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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Minnesota: Murray County

Murray County (pop. 8,725) is just west of Cottonwood County. It has more than 70 lakes.

The state of Minnesota has had two F5 tornadoes since 1950, and both of them have been in Murray County: the Tracy Tornado on June 13, 1968, and the Chandler-Lake Wilson Tornado on June 16, 1992.

The Tracy Tornado killed nine people.

The county seat of Murray County is Slayton (pop. 2,157).

Slayton in 1907

The town of Fulda (pop. 1,318) has a two-story Milwaukee Road depot that dates from 1880.

On the National Register of Historic Places

Lake Shetek is the largest lake in southwestern Minnesota. Lake Shetek State Park was developed from 1934 to 1941.

The source of the Des Moines River

The town of Currie (pop. 233), “The Gateway to Lake Shetek,” is the home of the End-O-Line Railroad Park and Museum.

An old depot was moved to the site.

NEXT: PIPESTONE COUNTY

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Minnesota: Cottonwood County

Cottonwood County (pop. 11,687), west of Watonwan County, was named for the Cottonwood River, which was named for the trees along its banks.

The northeastern part of the county is drained by the Cottonwood River, which flows into the Minnesota River and then the Mississippi; the southwestern part of the county is drained by the Des Moines River, which joins the Mississippi at Keokuk, Iowa.

Des Moines River watershed

The county seat is Windom (pop. 4,646).

Cottonwood County Courthouse (1904)

The Des Moines River runs through Windom; the river is popular for canoeing and kayaking.

In winter there’s a Darn Cold Croquet Contest.

Near the town of Jeffers (pop. 369) is the Jeffers Petroglyphs Historic Site, with more than 2,000 images made by Native Americans over thousands of years on a large rock outcrop.

NEXT: MURRAY COUNTY

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Minnesota: Watonwan County

Watonwan County (pop. 11,211) is west of Blue Earth County. It’s the only Watonwan County in the U.S.

The county seat is St. James (pop. 4,605).

Watonwan County Courthouse (1896)

The Grand Opera House in St. James was built in 1892.

On the National Register of Historic Places

In the town of Madelia (pop. 2,308), the Madelia Theater (1934) still shows first-run movies.

Tickets are $5.

The Younger Gang (Bob, Cole, and Jim) were captured near Madelia in 1876 after their famous  attempt, with the James Gang, to rob the First National Bank of Northfield.

Cole’s gun

The town of Butterfield (pop. 586) hosts the Butterfield Threshing Bee every August.

Since 1967

There is some disagreement about how the town of Darfur (pop. 108) got its name; it may have had to do with the “dark fur” on local otters, or it may have come from a conversation in which one Scandinavian railroad worker said to another, “Why you stop dar fur?”

Probably not from the war-torn region of Sudan

NEXT: COTTONWOOD COUNTY

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Minnesota: Blue Earth County

Blue Earth County (pop. 64,013), west of Waseca County, was named for the 108-mile-long Blue Earth River; the river was named for the blue-green clay that was once found on its banks.

The county seat is Mankato (pop. 39,309), located where the Blue Earth River joins the Minnesota River.

Sibley Park, Mankato

Minnesota State University, Mankato, has about 15,000 students. It was founded in 1868 as the Minnesota Normal School.

Also formerly known as Mankato State Teachers College

The Blue Earth County Courthouse was built in 1889.

In the French and Italian Renaissance style

The First National Bank of Mankato was built in 1913 in the Prairie School style.

The Happy Chef chain of restaurants is headquartered in Mankato; the first Happy Chef opened in 1963 in Mankato.

Breakfast served all day

Minneopa State Park is just west of Mankato.

Minneopa Falls

The park contains the Seppman Mill, a stone windmill that was built in 1864.

The stone walls are 32 feet tall.

The town of Lake Crystal (pop. 2,549) is on the shores of Lake Crystal.

NEXT: WATONWAN COUNTY

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Minnesota: Waseca County

Waseca County (pop. 19,136) is just west of Steele County. The county seat is Waseca (pop. 9,410).

Waseca is a Dakota word meaning “rich” or “fertile.”


The Waseca County Courthouse was built in 1897.

In the Richardsonian Romanesque style

Waseca had a branch of the University of Minnesota from 1971 to 1992; it was closed for budgetary reasons, and the campus was turned into a low-security Federal Correctional Institution for Women.

The university focused on agricultural education.

Waseca has a 4.6-mile bike path around Clear Lake.

The town of Janesville (pop. 2,256) still uses its 1912 Carnegie library.

Janesville Free Public Library

NEXT: BLUE EARTH COUNTY

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Minnesota: Steele County

Steele County (pop. 36,576), just west of Dodge County, was named for Franklin Steele (1813-1880). America’s only other Steele County, in North Dakota, was named for Edward Steele (1846-1899).

The Steele County Courthouse (1891) in Owatonna

Interstate 35 – which goes 1,568 miles from Duluth to Laredo, Texas – runs north-south through the middle of Steele County.

It also goes through Ames, Iowa.

The 56-mile Straight River runs through the county seat of Owatonna (pop. 25,599).

It’s actually somewhat windy.

Louis Sullivan’s National Farmers’ Bank (1908) in Owatonna is an outstanding example of Prairie School architecture.

Now a Wells Fargo bank

The Steele County Free Fair, held every August in Owatonna, bills itself as the largest county fair and the largest free fair in Minnesota.

More than 300,000 people attended in 2012.

Federal Mutual Insurance Company, founded in Owatonna in 1900, is still headquartered there.

It has about 1,500 employees.

Actor E.G. Marshall (1914-1998) was born in Owatonna and attended Carleton College and the University of Minnesota.

With Robert Reed in “The Defenders” (1961-65)

Medford (pop. 1,239), on I-35, claims to be the second-smallest city in the U.S. with a McDonald’s restaurant.

Medford Outlet Center

NEXT: WASECA COUNTY

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Minnesota: Dodge County

Dodge County (pop. 20,087) is just west of Olmsted County.

The county seat is Mantorville (pop. 1,197). The Dodge County Courthouse is the oldest working courthouse in Minnesota.

Built in 1865

The Mantorville area has been known since the 19th century for its quarries of “Mantorville limestone.” The courthouse and the Mantorville Opera House (1918) were built from the limestone.

Now home of the Mantorville Theatre Company

Kasson, the largest city in Dodge County (pop. 5,931), has an historic water tower (no longer used for water supply) built of limestone.

Built in 1895

The Kasson Municipal Building (Old City Hall) was built in the Prairie School style in 1917.

Most recently, it housed a printing business.

The Kasson State Theatre (1937) still shows first-run movies.

220 seats

Wasioja Township (pop. 963) has Civil War Days every summer.

Battle of Bull Run (2011)

NEXT: STEELE COUNTY

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Minnesota: Olmsted County

Just west of Winona County is Olmsted County (pop. 144,248).  Its county seat is Rochester, the third-largest city in Minnesota.

Rochester was named for Rochester, New York; its population has grown from 40,663 in 1960 to 106,769 in 2010.

Most of downtown’s tall buildings are part of the Mayo Clinic.

Rochester is famous for its Mayo Clinic; Dr. William Worrall Mayo (1819-1911) started the medical practice that eventually became the Mayo Clinic.

Statue of William W. Mayo

More than 30,000 people work at the Mayo Clinic, and the clinic has more than a million patient visits each year.

IBM is another large employer in Rochester, with more than 4,000 workers at its Rochester facility.

IBM Rochester (1958), designed by Eero Saarinen

Downtown Rochester’s Chateau Theatre (1927) was converted into a Barnes & Noble bookstore in 1994.

Minnesota’s finest “atmospheric” theater

The University of Minnesota Rochester opened in downtown Rochester in 2006.

This building combines classrooms and student residences.

The 38-room Mayowood Mansion, home of three generations of the Mayo family, is open for tours.

Stewartville (pop. 5,916) was the birthplace of Richard Warren Sears (1863-1914), cofounder of Sears, Roebuck, and Company.

NEXT: DODGE COUNTY

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Minnesota: Winona County

Winona County (pop. 51,461) is southeast of Wabasha County, along the Mississippi River.

The county seat is Winona (pop. 27,592), for which the actress Winona Ryder was named – although she was born in nearby Olmsted County.

In “Little Women”

Winona, which was a major wheat-shipping port in the late 1800s, celebrates Steamboat Days every summer.

A rocky pinnacle called Sugar Loaf is a landmark in the Winona area.

Its shape resulted from limestone quarrying in the 1880s.

The Winona County Courthouse was built in 1889.

In the Richardsonian Romanesque style

The Church of Saint Stanislaus was built in 1895.

Founded by Polish Catholics

Watkins Incorporated has been based in Winona since 1885; Watkins sells a variety of health-related and household products, mainly through direct sales.


Watkins invented the “money-back guarantee” in 1868.

The town of Rollingstone (pop. 664) got its name from the Rollingstone River, which was called “the stream where the stone rolls” by the Dakota Indians.

Church of the Holy Trinity, Rollingstone, founded by Luxembourgers

NEXT: OLMSTED COUNTY

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Minnesota: Wabasha County

Wabasha County (pop. 21,676) is east of Goodhue County and across the Mississippi River from Wisconsin.

Much of the county is adjacent to Lake Pepin, the largest natural lake along the Mississippi.

It’s about 20 miles long and two miles wide.

According to legend, Lake Pepin is the home of a lake monster that bears a resemblance to the Loch Ness Monster.

Laura Ingalls Wilder was born just a few miles from Lake Pepin – in the “big woods” on the Wisconsin side.

The county seat of Wabasha County is the town of Wabasha (pop. 2,521), located at the confluence of the Mississippi and Chippewa rivers.

Downtown Wabasha

Wabasha was the setting for the movies “Grumpy Old Men” and “Grumpier Old Men.”

Although not actually filmed there

Wabasha now hosts a Grumpy Old Men Festival every February.

Events include Frostbite Frisbee.

The Anderson House Hotel (1856) in Wabasha was the oldest continuously operating inn in Minnesota until it closed in 2009.

The Anderson House Hotel

The National Eagle Center is in Wabasha.

The interpretive center overlooks the Mississippi.

Lake City (pop. 5,067) is the largest city in Wabasha County. In 1890 a Mississippi excursion boat, the Sea Wing, overturned on Lake Pepin near Lake City in a storm, resulting in the drowning deaths of 98 persons.

Lake City City Hall (1899)

Ralph Samuelson (1904-77) of Lake City invented the sport of water skiing on Lake Pepin in 1922.

NEXT: WINONA COUNTY

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Minnesota: Goodhue County

Goodhue County (pop. 46,183) is between Rice County and the Mississippi River.

The county seat is Red Wing (pop. 16,459); Red Wing Shoes Company was founded in Red Wing in 1905, and the company is still headquartered there.

The World’s Largest Boot, at the flagship store in Red Wing

Barn Bluff in Red Wing is a landmark along the Mississippi, rising 400 feet above the river.

Barn Bluff, Red Wing, and the Mississippi

Amtrak’s “Empire Builder,” between Chicago and Seattle (and Portland), stops at Red Wing’s old Milwaukee Road depot.

It opened in 1905.

The T.B. Sheldon Memorial Auditorium opened in Red Wing in 1904.

It’s now called the Sheldon Concert Hall.

Bob Dylan’s song “Walls of Red Wing,” recorded in 1963, was about the reform school for boys in Red Wing – now the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Red Wing.

“Oh, some of us will end up in St. Cloud prison.”

The town of Zumbrota (pop. 3,252) has Minnesota’s last remaining covered bridge.

Located 100 yards from its original (1869) location

Cannon Falls (pop. 4,083) is the home of Pachyderm Studio, where Nirvana recorded “In Utero” in 1993.

Their third and final studio album.

NEXT: WABASHA COUNTY

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Minnesota: Rice County

Rice County (pop. 64,142) is just east of Le Sueur County.

Faribault (pop. 23,352), the county seat, is home of the Minnesota State Academies for the Deaf and the Blind, both founded in 1863.

Noyes Hall, Academy for the Deaf

The Buckham Memorial Library was a gift to the city of Faribault from Anna Buckham in honor of her husband, Judge Thomas Scott Buckham.

Opened in 1930

Shattuck-St. Mary’s School is an Episcopal Church-affiliated boarding school in Faribault.

NHL All-Star Sidney Crosby played hockey there.

Actor Marlon Brando attended Shattuck School in the 1930s, but he dropped out before graduation.

“The Wild One” (1953)

Herbert Sellner of Faribault invented the Tilt-a-Wheel in 1926; his Sellner Manufacturing company in Faribault built the rides for many years.

He first built them in his basement.

The town of Northfield (pop. 20,007) is well-known as the home of two liberal arts colleges – Carleton (founded by Congregationalists in 1866) and Saint Olaf (founded by Lutherans in 1874).

Carleton’s Skinner Memorial Chapel (1916)

Peter Tork of The Monkees attended Carleton from 1960-63.

So did economist Thorstein Veblen (class of 1880)

In 1876, James-Younger Gang tried to rob the First National Bank of Northfield. Two gang members and two Northfield citizens died in the unsuccessful robbery.

Robert Duvall was Jesse James

NEXT: GOODHUE COUNTY

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Minnesota: Le Sueur County

Le Sueur County (pop. 27,703), east of Sibley County, is the only county in the U.S. where the county and the county seat (Le Center) both begin with “Le.”

Le Sueur County Courthouse (1896)

The county was named for Pierre-Charles Le Sueur (1657-1704), the first European to explore the Minnesota River Valley.

The river is the county’s western border.

Le Center (pop. 2,499) was placed in the center of the county to be the county seat; over the years, its name changed from Lesueur Center to Le Sueur Center to Center to (in 1931) Le Center.

The county also has a town called Le Sueur (pop. 4,058). The Green Giant Company (known for its frozen peas) was founded in LeSueur in 1903 as the Minnesota Valley Canning Company; it was later acquired by General Mills.

LeSueur is in the Valley of the Jolly Green Giant.

The town of Kasota (pop. 675) is known for the Kasota limestone produced in the area. Kasota limestone was used for the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.

In Washington, D.C.

Le Sueur County has small towns named for Heidelberg (Germany), Kilkenny (Ireland), and Cleveland (Ohio).

The Heidelberg on the River Neckar.

The county has about 100 lakes, including Sakatah Lake on the Cannon River, a tributary of the Mississippi.

Sakatah Lake State Park (1967)

NEXT: RICE COUNTY

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Minnesota: Sibley County

Sibley County (pop. 15,226) is just north of Nicollet County.

The 20-mile Rush River, a tributary of the Minnesota River, is entirely within Sibley County.

It flows from west to east.

The county seat is Gaylord (pop. 2,305), located between Titlow Lake on the north and Mud Lake on the south.

Sibley County Courthouse (1917)

The town of Winthrop (pop. 1,399) celebrates Grackle Days in April.

Common grackle (quiscalus quiscula)

Green Isle (pop. 559) was named for  Ireland because of its many Irish immigrants.

Stone walls on the Emerald Isle

The town of Henderson (pop. 886) celebrates its German heritage with Sauerkraut Days every June.

Events include the Cabbage Toss and the Kraut Eating Contest.

NEXT: LE SUEUR COUNTY

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Minnesota: Nicollet County

Nicollet County (pop. 32,727) is just east of Brown County. The Minnesota River is Nicollet County’s southern boundary; the river turns north at Mankato and becomes the county’s eastern boundary.

The county seat is St. Peter (pop. 32,727), home of the Lutheran-affiliated Gustavus Adolphus College (1862).

Old Main (1876)

Five governors of Minnesota were from St. Peter; they all served between 1853 and 1909.

The Nicollet County Bank (1887) is on the corner.

The Nicollet County Courthouse was built in 1881.

In Romanesque Revival style

A tornado on March 29, 1998, killed one person and injured many others in St. Peter.

Central School after the tornado

In the town of North Mankato (pop. 13,394), the old North Mankato Public School building (1890) has been turned into the Belltower Apartments.

NEXT: SIBLEY COUNTY

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Minnesota: Brown County

Brown County (pop. 25,893) is just east of Redwood County. It’s bordered on the north by the Minnesota River.

There are nine Brown counties in the U.S., most of them in the Midwest. Four of them are named for Jacob Brown, a general in the War of 1812; Minnesota’s is the only one named for Joseph Renshaw Brown, a 19th-century trader, businessman, and politician.

He served in both the Wisconsin and Minnesota territorial legislatures.

The county seat is New Ulm (pop. 13,522), named for Ulm, Germany.

The world’s tallest church steeple

New Ulm was once known as the Polka Capital of the Nation; it’s now the home of the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame.

Bobby Vee, inducted in 1992.

In Schonlau Park, New Ulm has a German glockenspiel – a 45-foot, free-standing carillon clock tower.

It plays three times a day.

Actress Tippi Hedren was born in New Ulm in 1930.

In Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” (1963)

The Sons of Hermann, a German-American fraternal order, erected the Hermann Heights Monument in New Ulm in 1897. The monument is 102 feet high, with a stairway to the base of the statue.

Known locally as “Hermann the German”

The former post office in New Ulm, built in 1909, is now the Brown County Historical Society.

Renaissance Revival style

The town of Sleepy Eye (pop. 3,599) was named for the 19th-century Sisseton Sioux Chief Sleepy Eye (Ishtakhaba).

Sleepy Eye Depot Museum

NEXT: NICOLLET COUNTY

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Minnesota: Redwood County

Redwood County (pop. 16,059) is just east of Lyon County, on the south bank of the Minnesota River.

The county seat is Redwood Falls (pop. 5,254), located near where the Redwood River flows into the Minnesota River.

Redwood County Courthouse (1892)

The 219-acre Alexander Ramsey Park in Redwood Falls is the largest municipal park in Minnesota; originally a state park, it was transferred to Redwood Falls in 1958.

“The Little Yellowstone of Minnesota”

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “On the Banks of Plum Creek” was based on her childhood days when the family lived near Walnut Grove (pop. now 871).

Walnut Grove has a Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum and an outdoor Wilder Pageant every July.

Many stars of TV’s “Little House” have visited.

The Lower Sioux Indian Reservation is along the Minnesota River in Redwood County.

The Jackpot Junction Casino was Minnesota’s first.

NEXT: BROWN COUNTY

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Minnesota: Lyon County

Lyon County (pop. 25,857) is just east of Lincoln County.

More than half the people in Lyon County live in Marshall (pop. 13,680), the county seat.

U.S. Highway 59 is Main Street through downtown Marshall.

Southwest Minnesota State University opened in Marshall in 1967.

SMSU has about 3,500 students.

Schwan Food Company, headquartered in Marshall, is one of the largest frozen-food companies in the U.S.

A Schwan product

The town of Ghent (pop. 370) was named for Ghent, Belgium.

The city of Tracy (pop. 2,163) was hit by an F5 tornado on June 13, 1968, killing nine persons and injuring 150.

The Tracy tornado

Camden State Park is along the Redwood River in Lyon County.

It was developed in the 1930s.

NEXT: REDWOOD COUNTY

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Minnesota: Lincoln County

Lincoln County (pop. 5,896), just south of Yellow Medicine County, is one of 23 Lincoln counties in the U.S.

Ivanhoe, the county seat, is the smallest county seat in Minnesota, with a population of 559.

The courthouse was built in 1919.

Tyler (pop. 1,143), the largest city in Lincoln County, has it annual Aebleskiver Days in July.

It’s a spherical Danish pancake.

On Aug, 21, 1918, Tyler was hit by the fourth deadliest tornado in Minnesota history; 36 people were killed, and more than 100 were injured.

The town of Hendricks (pop. 713) is at the northern edge of the Buffalo Ridge Wind Farm,  one of the largest wind farms in the U.S., with several hundred wind turbines.

The turbines are more than 200 feet tall.

Lake Benton (pop. 683) is only 28 miles east of Brookings, S.D., home of South Dakota State University.

Central campus and Campanile, SDSU

NEXT: LYON COUNTY

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Minnesota: Yellow Medicine County

Yellow Medicine County (pop. 10,438), just south of Lac qui Parle County, is located between South Dakota and the Minnesota River.

It’s the only Yellow Medicine County in the U.S. 

The county was named for the yellow root of a plant which the Dakota Indians used for medicinal purposes.

The Upper Sioux Indian Reservation is in the county. 

The county seat of Yellow Medicine County is Granite Falls (pop. 2,897), parts of which are also in Chippewa and Renville counties.

Downtown Granite Falls 

Andrew Volstead was mayor of Granite Falls from 1900 to 1902; later, as a U.S. congressman, he sponsored the National Prohibition Act of 1919 (the Volstead Act).

A tornado hit Granite Falls on July 25, 2000, killing one person, injuring 15, and causing millions of dollars in damage.

The Lundrig Service Station in Canby (pop. 1,795) is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Built in 1926.

The Canby Theatre has been showing first-run movies since 1939.

NEXT: LINCOLN COUNTY

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Minnesota: Lac qui Parle County

West of Chippewa County is Lac qui Parle County (pop. 7,259). In 2011, it was rated the healthiest county in Minnesota by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, based on such factors as unemployment, child poverty, and life expectancy.

The county’s population was 15,509 in 1940. 

Lac qui Parle County is bordered by the Minnesota River on the north and South Dakota on the west.

The county seat is Madison (pop. 1,551), the “Lutefisk Capital of the U.S.A.”

Codfish boiled in lye, a Scandinavian delicacy 

The county courthouse in Madison was built in 1899.

In the Romanesque Revival style 

Robert Bly, poet and author of “Iron John: A Book About Men,” was born in Madison in 1926.

HIs parents were of Norwegian ancestry.

The town of Dawson (pop. 1,540) is known as “The Small City With the Bright Future.”

Dawson Carnegie Library (1906) 

Dawson native Phyllis Gates (1925-2006) was married to actor Rock Hudson from 1955 to 1958.

Rock and Phyllis

The 312-acre Salt Lake is Minnesota’s only alkaline wetland. With no inlet or outlet, it is generally too salty for fish – but it is a popular spot for birding.

Bird-viewing area at Salt Lake

NEXT: YELLOW MEDICINE COUNTY

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Minnesota: Chippewa County

Northwest of Renville County, also along the Minnesota River, is Chippewa County (pop. 12,441).

Michigan and Wisconsin also have Chippewa counties. 

Montevideo (pop. 5,383), the county seat, was apparently named for the capital of Uruguay. The cities are Sister Cities, and Montevideo (Minn.) celebrates Fiesta Days each June.

The Montevideo in South America is somewhat larger. 

Downtown Montevideo has a statue of Jose Artigas, leader of Uruguayan independence.

Erected in 1949

The former Milwaukee Road depot in Montevideo is now the Milwaukee Road Heritage Center.

Built in 1901 

The 2005 movie “Sweet Land,” set in rural Minnesota in the 1920s, was filmed in the Montevideo area.

The town of Watson (pop. 205) is known as “Goose Capital of the USA” because of the many Canada geese that inhabit nearby Lac qui Parle (“lake that speaks”) State Park every fall.

Lac qui Parle is on the Minnesota River.

NEXT: LAC QUI PARLE COUNTY

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Minnesota: Renville County

Renville County is Minnesota’s largest corn-producing county; its county seat, Olivia, has been designated Corn Capital of the World by the Minnesota State Senate.

Olivia’s 25-foot ear of corn (1973) 

Renville County (pop. 15,730) is on the north side of the Minnesota River, just west of McLeod County. It reached its peak population of 24,625 in 1940.

The county has several historical sites related to the Dakota War of 1862, including the Birch Coulee Battlefield.

There’s a self-guided trail for visitors. 

Olivia (pop. 2,484) has a 1902 classical revival courthouse.

Olivia celebrates Corn Capital Days every August.

The Corn Capital Days parade 

NEXT: CHIPPEWA COUNTY

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Minnesota: McLeod County

McLeod County (pop. 36,651), just west of Carver County, has more than 50 lakes – the largest of which is Cedar Lake, in the northwestern corner.

The county seat is Glencoe (pop. 5,631), which apparently got its name from its resemblance to Glen Cloe in the highlands of Scotland.

Is it Minnesota, or is it Scotland?

The McLeod County Courthouse was built in 1909.

In the Beaux Arts style

The Louis Malle documentary “God’s Country” (1985) was filmed in the Glencoe area,

Hutchinson (pop. 14,178), the largest city in McLeod County, hosts the Minnesota Garlic Festival every August at the county fairgrounds.

China and India grow much more garlic than the U.S. 

Southern Minnesota’s Dakota War of 1862 is recognized by a statue of Dakota Chief Little Crow in Hutchinson.

Overlooking the Crow River 

The McLeod County town of Plato has a population of 320.

Named for Aristotle’s teacher 

NEXT: RENVILLE COUNTY

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Minnesota: Carver County

Carver County (pop. 91,042), northwest of Scott County, was named for Jonathan Carver, who explored Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa in the 1760s.

The German heritage of the early settlers of Carver County is reflected in the names of its towns: Cologne, Hamburg, New Germany.

The county seat of Carver County is Chaska (pop. 23,770). “Chaska” was derived from a Dakota word that was often given as the name of a first-born male child.

Chaska History Center (1875) 

The city of Chanhassen (pop. 22,952) is well-known for the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres (1968), with three Equity theaters under one roof.

Billed as the largest dinner theater in the U.S. 

Chanhassen is also the headquarters of the religious movement Eckankar, as well as home of the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum (1958).

The largest horticultural site in Minnesota 

The city of Norwood Young America (pop. 3,549) was formed in 1997 by the merger of Young America and Norwood. Young America got its name from the Young America Movement, a 19th-century political organization.

There are also Young Americas in Indiana and WIsconsin. 

The Young America Corporation, headquartered in Norwood Young America, handles a variety of mail-in coupons, rebates, and contests.

The firm took the town’s name when it moved there.

Carver County’s Lake Waconia once had a resort called Coney Island of the West; it opened in 1886 and closed many years ago.

The island is now privately owned. 

Legend has it that Jimmy “Mr. Jimmy” Hutmaker, a native of New Germany (pop. 372), inspired Mick Jagger to write the lyrics of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” when he met Jagger at the time of a 1964 Rolling Stones concert in Excelsior, Minnesota.

“I was standin’ in line with Mr. Jimmy” 

NEXT: MCLEOD COUNTY

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Minnesota: Scott County

Scott County (pop. 129,928) is in the southwestern part of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Metropolitan Area. It’s bordered by the Minnesota River on the north and west.

Scott County was named for Gen. Winfield Scott (1786-1866), hero of the Mexican War and Whig candidate for president in 1852.

At 6’5″, the tallest presidential nominee ever

The county seat of Scott County is Shakopee (pop. 37,076), the site of Minnesota’s largest amusement park – Valleyfair, which opened in 1976.

Eight roller coasters

Canterbury Park is also in Shakopee. Canterbury Park, which opened in 1985, has horse racing from May to September.

And ostrich races on Extreme Race Day

In nearby Prior Lake (pop. 22,796), the Shakopee-Mdewakanton Sioux Community operates the Mystic Lake Casino and Little Six Casino.

An 8,000-seat outdoor amphitheater opened in 2011.

The city of Elko New Market (pop. 4,110) was formed in 2006 by the merger of the towns of Elko and New Market.

The Elko Speedway is a 3/8-mile asphalt oval track.

The city of New Prague (pop. 7,321) has the Church of St. Wenceslaus, built in 1907 by Czech immigrants.

Named for the duke of Bohemia

NEXT: CARVER COUNTY

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Minnesota: Dakota County

Dakota County (pop. 398,552) is the third most populous county in Minnesota. It occupies the southeastern corner of the Minneapolis-Saint Paul Metropolitan Area.

The county seat is Hastings (pop. 22,172), located near the confluence of the St. Croix and Mississippi rivers. The old 1871 courthouse is now Hastings City Hall.

The dome was added in 1912.

The Fasbender Clinic building (1959) in Hastings was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Now Edward Jones Investments

The city of West St. Paul (pop. 20,160) is actually south of Saint Paul. It got its name because of its location on the “west” bank of the Mississippi River, and because it’s west of South St. Paul.

Gov. Harold Stassen (1907-2001), who ran for president 12 times, was born in West St. Paul.

South St. Paul (pop. 20,160) was formerly a center of meatpacking and the home of the St. Paul Union Stockyards (1886-2008) – at one time the largest stockyard in the world.

Apple Valley (pop. 49.084) is the home of the Minnesota Zoo. Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn was raised in Apple Valley.

Four World Cup championships

The Buck Hill ski area, with eight lifts and 16 runs, is in Burnsville (pop. 60,306).

It opened in 1954.

Mendota (pop. 198) has the Fort Snelling-Mendota Bridge, which was the world’s longest concrete arch bridge (4,113 feet) when it opened in 1926.

Rosemount (pop. 21,874) has hosted the USA Broomball National Championships four times.

Broomball originated in Canada.

NEXT: SCOTT COUNTY

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Minnesota: Ramsey County

Ramsey County, the smallest Minnesota county in square miles, has the state’s second-largest population (508,640). It is Minnesota’s most densely populated county.

The county was named for Alexander Ramsey (1815-1903), the first territorial governor of Minnesota and later mayor of Saint Paul.

He was earlier a congressman from Pennsylvania.

Saint Paul (pop. 285,068) is the county seat of Ramsey County, the state capital, and the state’s second-largest city. The combined City Hall and Courthouse was built in 1932.

20 stories tall, Art Deco style

The Cathedral of Saint Paul, on a hill overlooking downtown, is one of the largest and tallest churches in the U.S.

It opened in 1915.

Saint Paul Union Depot (1923) has had no train service since 1971. It is currently being renovated, and Amtrak’s “Empire Builder” is expected to return sometime in 2013.

Amtrak now uses the small Midway Station, located midway between downtown St. Paul and downtown Minneapolis.

Mickey’s Diner has been operating in downtown Saint Paul since the 1940s.

Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year

Author F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940) was born in Saint Paul.

And Charles Schulz grew up there.

Ramsey County has more than 100 lakes, and St. Paul is recognized for its excellent public beaches and pools.

Lake Phalen Beach, Saint Paul

The Saint Paul campus of the University of Minnesota is actually in the city of Falcon Heights (pop. 5,321), but Saint Paul itself has several other colleges, both public and private.

Old Main, Hamline University

The Minnesota State Fair, second-largest state fair in the U.S. (after the Texas fair) in total attendance, is held in Falcon Heights.

Cheese curds

The town of North St. Paul (pop. 11,460) is known for the North St. Paul Snowman, the world’s largest stucco snowman.

44 feet tall, built in 1974

Roseville (pop. 33,660), had the first Target store (1962), the first Barnes and Noble store outside New York City, and the first McDonald’s in Minnesota.

NEXT: DAKOTA COUNTY

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Minnesota: Washington County

Washington County is located between St. Paul and the Wisconsin border. It’s one of 30 Washington counties (plus one Washington Parish) in the U.S.

He apparently never visited Minnesota.

The population of Washington County grew from 83,003 in 1970 to 238,136 in 2010 as a result of the eastern growth of suburban St. Paul.

The county seat of Washington County is Stillwater (pop. 18,225). Its courthouse building (1870) is one of the oldest in the state.

County government moved out in 1975.

The Stillwater Lift Bridge, built in 1931, crosses the St. Croix River from Stillwater to Houlton, Wisc.

Only one lane of traffic can cross at a time.

The city of Oakdale (pop. 27,378) is the largest of the 12 Oakdales in the United States.

This one’s in California.

The city of Afton (pop. 2,886), on the St. Croix River, is home of the Afton Alps, the largest ski and snowmobiling area in the Twin Cities region.

48 trails and 18 chairlifts

Washington County has two state parks: Afton and William O’Brien, both on the St. Croix River.

Along the river in O’Brien State Park

The 18-mile Gateway State Trail runs along the former Soo Line Railroad line between St. Paul and rural Washington County.

There’s snowmobiling in winter.

The city of Hugo (pop. 13,332) was first settled by French Canadians.

Named for Victor Hugo

NEXT: RAMSEY COUNTY

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Minnesota: Chisago County

Chisago County (pop. 53,887) is east of Isanti County and across the St. Croix River from Wisconsin.

The county got its name from Lake Chisago, which came from the Ojibwe word “Ki-chi-saga-igun,” meaning “big lake with an outlet.”

Summer at the beach in Chisago City

The adjacent towns of Chisago City, Lindstrom, and Center City are surrounded by lakes.

Center City is Minnesota’s second-smallest county seat, with a population of 628.

Center City in 1910

Lindstrom (pop. 4,442) is known as “America’s Little Sweden.”

Lindstrom water tower

The setting for Swedish author Vilhelm Moberg’s “The Emigrants” novels was Chisago County. Moberg published the four novels between 1949 and 1959.

The movie was made in 1971.

Lindstrom celebrates its Swedish heritage with Karl Oskar Days every July. Karl Oskar Nilsson was the main character in the “Emigrant” novels.

Statue of Karl Oskar and Kristina in Lindstrom

Taylors Falls (pop. 976), on the St. Croix River, has many historic buildings from the mid-19th century, including the oldest public school building in the state.

Built in 1852

Taylors Falls Scenic Boat Tours has excursions through the Dalles of the St. Croix River in Interstate State Park (in both Minnesota and Wisconsin).

St. Croix River near Taylors Falls

Seven miles north of Taylors Falls is Wild Mountain, which has skiing and snowboarding in the winter and waterslides and alpine slides in the summer.

Adult lift tickets are $43 a day.

NEXT: WASHINGTON COUNTY

Minnesota: Isanti County

Isanti County (pop. 37,816) is just north of Anoka County. It is the only Isanti County in the U.S.

Isanti is pronounced “eye-SAN-tee.” The word apparently comes from “Izaty,” an ancient name of the Santee Indians.

The county also has a town called Isanti (pop. 5,251).

The county seat is Cambridge (pop. 8,111). The historic courthouse is now used for private offices.

Built in 1888

In the 2000 U.S. Census, Cambridge had the highest percentage of Swedish-Americans (27%) among U.S. cities with more than 5,000 people.

The town of Braham (pop. 1,793, partly in Kanabec County) is known as the Homemade Pie Capital of Minnesota. Since the 1930s, people driving between the Twin Cities and Duluth have stopped at the Park Cafe in Braham for pie.

Park Cafe, Braham

Isanti County has about 100 lakes, including the 298-acre Typo Lake. Research has been unable to determine how it got its name.

NEXT: CHISAGO (not a typo) COUNTY

Minnesota: Anoka County

Anoka County (pop. 330,844, fourth largest in the state) is just north of Minneapolis and Hennepin County. The county seat is also named Anoka.

The word “Anoka” came from the Dakota word “anokatanhan,” meaning “on both sides of the river” – the river being the Rum River.

The Rum River reaches the Mississippi at Anoka.

The city of Anoka (pop. 17,142) is known as the “Halloween Capital of the World” because of its annual Halloween parades dating back to 1920.

Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, a Republican presidential candidate in 2012, graduated from Anoka High School in 1974.

Born in Waterloo, Iowa

The city of Blaine (pop. 57,186) is home of the National Sports Center. Every summer the Sports Center, with more than 50 soccer fields, hosts Schwan’s USA Cup – the Western Hemisphere’s largest soccer tournament, with about 1,000 teams from around the world.

Velodrome in foreground

The National Sports Center also has the Schwan Super Rink; with eight separate ice rinks under one roof, it’s the largest such facility in the world.

Home ice of the U.S. Women’s Hockey Team

The city of Hilltop (pop. 744) is surrounded by the city of Columbia Heights (pop. 19,496). Hilltop consists almost entirely of four trailer parks, containing about 263 mobile homes.

Hilltop City Hall

Fridley (pop. 27,208) is the home of Medtronic, Inc., the world’s largest medical technology company.

A Medtronic pacemaker

Circle Pines (pop. 4,918) was established in 1946 as a planned cooperative community, with homeowners owning equal shares in the association that owned and developed it. Circle Pines was incorporated as a city in 1974.

Golden Lake Beach, Circle Pines, in 1950

The town of Nowthen (pop. 4,443) apparently got its name from its first postmaster, who was in the habit of saying “Now, then” in conversation.

NEXT: ISANTI COUNTY

Minnesota: Hennepin County

Hennepin County (pop. 1,152,425) is the most populous county in Minnesota; about one-fifth of all Minnesotans live there.

The county seat is Minneapolis (pop. 382,578), the 48th-largest city in the country. In 1950, Minneapolis was the 17th-largest city in the country, with a population of 521,718.

Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

The suburbs of Minneapolis have grown tremendously as the city’s population has declined in the past 60 years.

Mall of America, Bloomington

Prince Rogers Nelson grew up in Minneapolis; he attended Central High School, which closed in 1982.

Party like it’s 2013.

The Municipal Building, which houses both Minneapolis City Hall and the Hennepin County Courthouse, was built between 1888 and 1909.

Modeled on the Allegheny County Courthouse in Pittsburgh

White Castle Building #8 in Minneapolis is on the National Register of Historic Places. The 5-cent hamburger shop opened in 1936 and was moved twice on its way to its current location.

No longer a restaurant

The Foshay Tower (now a hotel) was the tallest building in Minneapolis from 1929 to 1972.

There’s an observation deck at the top.

The 53-foot Minnehaha Falls is southeast of downtown, near where Minnehaha Creek flows into the Mississippi River.

The creek is 22 miles long.

The Minneapolis suburb of Edina (pop. 47,941) is the home of Southdale, which was American’s first fully enclosed, climate-controlled shopping mall when it opened in 1956.

Southdale in 1956

Former professional wrestler (and future governor) Jesse “The Body” Ventura was mayor of Brooklyn Park (pop. 75,781) from 1991 to 1995.

Born in Minneapolis in 1951

Best Buy Co. is headquartered in Richfield (pop. 35,228).

About 1,150 stores worldwide

The Andrews Sisters, popular vocalists from the 1930s to the 1960s, were from the town of Mound (pop. 9,052).

LaVerne, Patty, and Maxene

General Mills, Inc., is headquartered in the town of Golden Valley (pop. 20,371).

Founded in 1866

NEXT: ANOKA COUNTY

Minnesota: Sherburne County

Sherburne County (pop. 88,499) is northeast of Wright County, on the other side of the Mississippi River.

The county seat is Elk River (pop. 22,944), located where the Elk River joins the Mississippi.

Orono Lake, Elk River

The town of Big Lake (pop. 10,060) is the northern end of the 40-mile Northstar commuter rail line, which runs to downtown Minneapolis.

It opened in 2009.

Becker (pop. 4,538) has Xcel Energy’s Sherburne County Generating Station, the largest coal-fired power plant in Minnesota.

Opened in 1976

At Becker High School, Dwight Lundeen has been coaching the football team since 1970; he has more than 300 victories.

Dwight Lundeen and Becker Bulldogs

The oldest sections of St. Cloud’s Minnesota Correctional Facility (in the part of St. Cloud that’s in Sherburne County) date from 1889.

The 22-foot rock wall was built by prisoners.

The 30,000-acre Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge has some 230 species of birds, 58 species of mammals, and 25 species of reptiles and amphibians.

Whitetail deer at the refuge

Sand Dunes State Forest is also in Sherburne County.

The sandy soils were not hospitable for farming.

NEXT: HENNEPIN COUNTY

Minnesota: Wright County

East of Meeker County, we reach Wright County (pop. 124,700) and the 13-county Minneapolis-St. Paul Metropolitan Statistical Area – 16th largest in the country with a total population of 3,317,308.

The metropolitan area includes two Wisconsin counties.

The county seat is the town of Buffalo (pop. 15,453). It was named for the fish, not the mammal.

Buffalo Lake, downtown Buffalo, in January

The population of Wright County has grown tremendously in the past 40 years because of its proximity to Minneapolis.

Lake Maria State Park was established in 1963 to provide a wilderness area near the Twin Cities. It is known for its trails through forest and prairie, as well as for its wildlife – including the endangered (in some states, but not Minnesota) Blanding’s turtles.

Proposed in 1998 as the state reptile, but not enacted

Interstate Highway 94 runs diagonally across the northern edge of Wright County.

The town of Albertville, along I-94 in the northeastern corner of the county, is best known for the Albertville Premium Outlets. The town’s population grew from 564 in 1980 to 7,044 in 2010.

100 stores

The town of Annandale, with 26 lakes within a 10-mile radius, is known as the “Heart of the Lakes.”

West Lake Sylvia

Much of the 1998 movie “A Simple Plan” was filmed in the town of Delano (pop. 5,464).

Rated 89% on Rotten Tomatoes

The town of Cokato (pop. 2,694) hosts the Cokato Corn Carnival every August. For $3, you get all-you-can-eat corn on the cob.

NEXT: SHERBURNE COUNTY

Minnesota: Meeker County

Meeker County (pop. 23,300) is just east of Kandiyohi County. It was named for Judge B.B. Meeker.

The county seat is Litchfield (pop. 6,726). U.S. Highway 12, which runs from Aberdeen, Wash., to Detroit, Mich., goes through downtown Litchfield.

Downtown Litchfield

The Grand Army of the Republic Hall (1885) in Litchfield is adjacent to the Meeker Historical Society Museum.

One of four remaining GAR halls in Minnesota

Litchfield has the three-screen, Art Deco Hollywood Theatre (1936), as well as the Starlite 5 Drive-In (summer only).

Famous for its marquee

The town of Cosmos (pop. 473) has a Space Festival every summer.

Cosmos water tower

The town of Darwin (pop. 350) claims to have the World’s Largest Ball of Twine.

Cawker City, Kansas, also makes this claim.

Darwin was named for E. Darwin Litchfield, an Englishman who promoted the St. Paul and Pacific Railroad. The county seat was also named for Mr. Litchfield.

Not for the author of “On the Origin of Species”

NEXT: WRIGHT COUNTY

Minnesota: Kandiyohi County

Kandiyohi County (pop. 42,239) is just east of Swift County. “Kandiyohi” is a Dakota word meaning “where the buffalo fish abound.”

Buffalo fish (ictiobus)

Kandiyohi County’s motto is “Where the Lakes Begin,” because it’s where people driving from the south will first see Minnesota’s abundance of lakes – more than 250 of them in the county.

The county has a town named Kandiyohi (pop. 491). In 1869, the Minnesota state legislature voted to make Kandiyohi the state capital because of its central location, but the governor vetoed the bill.

Kandiyohi could have looked like this!

The county seat of Kandiyohi County is Willmar (pop. 16,610). In 1930, the Machine Gun Kelly gang robbed the Bank of Wilmar of about $70,000 and wounded three people.

Sibley State Park is in the northern part of the county, along Lake Andrew.

The park’s Mt. Tom Lookout has excellent views of the surrounding lakes and countryside.

The tower was built in 1938.

The town of New London (pop. 1,251) is known for its many antique stores and for the annual 120-mile New London to New Brighton Antique Car Run.

It started in 1987.

The town of Raymond (pop. 764) was the birthplace of William A. Mitchell, a chemist for General Foods who helped developed Tang, Pop Rocks, and Cool Whip.

NEXT: MEEKER COUNTY

Minnesota: Swift County

Swift County (pop. 9,783) is just east of Big Stone County. The only Swift County in the U.S., it is named for Henry Swift, the third governor of the state of Minnesota.

Taylor Swift is from Pennsylvania.

The county seat of Swift County is Benson (pop. 3,240).

The Swift County Courthouse was built in 1898.

In the Richardsonian Romanesque style

Christ Episcopal Church was built in 1879. It’s now the Benson Senior Center.

Carpenter Gothic style

St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Benson is also on the National Register of Historic Places.

Built in 1917

The Fibrominn plant in Benson opened in 2007 as the first U.S. power plant to burn turkey manure as its main source of energy.

Power is sold to Xcel Energy.

The town of Appleton (pop. 1,412) calls itself the “Home of Honored Veterans”; since 1947, Appleton has named 34 streets and avenues for men and women who have died in our country’s wars.

Appleton War Memorial

Pitcher Jerry Koosman, who won 222 games in his Major League career from 1967 to 1985, was born in Appleton.

1969 “Miracle Mets”

The small town of De Graff (pop. 115) has the large, brick-and-stone Church of St. Bridget.

Built in 1901

The 346-acre Monson Lake State Park is one of the smallest state parks in Minnesota.

Founded in 1937

NEXT: KANDIYOHI COUNTY

Minnesota: Big Stone County

West of Stevens County, bordering northeastern South Dakota, is Big Stone County (pop. 5,269).

Big Stone Lake, 26 miles long, is between Big Stone County and South Dakota. The lake is the source of the Minnesota River, which flows 332 miles southeast to the Mississippi River.

Big Stone Lake State Park

The county seat of Big Stone County is Ortonville, pop. 1,916.

At the southern end of Big Stone Lake

The Big Stone County Courthouse was built in 1902.

For $29,999

Ortonville’s Public Library, built in 1915, is apparently the only Carnegie Library in Minnesota that was built in the Mission Revival style.

It’s still the library.

The town of Beardsley (pop. 233) shares with Moorhead the record for the hottest temperature in Minnesota’s history – 114 degrees on July 29, 1917.

Beardsley in 1895

NEXT: SWIFT COUNTY

Minnesota: Stevens County

Just west of Pope County is the nearly square Stevens County (pop. 9,726). The county seat of Morris (pop. 5,286) has more than half the county’s people.

Morris and the nearby town of Alberta (pop. 103) were at the center of a 1975 earthquake that measured 4.6 on the Richter scale. It was Minnesota’s largest 20th-century earthquake, causing minor damage and no injuries.

https://i1.wp.com/earthquake.usgs.gov/learn/today/images/his_1975_07_09.gif

Morris is the home of the University of Minnesota Morris, one of the university’s five campuses. UMM has about 1,900 students.

The campus began as the Morris Industrial School for Indians in 1887, became the West Central School of Agriculture in 1910, and opened as a University of Minnesota in 1960.

The former Carnegie Library (1905) in Morris is now the Stevens County Historical Society Museum.

One of 65 Carnegie libraries in Minnesota

The Morris Theatre (1940) shows first-run movies on two screens.

NEXT: BIG STONE COUNTY

Minnesota: Pope County

Pope County (pop. 10,995), west of Sauk Centre and south of Alexandria, has more than 200 lakes.

The county’s largest lake is Lake Minnewaska – not to be confused with Lake Minnewashta (in Carver County),  Lake Minnewawa (in Aitkin County), or Lake Minnetonka (in Hennepin County).

There's also a Lake Minnewaska in New York.

There’s also a Lake Minnewaska in New York.

Pope County was named for John Pope, a Civil War general in the Union army.

Gen. John Pope

Gen. John Pope

The county seat is Glenwood (pop. 2,564), located at the east end of Lake Minnewaska.

The Pope County Courthouse was built in 1930 and renovated in 2012.

Beaux Arts style

The town of Starbuck (pop. 1,302) does not have a Starbucks coffeehouse; the nearest one is in Alexandria, about 25 miles away.

The town of Long Beach (pop. 335) is adjacent to Lake Minnewaska.

Catching a wave

Glacial Lakes State Park, south of Starbuck, preserves an area of rolling prairie and offers swimming, boating, and fishing on Lake Singalness.

Autumn at Glacial Lakes State Park

NEXT: STEVENS COUNTY

Minnesota: Stearns County

Stearns County (pop. 150,642) is on the west side of the Mississippi River, just across from Benton County. It is shaped something like Nebraska.

With a big river on the right, but more lakes

The county seat, St. Cloud (pop. 65,842), is the eighth-largest city in Minnesota. The St. Cloud Metropolitan Area (pop. 189,093) is the third-largest metropolitan area in the state, after Minneapolis and Duluth.

Stearns County Courthouse, as seen in “The Mighty Ducks” (1992)

St. Cloud State University, with more than 17,000 students, is the second-largest university in Minnesota.

On the banks of the Mississippi

The Paramount Theatre (1921) in St. Cloud hosts a variety of concerts and special events.

Restored after a fire in 1985

The Amtrak Empire Builder” train stops at St. Cloud’s former Northern Pacific Railway station. The train goes east to Minneapolis and Chicago and west to Seattle and Portland.

Built in 1898

The town of Sauk Centre (pop. 4,317), in western Stearns County, was the hometown of author Sinclair Lewis and the setting of his famous 1920 novel “Main Street.”

It was called Gopher Prairie in the book.

The sports teams at Sauk Centre High School are known as the “Mainstreeters.”

Stearns County was settled largely by German Catholic immigrants; in addition to St. Cloud, the county has towns named St. Anthony, St. Augusta, St. Joseph, St. Martin, St. Rosa, and St. Stephen.

St. Mary’s in Melrose, one of about 50 Catholic churches in the county

The College of St. Benedict (for women) and St. John’s University (for men) are partnered liberal arts colleges in the towns of St. Joseph and Collegeville, respectively, about three miles apart.

Saint John’s, alma mater of Sen. Eugene McCarthy

The town of Avon (pop. 1,396), located on Upper Spunk, Middle Spunk, and Lower Spunk lakes, has an annual event called Spunktacular Days.

The early settlers used “spunk” to start a fire.

NEXT: POPE COUNTY

Minnesota: Benton County

To reach Benton County from Todd County, you can drive east from Long Prairie on State Highway 27 through Little Falls and Morrison County (we’ve already been there), then south on State Highway 25 to Foley, the Benton County seat.

This route avoids the big-city traffic of St. Cloud.

Benton County (pop. 38,451) was named for Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton – not for his painter-nephew with the same name.

“The Twist” (1964)

Benton County is on the east side of the Mississippi River, and Stearns County is across the river on the west side. The city of St. Cloud is divided by the Mississippi, but most  of it is in Stearns County.

St. Cloud and the Mississippi River (looking south)

Foley (pop. 2,603), the county seat, is not the largest city in Benton County. Sauk Rapids, adjacent to St. Cloud, is considerably larger, with 12,773 people.

Foley in 1940

The Sauk River, a 90-mile tributary of the Mississippi River, flows into the Mississippi just south of Sauk Rapids.

Sauk Rapids Bridge

The Sauk Rapids Tornado on April 16, 1886, was the deadliest tornado in Minnesota history, killing 72 people in the area. Before the tornado, Sauk Rapids was one of the most important cities in the state; it never recovered that position, and St. Cloud became the largest city in the region.

The business district was destroyed.

The Benton Beach Disc Golf Course in the town of Rice (pop. 1,275) was the site of the 2008 Minnesota Disc Golf Championship.

NEXT: STEARNS COUNTY

Minnesota: Todd County

Todd County (pop. 24,895), east of Douglas County, was named for a cousin of Mary Todd Lincoln.

Mary was from Lexington, Kentucky.

The county has a slogan of “Where the Forest Meets the Prairie.”

A Todd County scene

The county seat of Todd County is Long Prairie (pop. 3,458).

Downtown Long Prairie

The Todd County Courthouse was built in 1883, with additions in 1965 and 1980

One of the oldest in Minnesota

Long Prairie’s Long Drive-In has been showing movies since 1956.

It closed for the season Oct. 21.

Todd County has about 300 lakes, the largest of which is Lake Osakis.

Minnesota Twins announcer Dick Bremer went to high school in the town of Staples (pop. 2,981), which is in both Todd and Wadena counties.

NEXT: BENTON COUNTY

Minnesota: Douglas County

Douglas County (pop. 36,009), with more than 250 lakes, is a major tourist destination in central Minnesota.

Alexandria, the county seat, is well-known for its 25-foot statue of Big Ole the Viking.

Built for the New York World’s Fair in 1965

Alexandria is growing; its population went from 8,820 in 2000 to 11,070 in 2010.

Douglas County Courthouse (1895)

The former Great Northern Railway depot in Alexandria now houses a restaurant.

Built in 1907

Ten miles north of Alexandria is Lake Carlos State Park.

Established in 1937

Interstate 94 cuts through Douglas County at a diagonal, northwest to southeast.

Construction began in North Dakota in 1958.

The Central Lakes State Trail parallels I-94 for 55 miles on a former railroad bed.

Douglas County also has 368 miles of snowmobile trails.

Carlos Creek Winery, near Alexandria, is part of the Alexandria Lakes American Viticulture Area.

Minnesota’s largest winery

The town of Forada was named by the man who surveyed the town site. He wanted to name it for his wife, Ada, but Minnesota already had a town named Ada. So, he named it For Ada.

Pop. 185

The town of Kensington (pop. 292) is famed for the “Kensington Runestone,” a slab of rock “found” in 1898 that “seemed” to “show” that Scandinavian explorers reached Minnesota in the 14th century.

Displayed in Alexandria’s Runestone Museum

NEXT: TODD COUNTY

Minnesota: Grant County

Grant County, just east of Traverse County, has a population of 6,018.

There are 14 Grant counties and one Grant parish in the U.S.

Grant County is almost a perfect square, with each side about 23 miles across.

The eastern part of the county has hills and lakes; the western part was originally prairie.

Lake Pomme de Terre (Potato), one of 87 in the county

The county seat of Grant County is Elbow Lake (pop. 1,176), located on the shores of Flekkefjord (formerly Worm) Lake.

Downtown Elbow Lake and Grant County Courthouse (1906)

The 2001 movie “Herman U.S.A” was the story of 85 bachelor farmers from the town of Herman (pop. 1,176) and their search for companionship.

Actually filmed in New Germany, Minnesota

The town of Barrett (pop. 415) is known for the Prairie Wind Players, a community theater group that has been performing since 1979.

They play in Roosevelt Hall (1934).

NEXT: DOUGLAS COUNTY

Minnesota: Traverse County

South of Wilkin County is Traverse County (pop. 3,558), the least-populated county in Minnesota.

Traverse County reached its peak population of 8,283 in 1940.

Lake Traverse, the county’s largest lake, is the southernmost body of water in the Hudson Bay watershed; its waters flow north into the Boix de Sioux River, then to the Red River and on into Canada.

Red River watershed

Within a mile of the southern end of Lake Traverse, on the other side of a small hill, is the Little Minnesota River, which flows into the Minnesota River, then to the Mississsippi and on to the Gulf of Mexico.

Lake Traverse in the background

Traverse is the only county in Minnesota that borders both Dakotas.

Two Dakotas

The county seat of Traverse County is Wheaton (pop. 1,424). Its small courthouse was built in 1892.

Traverse County Courthouse

The Traverse County Historical Society Museum is in Wheaton’s former Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad depot.

Milwaukee Road, for short

The Gopher Theater in Wheaton shows first-run movies, but it’s scheduled to close at the end of 2012.

Minneapolis and Hibbing once had Gopher theaters.

NEXT: GRANT COUNTY

Minnesota: Wilkin County

Wilkin County, west of Otter Tail County and bordering North Dakota, has a population of 6,576.

The county seat is Breckenridge (pop. 3,386), located where the Otter Tail River and Bois de Sioux River converge to form the Red River.

Minnesota’s Breckenridge gets less snow than Colorado’s.

Breckenridge is just across the river from its “twin city” of Wahpeton, N.D. (pop. 7,766).

Minnesota has paved streets!

The Wilkin County Courthouse was built in 1929.

In the Beaux Arts style

The town of Rothsay (pop. 493), located in both Wilkin and Otter Tail counties, has an 18-foot-long statue of a prairie chicken.

The world’s largest

The town of Tenney (pop. 5) was tied with Funkley (Beltrami County) as the smallest incorporated place in Minnesota until 2011, when it disincorporated.

NEXT: TRAVERSE COUNTY

Minnesota: Otter Tail County

Otter Tail County (pop. 57,303), west of Wadena County, has more than 1,000 lakes and is a popular area for summer tourism.

Otter Tail Lake is the 10th largest in Minnesota.

The Otter Tail River begins up north in Clearwater County, flows south through 10 lakes in Otter Tail County, then flows west to join the Bois de Sioux River at Wahpeton, North Dakota.. There, they form the Red River, which flows north into Canada.

192 miles long

Fergus Falls (pop. 13,138), the county seat, is on Interstate 94, which runs diagonally between Minneapolis and Fargo.

Giant otter, Adams Park, Fergus Falls

A tornado hit Fergus Falls in 1919, killing 57 people and destroying much of the town. It was the second deadliest tornado in Minnesota history.

Many of the victims were inside the Grand Hotel.

City Hall in Fergus Falls, built in 1928, was patterned after Independence Hall.

Is it Philadelphia, or is it Fergus Falls?

The Fergus Falls State Hospital was built between 1888 and 1912 – one of many massive “Kirkbride buildings” in the U.S., designed  to house the mentally ill. The complex is now unoccupied, and its future is uncertain.

For Sale: Century-Old Mental Hospital

The Center for the Arts in the Fergus Theatre (1921) hosts a variety of concerts and other events.

There’s also a Fergus Grand Theatre in Fergus, Ontario.

Hillcrest Lutheran Academy, a private boarding high school, is located on the former campus of the now-defunct Park Region Luther College.

Built in 1901 in the Romanesque style

Nearby, the town of Perham (pop. 2,985) hosts an annual event called The Gathering, which it bills as “The World’s Largest Fish Decoy Show.”

Mark your calendars for April 13-14, 2013.

Pelican Rapids (pop. 2,464) has a 15-foot, concrete statue of a pelican, known locally as “Pelican Pete.”

“The World’s Largest Pelican” (1957)

The town of Vergas (pop. 331) has a 20-foot loon statue on the shores of Long Lake. There is some confusion about whether Vergas got its name from a brand of railroad sleeping car, or whether the sleeping car got its name from the town.

“The World’s Largest Loon” (1960s)

The highest point in Otter Tail County is Inspiration Peak (1,750 feet) in the so-called Leaf Mountains, which run southeast from Fergus Falls for about 50 miles.

It rises about 400 feet above the surrounding plains.

NEXT: WILKIN COUNTY

Minnesota: Wadena County

Going west from Brainerd and Crow Wing County, passing through the southern end of Cass County, we come to Wadena County (pop. 13,843).

Wadena County and the county seat of Wadena (pop. 4,088) were named for Chief Wadena, an Ojibwe chief of the late 19th century.

Chief Wadena

The City Hall and Fire Department building in Wadena was built in 1912 and later became a chiropractor’s office.

On the National Register of Historic Places

The Cozy Theatre in Wadena opened in 1914; the marquee was added in 1938. It now shows first-run films on three screens.

There’s another Cozy Theatre in Schulenburg, Texas.

In June 2010, Wadena was hit by a tornado that destroyed or damaged more than 200 residences but caused no fatalities. The Wadena-Deer Creek High School was destroyed, and students spent the following two years in temporary quarters.

A new high school opened this fall.

The town of Staples (pop. 2,981), named for a family that had a lumber business in the area, is in both Wadena and Todd counties.

Staples’ old Northern Pacific Railway station (1909)

Staples is one of six Minnesota stops on Amtrak’s Empire Builder train, which travels daily (in each direction) between Chicago and Seattle-Portland.

The Empire Builder in Glacier National Park, Montana

The town of Menahga (pop. 1,306) – the name means “blueberry bush” in the Chippewa language – was the hometown of the comic book artist Wallace Wood.

From an early Mad magazine.

NEXT: OTTER TAIL COUNTY

Minnesota: Crow Wing County

North of Morrison County is Crow Wing County (pop. 62,500); it’s one of Minnesota’s most popular vacation areas, with more than 500 lakes.

The Brainerd Lakes area

Crow Wing County was named for the Crow Wing River, which was named for a small island shaped like the wing of a crow.

The county also has a Crow Wing State Park and a Crow Wing State Forest.

Brainerd (pop. 13,590) became the county seat in 1872 after the Northern Pacific Railway built a bridge across the Mississippi River there; this led to the abandonment of Crow Wing Village (about 10 miles south), which had been the county’s largest settlement.

Crow Wing County Courthouse (1920)

The Northern Pacific was the first transcontinental railroad across the northern U.S., and for many years Brainerd was a center of the railroad’s operations.

NP Shops in Brainerd, now an official Historic District

Brainerd has a concrete water tower, built in 1921.

The Cuyuna Iron Range is northeast of Brainerd; its underground iron ore mines operated from 1911 to 1984. The name “Cuyuna” was a combination of the first three letters of discoverer Cuyler Adams’s name, plus the name of his dog, Una.

The Cuyuna Range town of Crosby (pop. 2,386) was the site of the Milford Mine Disaster – the worst mining accident in Minnesota history. Forty-one miners died in an underground flood in 1924.

In 1932, the voters of Crosby elected America’s first Communist mayor, Karl Emil Nygard.

He declared May Day an official holiday.

The town of Garrison (pop. 210), on Mille Lacs, claims to be the smallest town in the world with a McDonald’s restaurant.

Giant walleye in Garrison

The town of Emily (pop. 813) was named for Emily Christie, a girl born soon after the town’s founding.

The town is surrounded by Lake Emily, Lake Mary, and Ruth Lake.

The geographic center of Minnesota is near Baxter, which is just west of Brainerd.

NEXT: WADENA COUNTY

Minnesota: Morrison County

West of Mille Lacs County is Morrison County (pop. 33,198). Its county seat, Little Falls, was the boyhood home of Charles Lindbergh.

New York to Paris in 33 hours, 1927

Lindbergh’s father was a U.S. congressman from Little Falls; the family’s home is now part of Charles A. Lindbergh Historic Site.

Built in 1906

Little Falls (pop. 8,343) is on the Mississippi River. It is one of the oldest cities in the state, and many of downtown’s early commercial buildings are still standing.

The city was established in 1848.

The Morrison County Courthouse, with its distinctive tower, was built in 1891.

In the Richardsonian Romanesque style

Little Falls also has a 1905 Carnegie Library, built of brick and stone.

In the Craftsman style

The old Northern Pacific Depot was built in 1900, designed by Cass Gilbert.

It now houses the Chamber of Commerce.

Little Falls is also home of the Minnesota Fishing Museum, established in 1998.

Thousands of fishing lures on display

A large part of Morrison County is occupied by Camp Ripley Military Reservation, a 53,000-acre training facility. The original Fort Ripley dates to 1848.

Crane Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, east of Little Falls, is a stop for many species of migrating birds.

Sandhill cranes at Crane Meadows

NEXT: CROW WING COUNTY

Minnesota: Mille Lacs County

Just west of Kanabec County is the oddly shaped Mille Lacs (pronounced Mill Lacks) County, population 26,097.

A capital T?

The county is named for Mille Lacs (“thousand lakes” in French) Lake, which is the second largest lake in Minnesota, after the combined Red Lakes.

One of Minnesota’s premier fishing lakes

In the winter, Mille Lacs Lake has thousands of ice-fishing houses scattered over its 207 square miles.

All the comforts of home

Father Hennepin State Park, on the south shore of Mille Lacs, has campgrounds and a mile-long sandy beach.

Named for the French missionary and explorer

Mille Lacs National Wildlife Refuge, consisting of two small islands totaling half an acre, is the smallest national wildlife refuge in the U.S.

Breeding habitat for several bird species

The town of Milaca (pop. 2,946), the county seat, is at the intersection of two important highways: U.S. 169, between Mille Lacs Lake and the Twin Cities, and State 23, between the St. Cloud area and Duluth.

The Milaca City Hall was built in 1936 (of stone, brick, and concrete) by the Works Projects Administration.

In the Streamline Moderne style

Milaca is on the Rum River. The river got its name as a result of a mistranslation of a Dakota word that meant “spirit” as in “spiritual”; the translation into English came out “spirit” as in alcohol.

A rum barrel

Princeton (pop. 4,698) is the largest city in Mille Lacs County. Its former Great Northern Depot is now a museum run by the Mille Lacs County Historical Society.

Built in 1902

NEXT: MORRISON COUNTY

Minnesota: Kanabec County

Kanabec County (pop. 16,239) is just west of Pine County. The county seat is Mora (pop. 3,571).

Kanabec County Courthouse (1894)

The word “Kanabec” comes from the Ojibwe word “Ginebig,” meaning “snake” – as in the Snake River that runs through the county.

There are three Snake rivers in Minnesota.

The town of Mora is known for its 22-foot, fiberglass Dala horse, built in 1971.

A Swedish tradition

Mora’s namesake and sister city of Mora, Sweden, is the endpoint of the annual 90-kilometer Vasaloppet cross-country ski race – one of the world’s biggest ski races.

This is the Minnesota Mora’s own Vasaloppet race.

The major landmark in the town of Ogilvie (pop. 369) is a reinforced concrete watertower, built in 1918.

Reminiscent of Northern European castles

The 3/8-mile Ogilvie Raceway is a clay track that has weekly races in season.

Opened in 2009

NEXT: MILLE LACS COUNTY

Minnesota: Pine County

Pine County (pop. 29,750) is south of Carlton County on Interstate 35, between Duluth and the Twin Cities. It was named for the white pine forests that once flourished in the area.

Not for the actor Chris (James T. Kirk) Pine

The county seat, Pine City (pop. 3,123), is at the southern end of the county – unlike most county seats, which are more centrally located.

Hinckley and Sandstone have tried (unsuccessfully) to steal the county seat.

Just outside Pine City is the North West Company Fur Post, a reconstructed fur-trading post. It was first established in 1804.

Reopened as a historic site in 1970

The St. Croix River forms the eastern border of Pine County (with Wisconsin) in the southern part of the county. St. Croix State Park is Minnesota’s largest state park.

St. Croix River

The rapids of the Kettle River in Banning State Park are popular with canoeists and kayakers.

Officially a Wild and Scenic River

The town of Hinckley (pop. 1,800) was the center of the Great Hinckley Fire in 1894. The forest fire killed at least 400 people and burned more than 200,000 acres. Today, the Hinckley Fire Museum is in the former Northern Pacific depot.

Built in 1895

In the past, Pine County was a center of rutabaga production. The town of Askov (pop. 354), the former Rutabaga Capital of the World, still has an annual Rutabaga Festival.

Also known as “The Swedish Turnip”

In the town of Willow River (pop. 415), the Willow River Rutabaga Warehouse and Processing Plant (1935) is on the National Register of Historic Places.

No current reviews on Trip Advisor

NEXT: KANABEC COUNTY

Minnesota: Carlton County

Carlton County (pop. 35,386), east of Aitkin County, is just a few miles from Duluth and Lake Superior, and is officially in the Duluth-Superior Metropolitan Statistical Area (pop. 279,771).

The city of Carlton is the third-smallest county seat in Minnesota, with a population of 862.

Carlton County Courthouse (1924)

Five miles north of Carlton is Cloquet (pop. 12,124), the largest city in the county.

The actress Jessica Lange (at right) is a native of Cloquet.

Cloquet is also famous for the only gas station designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

R.W. Lindholm Service Station (1956)

Cloquet has a 20-foot statue of a Voyageur, erected in 1976.

One of several Voyageur statues in northern Minnesota

Cloquet was the center of a massive forest fire in October 1918. The fire killed almost 500 people and burned 250,000 acres.

About 38 communities were destroyed.

The town of Moose Lake (pop. 2,751) has a museum about the fire in its former Soo Line depot (1907).

The depot survived the fire.

Annual festivals in Carlton County include Wrong Days in Wright in the town of Wright (pop. 127) and Ma and Pa Kettle Days in Kettle River (pop. 180).

Nominated for no Academy Awards in 1950

Jay Cooke State Park, just east of Carlton, is known for its 200-foot swinging bridge over the St. Louis River.

The park was closed for four months after a flood in June.

NEXT: PINE COUNTY

Minnesota: Aitkin County

East of Cass County is Aitkin County (pop. 16,602); the county seat is Aitkin (pop. 2,165). Both were named for William Alexander Aitkin, a partner of the American Fur Company, which dominated the U.S. fur trade in the early 1800s.

Aitkin had steamboat service for 50 years.

Every year on the day after Thanksgiving, Aitkin hosts the World Famous Fish House Parade, in which decorated ice-fishing houses (on trailers) are driven through downtown on their way to the hundreds of nearby frozen lakes.

The singer-songwriter Jonathan Edwards was born in Aitkin in 1946. He is best known for the song “Sunshine.” It went like this: “How much does it cost, I’ll buy it; The time is all we’ve lost, I’ll try it; But he can’t even run his own life, I’ll be damned if he runs mine.” Remember?

Oops – wrong Jonathan Edwards.

Aitkin’s former Northern Pacific train station (1916) is now a historical museum.

Mission Revival style

The Aitkin Carnegie Library (1911) is now the Jaques Art Center.

Classical Revival style

The Aitkin County Courthouse was built in 1929.

Art Deco and Moderne styles

The north shore of Mille Lacs, Minnesota’s second largest lake, is in Aitkin County.

The Rice Lake National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1937, has a large wild rice crop in the fall that attracts hundreds of thousands of waterfowl.

18,000 acres of forest and bog

Savanna Portage State Park preserves a historic six-mile trail connecting the watersheds of the Mississippi River and Lake Superior.

A canoe portage used for centuries

NEXT: CARLTON COUNTY

Minnesota: Cass County

Cass County (pop. 28,567), east of Hubbard County, has the third-largest lake located entirely in Minnesota – Leech Lake.

View from the dock, Leech Lake

Leech Lake is on the Leech Lake Indian Reservation, which has the largest area and the largest population (10,660) of any Indian reservation in Minnesota.

Most of the reservation is within the Chippewa National Forest, which has about 1,300 lakes and an estimated 150 nesting pairs of bald eagles.

World’s Largest Eagle Statue, Remer

Walker, the county seat (pop. 941), is the fourth-smallest county seat in Minnesota.

Walker is on the shores of Walker Bay, Leech Lake

The town of Longville (pop. 156), which calls itself the Turtle Racing Capital of the World, has weekly turtle races in the summer.

Every Wednesday afternoon

In Cass County’s early years, it was shaped like Mexico.

The 1851 shape is in orange, today’s in red.

The Big Fish Supper Club and Resort in Bena (pop. 118) has a 65-foot wooden muskie, constructed in 1958.

NEXT: AITKIN COUNTY

Minnesota: Hubbard County

Hubbard County (pop. 20,428), just east of Becker County and Detroit Lakes, has more than 400 lakes.

Hubbard County’s lakes that begin with the letter B include Bad Axe Lake, Beauty Lake, Blacksmith Lake, Big Bass Lake, Bladder Lake, Boy Scout 1 Lake, and Boy Scout 2 Lake.

Park Rapids (pop. 3,704) is the county seat. The former county courthouse (1900) is now the home of the Hubbard County Historical Museum.

The Park Theatre shows first-run movies in downtown Park Rapids.

In operation for 70 years

The Heartland State Trail, which goes 49 miles northeast to Cass Lake., was one of the first rail-to-trail projects in the U.S.

Established in 1974

The 115,000-acre Paul Bunyan State Forest, north of Park Rapids, has hundreds of miles of trails.

Autumn camping at Paul Bunyan State Forest

Hubbard County had a downhill skiing resort for several decades, starting in 1957.

The former Val Chatel ski hill

The town of Akeley (pop. 432) has an annual Paul Bunyan Days and a 25-foot Paul Bunyan statue.

With a giant crib

NEXT: CASS COUNTY

Minnesota: Becker County

Just east of Clay County on U.S. Highway 10 is Becker County (pop. 32,504), a popular area for summer visitors because of its many lakes.

9% of the county is water.

Detroit Lakes (pop. 8,569), the county seat, has 400 lakes within a 25-mile radius, plus 14 golf courses in the area. Lake Detroit is on the south side of town.

There’s a one-mile city beach.

Amtrak’s Empire Builder train stops in Detroit Lakes in the middle of the night, going east to Chicago and west to Seattle and Portland.

The former Northern Pacific station (1908)

The Carnegie Library in Detroit Lakes was constructed in the Prairie School style.

Built in 1913.

The Go-Putt-N-Bump Amusement Park,  just south of Detroit Lakes, has go karts, miniature golf, and bumper boats.

Open May 26 to Sept. 3

The Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge, northeast of Detroit Lakes, was established in 1938 as a breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife.

Trumpeter swan at Tamarac

The town of Frazee (pop. 1,350), southeast of Detroit Lakes, has a giant fiberglass turkey called Big Tom, celebrating the local poultry industry.

The World’s Largest Turkey

NEXT: HUBBARD COUNTY

Minnesota: Clay County

South of Norman County on U.S. Highway 75 is Clay County (pop. 58,999), named for Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky.

1777-1852

The county seat of Clay County is Moorhead (pop. 38,065), located on the east bank of the Red River, across from Fargo, N.D. The Fargo-Moorhead Metropolitan Area has a population of 208,777.

Red River and Moorhead (from the Fargo High Rise Senior Center)

The current slogan of the Fargo-Moorhead Convention and Visitors Bureau is “Always Warm!”

Average January Low Temperature: -2 degrees

Minnesota State University Moorhead (7,500 students) and Concordia College (2,800 students) are both located in Moorhead. Concordia College is famous for its world-traveling Concordia Choir.

Founded in 1919

Buddy Holly was flying to Moorhead when he died in a plane crash in Iowa on Feb. 3, 1959.

The Rourke Art Museum is in Moorhead’s former federal courthouse and post office, built in 1915 in the Classical Revival style.

The museum was founded in 1960.

Moorhead’s Hjemkomst Center is the home of the Hjemkomst Viking Ship, a full-scale replica of an actual Viking ship.

It sailed from New York to Norway in 1983.

Interstate 94 runs through Moorhead; it goes west across North Dakota to Billings, Montana, and southeast to Port Huron, Michigan.

It’s 233 miles from Moorhead to Minneapolis.

The town of Barnesville (pop. 2,563), in a potato-growing region, has its annual Potato Days festival in August.

Mashed potato wrestling

Buffalo River State Park, east of Moorhead, has prairie and woodland areas.

200 species of birds

NEXT: BECKER COUNTY

Minnesota: Norman County

West of Mahnomen County in the flat, flood-prone Red River Valley is Norman County (pop. 6,852).

Norman County, March 2009

The county’s main agricultural products are soybeans, wheat, and sugar beets.

The county seat, Ada (pop. 1,707), has a large courthouse that was built in 1904 in the Richardsonian Romanesque style.

Brown brick and sandstone

Ada’s Village Hall was also built in 1904.

Classical Revival style.

The small Orpheum Theatre in downtown Ada shows first-run movies.

The town of Halstad (pop. 597), on the Red River, was the hometown of bandleader Skitch Henderson.

“The Tonight Show’s” original bandleader

The town of Shelly (pop. 266) is the home of the Red River Museum.

In an Art Deco schoolhouse

The Agassiz Recreational Trail, a 53-mile multi-purpose trail on an abandoned railroad grade, goes north-south through Norman County.

Named for paleontologist Louis Agassiz and prehistoric Lake Agassiz

NEXT: CLAY COUNTY

Minnesota: Mahnomen County

Mahnomen County (pop. 5,413), located west of Clearwater County, is entirely within the White Earth Indian Reservation.

Farms in the west, second-growth forests in the east

The White Earth Reservation was created in 1867; it is the largest reservation (by land area) in the state. Non-natives have bought much of the land within the reservation, and Native Americans now make up a minority of the population.

The county seat of Mahnomen County is the town of Mahnomen (pop. 1,214).

Mahnomen City Hall (1937) is also the library.

The Mahnomen County Historical Society operates the Mahnomen County Museum on Main Street.

Open summer only

The county is an important region for growing wild rice.

Mahnomen means “wild rice” in the Ojibwe language.

The Mahnomen County Fairgrounds Historic District (1937) has five original wood-frame buildings constructed by the Works Progress Administration.

Livestock Pavilion

NEXT: NORMAN COUNTY

Minnesota: Clearwater County

East of Polk County on U.S. Highway 2 is Clearwater County (pop. 8,695), where the Mississippi River begins.

You can walk across the Mississippi.

Lake Itasca, in Itasca State Park, is the source of the Mississippi River. The river is about 20 feet wide as it flows north out of the lake.

Mississippi River through Minnesota

Itasca State Park has a variety of log-constructed buildings dating from 1905 to 1942.

Douglas Lodge (1905)

Visitors may also climb to the top of the park’s 100-foot fire tower.

Built in 1940

The Red Lake and White Earth Indian reservations make up a large part of Clearwater County.

Bagley (pop. 1,392), the county seat, is northwest of Lake Itasca.

Bagley Wildlife Museum

NEXT: MAHNOMEN COUNTY

Minnesota: Polk County

Polk County (pop. 31,600) may be the most oddly shaped county in Minnesota; it is located west, south, and east of Red Lake County.

Named for President James K. Polk

Polk County is officially in the Grand Forks (North Dakota) Metropolitan Statistical Area – the 346th largest metro area (out of 366) in the country, with 98,054 people.

Grand Forks is the third largest city in North Dakota.

East Grand Forks (pop. 8,601), across the Red River from Grand Forks, is the largest city in Polk County. The entire city was evacuated in the devastating 1997 Red River flood.

Downtown East Grand Forks, 1997

The county seat of Polk County is Crookston (pop. 7,891). The downtown buildings of the Crookston Commercial Historic District are on the National Register of Historic Places.

Downtown Crookston

The former Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (1912) in Crookston has been vacant since 1990.

Neo-Gothic, with three towers

Crookston’s Grand Theatre (originally the Grand Opera House, 1911), claims to have been showing movies longer than any other theater in the country.

Showing movies since 1918

One of the University of Minnesota’s five campuses is in Crookston.

UMC has about 1,600 students.

The town of Erskine (pop. 842) has the world’s largest northern pike, on the shores of Cameron Lake.

It’s really just a concrete statue!

The town of Fertile (pop. 842) has the second highest percentage of residents of Norwegian ancestry (54.4 percent) of any town in the U.S.

Fosston (pop. 1,527) was the mythical home of the lumberjack Cordwood Pete, the younger and smaller brother of Paul Bunyan.

Cordwood Pete and his dog, Tamarack

NEXT: CLEARWATER COUNTY

Minnesota: Red Lake County

Just south of Pennington County, Red Lake County (pop. 4,089), is the third smallest county (by population) in Minnesota.

It’s one of the few counties in the state that does not have a lake, but it does have the Red Lake River. (Upper Red Lake and Lower Red Lake are in Beltrami County, not Red Lake County.)

The Red Lake River flows 193 miles from Lower Red Lake to the Red River.

Red Lake County is the only Minnesota county that has no traffic lights.

Main Street, Red Lake Falls, in the 1950s

The county seat, Red Lake Falls, has a population of 1,427. The red brick courthouse was built in 1911.

In the Beaux Arts style

The second largest city in the county is Oklee, pop. 435. It was named for a Mr. O.K. Lee.

Red Lake County has many miles of snowmobile trails.

NEXT: POLK COUNTY

Minnesota: Pennington County

South of Marshall County on U.S. Highway 59 is Pennington County (pop. 13,930); it was separated from neighboring Red Lake County in 1910. The county seat is Thief River Falls (pop. 8,573).

The former Soo Line Depot in Thief River Falls, built in the American Craftsman style in 1913, was an important station on the main line between Minneapolis and Winnipeg. It once had 13 passenger trains a day; passenger service ended in 1967.

It’s now City Hall.

The Carnegie Library (1914) in Thief River Falls has been restored as a community center.

Author Gary Paulsen, who spent his early teen years in Thief River Falls, has written about how the librarian at the Carnegie Library inspired him to be an enthusiastic reader.

Gary Paulsen has written more than 200 books.

Thief River Falls has its own River Walk along the Lake and Thief rivers.

The Thief River flows into the Red Lake River, which flows into the Red River, which flows into Lake Winnipeg and eventually into Hudson Bay.

TRF native Ralph Engelstad donated $13.5 million for an arena for the high school ice hockey team.

There’s a larger Ralph Engelstad Arena at the University of North Dakota.

The Peder Engelstad Pioneer Village has a museum and 19 historic buildings.

Open Memorial Day through Labor Day

Seven Clans Casino, owned by the Red Lake Nation, is southeast of town.

Seven Clans Casino

NEXT: RED LAKE COUNTY

Minnesota: Marshall County

West of Beltrami County is Marshall County (pop. 9,439), which borders the Red River and North Dakota. The Red River Valley is a fertile area for farming of wheat, soybeans, potatoes, and sugar beets.

Marshall County had 19,000 people in 1920.

Warren (pop. 1,563), the county seat, has one of only six remaining drive-in movie theaters in Minnesota – the Sky-Vu Drive In.

Open Friday-Sunday, but not in winter

The nine-man football team at nearby Stephen-Argyle Central High School (serving the towns of Stephen and Argyle) won five straight state championships from 2003 to 2007.

The school has about 100 students.

Marshall County has towns named Viking (pop. 104) and Oslo (pop. 330), and quite a few Lutheran churches.

The other Oslo

Old Mill State Park has been called “an island of original landscape in a sea of cropland.”

Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge has moose, wolves, and about 294 species of birds on its 61,500 acres of shrubland, wetland, forestland, grassland, and cropland.

Fire tower in winter

A somewhat famous UFO event, the “Val Johnson Incident,” happened (or didn’t happen) in Marshall County in 1977.

NEXT: PENNINGTON COUNTY

Minnesota: Beltrami County

West of Itasca County on Highway 2 is Beltrami County (pop. 44,442). The county seat is Bemidji (pop. 13,431), home of the famous statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe – built in 1937 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.

18-foot Paul and 10-foot Babe

Bemidji’s Great Northern Depot (1913) is now a history museum.

The Beltrami County History Center

The actress Jane Russell was born in Bemidji in 1921.

“The Outlaw,” produced by Howard Hughes in 1943

The Bemidji Curling Club has won many state and national titles.

Bemidji curlers have represented the U.S. at the Olympics.

Bemidji State University is on the shores of Lake Bemidj.

Founded in 1919 as Bemidj State Normal School

The Paul Bunyan Playhouse, a summer theater troupe founded in 1951, plays at the Chief Theatre (1933).

The oldest continually operating summer theater in Minnesota

Beltrami County borders nine other counties – the most in Minnesota.

Roseau, Lake of the Woods, Koochiching, Itasca, etc.

The town of Funkley (pop. 5) is the least populated incorporated place in Minnesota.

The combined Upper Red Lake and Lower Red Lake, which are joined by a mile-wide channel, make up the largest lake that’s entirely within the state of Minnesota.

Lake Superior and Lake of the Woods are larger, but not entirely within Minnesota.

Red Lake is not a major fishing destination for Minnesotans; all of Lower Red Lake and part of Upper Red Lake are in the Red Lake Indian Reservation, and the tribal waters are generally off-limits to non-members.

Red Lakes and Lake of the Woods from space, upside down, in winter

NEXT: MARSHALL COUNTY

Minnesota: Itasca County

Leaving Cook County, we backtrack down Highway 61 to Duluth, then go northwest on Highway 2 to Itasca County (pop. 45,058). Its county seat, Grand Rapids, is the birthplace of Judy Garland.

Frances Ethel Gumm and friends

In addition to a Judy Garland museum (in her family’s home), Grand Rapids (pop. 10,869) has the impressive Old Central School, built in 1895 in the Richardsonian Romanesque style.

Restored in 1984

In the 19th century, Grand Rapids was the uppermost limit of steamboat travel on the Mississippi River. Now, the rapids are hidden under high waters behind a dam.

Mississippi River steamboat

Lake Itasca, the source of the Mississippi, is not in Itasca County; it’s in Clearwater County, about 100 miles west of Grand Rapids.

Itasca County has about 1,400 lakes and has been a longtime center of Minnesota’s timber industry.  Much of the county  is within the Chippewa National Forest and the Leech Lake Indian Reservation.

The county’s largest lake is Lake Winnibigoshish, which was created by the construction of a dam on the Missisissippi River in 1884.

Lake Winnie, for short

Northwest of Grand Rapids is Deer River (pop. 930), which hosts “The World’s Largest Wild Rice Festival” every year.

Foods for sale include Wild Rice Hotdish Dinner and Snapping Turtle Stew

NEXT: BELTRAMI COUNTY

Minnesota: Cook County

Minnesota’s far northeastern county is Cook County (pop. 5,176); it’s a triangle surrounded by Lake Superior on the southeast, Lake County on the west, and Ontario on the north.

It is named for a different Mr. Cook than the one in Illinois.

Cook County has the highest point in Minnesota – Eagle Mountain, elevation 2,301 feet, in Superior National Forest. There is a 3.5-mile trail from the trailhead to the summit.

View from the top of Eagle Mountain

The main road through Cook County is Minnesota Highway 61, which follows the shore of Lake Superior for 149 miles from Duluth to the Canadian border.

HIghway 61 in Minnesota was a U.S. highway until 1991.

The Superior Hiking Trail parallels Highway 61; its 275 miles are mainly on the ridgeline overlooking Lake Superior.

The county seat of Cook County is Grand Marais, which is French for “great marsh.” Grand Marais (pop. 1,351) is a popular entry point for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Grand Marais Harbor and Lake Superior

Several state parks are along Highway 61, including Cascade River and Temperance River.

Temperance River State Park

Near the Canadian border, on the Grand Portage Ojibwe Indian Reservation, is Grand Portage National Monument. It has a reconstructed trading post from the days of the fur trade on the Great Lakes.

Beaver pelt hat

The Grand Portage Lodge and Casino is also located on the reservation.

NEXT: ITASCA COUNTY

Minnesota: Lake County

Going northeast from Duluth, Minnesota State Highway 61 follows the shore of Lake Superior to Lake County (pop. 10,866).

Split Rock Lighthouse (1909)

Lake County extends north from Lake Superior to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and the Canadian border.

Lake County has 911 lakes, many of them unnamed.

The county seat is Two Harbors (pop. 3,745). The 3M Company, now headquartered in St. Paul, started in Two Harbors in 1902 as the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company. Two Harbors now has a 3M museum.

Invented by 3M employees

The Two Rivers Depot Museum, in the historic Duluth and Iron Range Depot (1907), has exhibits on Lake County’s three biggest industries: iron mining, timber, and commercial fishing.

Former headquarters of the Duluth and Iron Range Railroad

The tugboat Edna G is also on display in Two Harbors. It was the last coal-fired, steam-powered tugboat on the Great Lakes when it retired in 1981.

In service from 1896 to 1981

Lake Superior, the world’s largest freshwater lake, has had about 350 shipwrecks over the years – the largest of which was the Edmund Fitzgerald (fully loaded for Cleveland) in 1975.

Young Gordon Lightfoot (a Canadian!)

In recent years, most of the lighthouses (to aid ships’ navigation) on Lake Superior have closed, but the Two Harbors Lighthouse (1892) is still operating. The Lake County Historical Society has a museum inside.

It’s also a bed and breakfast.

Farther up the coast are several state parks, including Gooseberry Falls and Tettegouche.

High Falls, Baptism River, Tettegouche State Park

The nearby town of Silver Bay (pop. 1,887) was constructed in 1951-55 as a company town for the Reserve Mining Company, which built a 47-mile railroad line from its taconite mine in Babbitt (in the Iron Range)  to its processing plant in Silver Bay.

Taconite Capital of the World

NEXT: COOK COUNTY

Minnesota: St. Louis County

Leaving the Canadian border country, Highway 53 goes southeast into St. Louis County – the largest county in Minnesota and the second-largest U.S. county located east of the Mississippi River (after Aroostook County in Maine).

St. Louis County

St. Louis County has more than 500 lakes, including the eastern part of Rainy Lake, as well as large pieces of Voyageurs National Park, Superior National Forest, and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Canoeing in the Boundary Waters

In the center of St. Louis County is the Mesabi Iron Range, which has been America’s largest source of iron ore since its discovery in 1866.

The Hull-Rust-Mahoning Mine in Hibbing (pop. 16,361) is the world’s largest open-air iron mine.

3.5 miles long by 1.5 miles wide by 600 feet deep

Hibbing is the city where Greyhound bus lines began, in 1914.

Greyhound Museum, Hibbing

Bob Dylan grew up in Hibbing. For some reason, his boyhood home is a private residence and not a museum.

It’s alright, Ma.

Bob Dylan and Kevin McHale (the basketball player, not the guy on “Glee”) both graduated from Hibbing High School – classes of ’59 and ’76, respectively. The school was built in 1923 for $4 million, with help from the local mining industry.

Does any other city of 16,000 have a high school like this?

Nearby, the Iron Range town of Eveleth (pop. 3,718) has the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. For a time, Eveleth also had a hot water tower – but it was torn down.

North of Hibbing is the “Hill of Three Waters,” where the Laurentian Divide meets the St. Lawrence Divide. Rain that falls on this hill goes in three directions: north to Hudson Bay, east to the Atlantic Ocean (via Lake Superior), and south to the Gulf of Mexico (via the Mississippi River).

The Iron Range town of Virginia (pop. 8,712) is the northern end of U.S. Highway 169, which goes south to Tulsa by way of the Twin Cities, Iowa, Missouri, and Kansas.

World’s Largest Floating Loon, Virginia

About 60 miles down Highway 53 from the Iron Range is Duluth (pop. 86,265), the county seat and the fourth-largest city in Minnesota.

Duluth and Lake Superior

At the west end of Lake Superior, Duluth is the largest freshwater port on the Great Lakes.

The Aerial Lift Bridge rises to allow ships to pass under it.

The Great Lakes Aquarium is on the downtown waterfront.

The Duluth Depot (1892) no longer has regular train service, but it does have museums, offices, and the North Shore Scenic Railroad, which has passenger excursion trains in the summer.

The last Amtrak service was in 1985.

Interstate 35 starts (or ends) in Duluth and goes south to the Twin Cities, Des Moines, Kansas City, Oklahoma City, Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio, and Laredo.

NEXT: LAKE COUNTY

Minnesota: Koochiching County

Traveling east from Lake of the Woods County along the Rainy River and Minnesota Highway 11, you come to Koochiching County (pop. 13,311). Koochiching is the second largest county (in square miles) in Minnesota.

Smokey Bear Park, International Falls

How did it get that unusual name? Apparently, it came from either the Ojibway word “Gojijiing” or the Cree word “Kocicihk,” both meaning something like “at the place of inlets.”

Koochiching County is actually  known less for its name than for its climate. The county seat, International Falls (pop. 6,424), calls itself “The Icebox of the Nation.” In the winter, it often has the coldest temperature in the continental United States.

International Falls in winter

The average high temperature in January is 15.5, and the average low is -5.6. The record low is -55. The fictional town of Frostbite Falls on “The Rocky and Bullwinkle” TV show was based on International Falls.

Frostbite Falls’ most famous residents, other than Bronco Nagurski

Of course, in the summer,  Koochiching County – like all of the North Woods country – is green, beautiful, and full of fishermen and fisherwomen. International Falls is a gateway to Rainy Lake (which is in both Minnesota and Ontario) and Voyageurs National Park.

Iowa State University had a civil engineering camp on Rainy Lake in the ’20s and ’30s.

Voyageurs National Park, which includes much of Rainy Lake, was created in 1975. Most of the park can be reached only by boat; it is named for the French-Canadian fur traders who first explored the area.

International Falls is the home of Rainy River Community College, the only college in Minnesota along the Canadian border.

The hockey team at the only U.S. college with  a “Voyageurs” nickname

The largest employer in Koochiching County is the Boise Cascade paper mill in International Falls.

Boise Cascade plant and Rainy River

The International Bridge between International Falls and Fort Frances, Ontario, is a major north-south route. It is a privately owned toll bridge for both road and rail traffic.

The Koochiching County Courthouse (1909) is on the National Register of Historic Places.

In the Beaux Arts style

Two U.S. highways have their northern termini in International Falls: Highway 71, which goes southwest to Bemidji and then south to Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Texas, and Louisiana; and Highway 53, which goes southeast to Duluth and ends in La Crosse, Wisc.

NEXT: ST. LOUIS COUNTY

Minnesota: Lake of the Woods County

Lake of the Woods County, east of Roseau County on Minnesota Highway 11, has the second smallest population in the state (4,045). But, every summer, it gets much more crowded because of all the people fishing on . . . Lake of the Woods.

One of the 14,000 islands in Lake of the Woods

Lake of the Woods is huge, spreading across Minnesota, Manitoba, and Ontario. It’s the sixth-largest freshwater lake located (at least partially) in the United States, after the five Great Lakes. It has a wide variety of fish, but is best known for its walleye.

Willie the Walleye in Bay Front Park, Baudette

The county seat of Baudette (pop. 1,106), is known as The Walleye Capital of the World. Baudette and other towns in the area were rebuilt after a disastrous 300,000-acre forest fire in 1910.

Baudette after the 1910 fire

Lake of the Woods County is the northernmost county in the United States. There are two main reasons for this: 1) Alaska has no counties and 2) Lake of the Woods County has the Northwest Angle, which extends north into Canada.

Before Alaska was a state, this was the most northerly place in the U.S.

The Northwest Angle (pop. 152) goes about 27 miles north of the 49th Parallel, which is the U.S.-Canadian border from northwestern Minnesota through North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, and Washington. The Angle was a result of confusion about the location of the source of the Mississippi River at the time of the Treaty of Paris (1783).

The Northwest Angle is not connected by land to the rest of Minnesota. To reach its many fishing resorts, drivers must go through a section of Canada.

Northwest of Baudette, Zippel Bay State Park has white sand beaches for summer swimming in Lake of the Woods, as well as fishing, hiking, camping, and winter cross-country skiing.

For 85 miles east of Lake of the Woods, the Minnesota-Canada border is the Rainy River, which begins in Rainy Lake (in Koochiching County) and ends in Lake of the Woods.  Baudette is across the Rainy River from the town of Rainy River, Ontario.

Rainy River at Baudette.

NEXT: KOOCHICHING COUNTY

Minnesota: Roseau County

From Kittson County, Minnesota Highway 11 goes east into Roseau County (pop. 15,629). The county seat is Roseau (pop. 2,633).

Roseau is famous for snowmobiles and ice hockey. Polaris Industries was one of the first manufacturers of snowmobiles (in the 1950s), and today it continues to make snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles in Roseau. The Polaris Experience Center has exhibits about the firm, and the adjacent factory has daily tours.

Roseau High School’s boys’ hockey team has won the Minnesota state championship seven times, tying it with International Falls for the most titles.

Roseau Memorial Arena

Roseau has a first-run movie theater called the Roso (1940).

America’s only Roso Theater

The Roseau Pioneer Farm and Village, two miles west of town, has an agricultural museum with a variety of restored buildings.

Roseau Pioneer Farm and Village

East of Roseau on Highway 11 is the town of Warroad (pronounced “war road”). The name apparently comes from the days when Indian tribes used the area as a route to battle. Warroad is at the southwestern corner of Lake of the Woods, which extends north into Canada.

Warroad calls itself “Hockey Town USA.” Warroad High School has won four boys’ state titles and two girls’ state titles in the past 20 years. The town (pop. 1,781)  has two indoor hockey arenas: Olympic Arena (1984) and the adjacent Gardens Arena (1993).

Gardens Arena (left) and Olympic Arena (right)

NEXT: LAKE OF THE WOODS COUNTY

Minnesota: Kittson County

Today I’m starting my online journey through Minnesota’s 87 counties. The first stop is Kittson County, in the northwestern corner of the state. (See “Map of Minnesota,” above, for the complete route.) Kittson County (pop. 4,552) is the fourth-smallest county, by population, in the state.

In the northwestern corner of Kittson County, right next to the Canadian border, is the town of Noyes (pop. 11). Unfortunately for Noyes, its border crossing to Emerson, Manitoba, was closed some years ago. Now, northbound drivers must turn around in Noyes and go back south a few miles, then west a few miles into North Dakota, and then north on Interstate 29 to the border.

Former border crossing at Noyes

From the border, it’s only about 70 miles north to Winnipeg.

No, this is not Kittson County; it’s Winnipeg.

The flood-prone Red River of the North, which forms the border between Minnesota and North Dakota, is one of the world’s few north-flowing rivers. It goes through Manitoba to Lake Winnipeg and eventually to Hudson Bay.  The folk song “Red River Valley” was first sung in the late 1800s in the Red River area of Canada.

The other Red River is the Red River of the South; it flows between Texas and Oklahoma and later joins the Mississippi River in Louisiana. The title of the 1948 cattle-drive movie “Red River,” starring John Wayne and Montgomery Clift, refers to the Red River of the South.

They’re not in Minnesota.

In western Kittson County, the Red River Valley has fertile farmland for wheat, barley, sugar beets, sunflowers, canola, and soybeans. The river does not go in a straight line.

North Dakota on the left, Kittson County on the right

On the North Dakota side of the river, Interstate 29 goes south to Grand Forks, Fargo, and Sioux Falls, and then along the Missouri River to Sioux City, Omaha, and Kansas City.

U.S. Highway 75 goes south from Noyes to Hallock (pop. 981), the county seat, and on to Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas, ending in Dallas.  Several scenes from the movie “Fargo” were filmed in Hallock.

Paralleling Highway 75, a few miles to the east, is U.S. Highway 59; it also goes all the way to Texas, ending near the Mexican border in Laredo.

About 20 miles south of the Canadian border on Highway 59 is Lake Bronson – the town, the lake, and the state park (the only state park in the county). Minnesota may be the Land of 10,000 Lakes, but Kittson County’s most prominent lake is man-made.

Lake Bronson in autumn

The 45-foot Lake Bronson Water Tower, built by the Works Progress Administration in 1939, has an observation platform for visitors.

A few miles south of Lake Bronson is Karlstad, the “Moose Capital of the North.” Karlstad,  the second-largest town in Kittson County with a population of 760, has a life-size statue of a moose in the city park and hosts a Moose Festival every August.

NEXT: ROSEAU COUNTY