota: Houston County

Houston County (pop. 19,027) is in the far southeastern corner of Minnesota, bordered by Wisconsin (across the Mississippi River) on the east and Iowa on the south.

Houston County was named for Sam Houston (1793-1863), the first president of the Republic of Texas.

Also its third president

Much of the county is in the Richard J. Dorer Memorial Hardwood State Forest.

The county seat is Caledonia (pop. 2,868).

Houston County Courthouse (1883)

The city of La Crescent (pop. 4,830), along the Mississippi, calls itself the Apple Capital of Minnesota.

La Crescent apple orchard

The town of Houston (pop. 979) has an International Festival of Owls every year.

NEXT STATE: SOUTH CAROLINA (Coming soon)

Minnesota: Fillmore County

Fillmore County (pop. 20,866) was named for Millard Fillmore, the 13th president of the United States.

The only other Fillmore County is in Nebraska.

The county, along Minnesota’s southern border with Iowa, has only one stoplight – in the city of Chatfield (pop. 2,779), which is partly in Olmsted County.

The county seat of Fillmore County is Preston (pop. 1,325), which calls itself America’s Trout Capital.

Preston’s 20-foot trout

Preston’s former jail, sheriff’s residence, and courthouse (built in 1870) is now the Jailhouse Inn Bed and Breakfast.

The jail relocated in 1970.

Mystery Cave State Park is just west of Preston.

The longest cave in Minnesota that’s open to the public

The town of Harmony (pop. 1,020) and the surrounding area have the largest Amish population in Minnesota.

Many Amish moved from Ohio to Minnesota in the 1970s.

In Spring Valley (pop. 2,479), the former Methodist Episcopal Church is now a Spring Valley Community Historical Society museum.

Laura and Almanzo Wilder attended 1890-91.

The town of Fountain  (pop. 410) is the western terminus of the Root River segment of the 60-mile Blufflands State Trail.

Mostly on a Milwaukee Road railbed

NEXT: HOUSTON COUNTY

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Minnesota: Mower County

Mower County (pop. 39,163), the only Mower County in the U.S., was named for John Edward Mower, a member of the Minnesota Territorial Legislature.

Mower is one of only four Minnesota counties without a natural lake, but its Lake Louise State Park (1963) has a 25-acre man-made lake.

It’s less crowded than the Lake Louise in Canada.

The county seat of Mower County is Austin (pop. 24,718), home of Hormel Foods Corporation.

Spam Town USA in 1910

The SPAM Museum in Austin is a popular tourist attraction.

“The world’s most comprehensive collection of spiced pork artifacts”

Austin is on the 338-mile Cedar River, which flows south into Iowa and eventually joins the Iowa River.

Its waters reach the Mississippi in southeastern Iowa.

Downtown Austin’s Paramount Theatre (1929) has been restored and now hosts a variety of concerts, films, and special events.

The Lovin’ Spoonful (without John Sebastian) played on March 2.

In the town of Grand Meadow (pop. 1,139), the K-12 Grand Meadow Public School has its classrooms, offices, cafeteria, and gym in five domes.

Elementary grades in one dome, secondary in another

NEXT: FILLMORE COUNTY

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Minnesota: Freeborn County

Freeborn County (pop. 31,255) is east of Faribault County. It was named for William Freeborn, a member of the first Minnesota Territorial Legislature.

The county seat is Albert Lea (pop. 18,016), named for Albert Miller Lea, who surveyed southern Minnesota and northern Iowa in 1835.

Fountain Lake, one of six lakes in Albert Lea

The Marion Ross Performing Arts Center is named for actress Marion Ross, who lived in Albert Lea as a young girl.

Marion Cunningham on “Happy Days”

Early rock ‘n’ roller Eddie Cochran (1938-60) was born in Albert Lea.

He died in a traffic accident at age 21.

Myre-Big Island State Park is just east of Albert Lea.

A causeway attaches Big Island to the mainland.

The paved Blazing Star State Trail connects central Albert Lea with the state park.

Six miles long

The town of Hayward (pop. 250) claims the record for the longest game of horseshoes, set in 1930 between the postmaster and the train station agent.

It lasted five months and four days.

NEXT: MOWER COUNTY

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Minnesota: Faribault County

Faribault County (pop. 14,553) is just east of Martin County, on Minnesota’s southern border with Iowa. Faribault County’s population reached its peak of 23,941 in 1940.

The county seat of Faribault County is Blue Earth. The city of Faribault is the county seat of Rice County. The county seat of Blue Earth County is Mankato.

Blue Earth County is north, and Rice County is northeast.

The city of Blue Earth (pop. 3,353) is on the Blue Earth River.

Faribault County Courthouse (1892)

Blue Earth has a 55-foot statue of the Jolly Green Giant, installed in 1979.

The reason is complicated.

Construction of I-90, the longest Interstate highway in the U.S. (from Seattle to Boston), was completed in 1978 near Blue Earth. A plaque and a “Golden Stripe” commemorate the event.

Similar to the “Golden Spike” at Promontory Summit, Utah

The former First National Bank in the town of Winnebago (pop. 1,437) is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Built in 1917

The town of Frost (pop. 198) was not named for ice crystals; it was named for Charles S. Frost, a Chicago architect.

Census data for Frost

NEXT: FREEBORN COUNTY

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Minnesota: Martin County

Martin County (pop. 20,840) is just east of Jackson County. It’s one of six Martin counties in the U.S.

The county seat of Martin County is Fairmont (pop. 10,666). Fairmont has a string of five lakes on its west side.

Aerial view of Fairmont

The Martin County Courthouse was built in 1907.

The Fairmont Opera House was built in 1901.

It hosts a variety of concerts and other events.

According to legend, the naming of the town of Ceylon (pop. 369) was inspired by a box of tea from Ceylon.

Walter Mondale was born in Ceylon.

The town of Welcome was named for early homesteader Alfred M. Welcome.

Trinity Lutheran Church, Welcome

NEXT: FARIBAULT COUNTY

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Minnesota: Jackson County

Jackson County (pop. 10,266) is one of 24 Jackson counties in the U.S.

Named for Henry Jackson

Jackson County is east of Nobles County, on the border with Iowa.

The county seat is Jackson (pop. 3.299). At least 19 states have cities named Jackson.

Jackson County Courthouse (1908)

Jackson’s State Theatre, dating from the 1920s, shows first-run movies.

Art Deco style

The Okabena Bank in the town of Okabena (pop. now 188) was robbed by Bonnie and Clyde in 1933.

The real Bonnie and Clyde

Kilen Woods State Park is in the northeastern part of the county.

The park is along the Des Moines River.

Walter Mondale, U.S. vice president 1977-81, attended Heron Lake High School in Heron Lake (pop. now 698); his father was a minister in the town.

NEXT: MARTIN COUNTY

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Minnesota: Nobles County

Nobles County (pop. 21,378) is just east of Rock County. Named for William H. Nobles, a member of the Minnesota Territorial Legislature, it is the only Nobles County in the U.S.

The county is located along Buffalo Ridge, a 60-mile-long area of rolling hills in southwestern Minnesota. Buffalo Ridge has recently become an important center for the generation of wind power.

Ribbon-cutting for a wind turbine near Worthington

The county seat of Nobles County is Worthington (pop. 12,764).

Downtown Worthington

The Nobles County Historical Society has moved 49 historic buildings onto a site in Worthington, creating Nobles County Pioneer Village.

Established in 1968

Worthington has celebrated King Turkey Day annually since 1940.

The King Turkey Day parade

The St. Adrian Catholic Church in the town of Adrian (pop. 1,209) was built in 1900.

On the National Register of Historic Places

Kinbrae (pop. 12) is the third-smallest city in Minnesota.

NEXT: JACKSON COUNTY

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Minnesota: Rock County

Rock County (pop. 9,687) is in the southwestern corner of Minnesota, bordered by South Dakota on the west and Iowa on the south.

Nebraska and Wisconsin also have Rock counties.

Rock County is one of four Minnesota counties with no natural lakes, but Blue Mounds State Park has a small reservoir. The park has a herd of more than 100 bison.

The herd began in 1961 with three animals.

The county seat of Rock County is Luverne (pop. 4,745).

Rock County Courthouse (1890)

The Palace Theatre in Luverne (1915) hosts a variety of events, including live theater, concerts, and movies.

Owned by the city

Luverne was one of the cities featured in Ken Burns’ 2007 PBS series about World War II, “The War.”¬† The film had its world premiere at the Palace Theatre.

The six-mile Blue Mounds Hiking and Biking Trial connects Luverne with Blue Mounds State Park.

It opened in 2003.

The Verne Drive-In Theater in Luverne is one of the few remaining drive-ins in Minnesota.

Summer only

NEXT: NOBLES COUNTY

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Minnesota: Pipestone County

Pipestone County (pop. 9,596) is west of Murray County, on the border with South Dakota.

The county was named for the brownish-red rock that has been quarried in the area by Native Americans for centuries – for use in making sacred pipes.

Pipestone is an extremely soft rock.

Pipestone National Monument, created in 1933, preserves the quarries for exclusive use of Native Americans.

The quarries are in a tallgrass prairie.

The monument has a short trail to Winnewissa Falls.

On Pipestone Creek

The county seat of Pipestone County is the town of Pipestone (pop. 4,317).

Pipestone County Courthouse (1901)

The four-story Calumet Hotel, now known as the Calumet Inn, opened in downtown Pipestone in 1888.

Still open as a hotel

Pipestone has a 132-foot, concrete water tower, built in 1921. It was replaced by a newer tower in 1976.

There’s a Water Tower Festival every June.

A famous photograph was taken on July 8, 1927, of a tornado near the town of Jasper (pop. now 633).

It’s featured on the cover of Deep Purple’s 1974 album “Stormbringer.”

Pipestone County has no natural lakes, but Split Rock Lake was created when the Works Project Administration built a dam in 1938.

It’s in Split Rock Creek State Park.

The Woodstock Music Festival (1969) was not held in Woodstock, Minnesota (pop. 124).

Three days of peace, love, and understanding

NEXT: ROCK COUNTY

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