Indiana: Benton County

Benton County (pop. 8,854) is south of Newton County, along the border with Illinois. Indiana’s fourth-least-populous county, it reached its peak population of 13,123 in 1900.

Benton County in 1908

It is one of nine Benton counties, and one of the seven named for Thomas Hart Benton (1782-1858), five-term senator from Missouri.

The painter was his great-great-nephew.

Benton County has long been one of Indiana’s leaders in corn and soybean production. It’s now also known as the leader in wind-energy production in Indiana.

Fowler Ridge Wind Farm

The county seat of Benton County is the town of Fowler (pop. 2,317).

Benton County Courthouse (1874)

The 196-seat Fowler Theatre, in Streamline Moderne style, dates from 1940. It’s still showing movies.

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights

The town of Oxford (pop. 1,162) was the birthplace of Dan Patch (1896-1916), the fastest harness-racing horse of its era and a nationwide celebrity. Dan Patch lived in Minnesota from 1902 until his death.

Oxford has an annual Dan Patch Days festival

The town of Boswell (pop. 778) has long been known as “The Hub of the Universe” – as has Boston, Massachusetts.

The town of Earl Park (pop. 348) is distinguished by its cemetery and the 22-foot monument to early settler Edward C. Sumner and his wife, Abigail.

Erected in 1882

NEXT: WHITE COUNTY

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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