View of New Hastings Bridge over the Mississippi River in Hastings, Minnesota.

12 Towns in Minnesota With Rich History

Minnesota was the 32nd state to become admitted into the union and has been essential for various reasons, ranging from trade, the railroad, agriculture, and connections and relationships with the local peoples. Nowadays, it is more well-known for its closeness with nature. With a little looking, one can find the state's rich history in its small towns. From the Pipestone National Monument to the harbor in Grand Marais, these towns in the prairies of Minnesota feature fascinating pasts waiting to be explored.


Winnewissa Falls in Pipestone National Monument Park near Pipestone, Minnesota.
Winnewissa Falls in Pipestone National Monument Park near Pipestone, Minnesota. 

While much of Minnesota's rich history comes from settled towns, there is one place best known for its pre-settler history. The town of Pipestone, while small, is a town that is filled with historical roots. Infamous for the Pipestone National Monument, Pipestone is home to a number of historic quarries. These quarries were essential to 23 Indigenous tribes as a place to acquire red pipestone which was used in sacred ceremonial pipes. While visiting here, take a walk along Pipestone Creek and witness the incredible and majestic Winnewissa Falls. In town, it is encouraged to spend time at the Pipestone County Museum, where tourists will be able experience the history of this fantastic town. Participate in step-on tours where a member of staff will guide and teach guests about Pipestone's historical significance. 


Overlooking Winona, Minnesota.
Overlooking Winona, Minnesota.

Much of the history surrounding Minnesota comes from the Mississippi River. The town of Winona was founded in 1851 but was then renamed in 1852. This town's historical significance comes from being a supply point for settlers moving out west. While staying here, spend some time at the Kashubian Cultural Institute and Polish Museum, discover some of Winona's original settlers, and look at the more than 8,000 items collection. The Winona Downtown Commercial Historic District also offers more than 100 sites to visit that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, so take a look at Minnesota's most extensive collection of Victorian commercial architecture on the Mississippi. Make sure to save some time to check out the Winona County History Center, where travelers can continue to learn more about the interesting past the town offers. 


Vermillion Falls Park features an urban waterfall beside an old factory in Hastings, Minnesota
Vermillion Falls Park features an urban waterfall beside an old factory in Hastings, Minnesota

The fascinating town of Hastings lies on a junction between the Mississippi and St. Croix Rivers. While first visited around 1820, this town was officially settled in 1853 and named after one of the original founders "Henry Hastings Sibley." This town was important for settlers moving west and contributing to the economy by being a shipping and milling center. Take a look at some history by touring the LeDuc Historic Estate, where visitors can see the home of Civil War Brevet Brigadier General William LeDuc. For those who do not mind a bit of a walk, take a walk on the beautiful Vermillion Park Trail and explore the Old Mill Ruins. One of the most scenic historical locations in town is Vermillion Falls. This 35-foot waterfall is not only beautiful but was also historically used to help power the gristmill. 

Grand Marais

Grand Marais, a small harbor city on the north shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota.
Grand Marais a small harbor city on the north shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota.

First settled by French Canadian Voyageurs, Grand Marais became an important trading and shipping harbor in the 1700s. One can experience the amazing history of this small town by first exploring the History Museum and its variety of exhibits. It was initially built in 1896 as the lightkeeper's house; however, is now a museum and is open to tourists year-round. For those who are art lovers, then the Johnson Heritage Post Art Gallery is another must-visit attraction on a visit here. Their collection hosts art by Anna Johnson dating back to the early 1900s and many other artists from the region. Experience early-day fishing at the Replica 1930s Fish House and take a look at early tools and other instruments used by fishermen in the area. 

Two Harbors

Jetty at Two Harbors, Minnesota.
Jetty at Two Harbors, Minnesota.

Sitting alongside Lake Superior, this small town of roughly 3,500 people was actually initially two separate communities. Combining in 1885 and finally incorporated in 1888, Two Harbors was known predominantly for its logging industry. Nowadays, this summer getaway still has many attractions and amenities to enjoy its history. Check out the Lighthouse Museum, where tourists may learn about the lighthouses in the area, and also features an on-site bread-and-breakfast. Spend some time at the Duluth and Iron Depot, where you can explore the museum and learn about how goods, services, and people traveled back in the day. View the birthplace of the global 3M company at the 3M Birthplace Museum to learn about its fascinating beginnings.


Aerial view of Stillwater, Minnesota.
Aerial view of Stillwater, Minnesota.

A must-visit for any history buff visiting Minnesota is the town of Stillwater. This town was first established in 1848 and is considered the birthplace of Minnesota. Located alongside the Mississippi River and bordering Wisconsin, this town was well known for its lumber industry. Take a stroll across one of the few operating lift bridges in the US: the Historic Lift Bridge. A stroll down the Historic Main Street of Stillwater is a must for visitors. Explore the various art galleries, boutiques, and antique shops still there. Tour the Arcola Mills Historic site and look at the pre-Civil War milling community that is still there. 


Aerial view of Ely, Minnesota
Aerial view of Ely, Minnesota

In the Northeastern part of Minnesota, near the east end of the Vermilion Iron Range, travelers may find themselves in the quaint town of Ely. This town once depended on iron mining and logging but has since shifted to outdoor tourism. After enjoying some time outdoors, the Bois Forte Heritage Center and Cultural Museum is a great place to learn more about the history and ways of life of the Ojibwe, who once called this their home. The Ely Folk School is another location that catches the eyes of many. There, guests can have a go at creating traditional crafts used in the past. The Ely-Winton Historical Society is another great location to see artifacts about the history of the area and Minnesota. 

Red Wing

Red Wing is a Community in Southern Minnesota on the Mississippi River
Red Wing is a Community in Southern Minnesota on the Mississippi River

Like much of the state, settlements alongside the Mississippi River were critical in this state's history. Alongside the river in the southeastern part of the state lies the historic town of Red Wing. This town was settled in 1853 and named after the chief of the local Sioux Village. Stay at the St. James Hotel, which became a hub of Red Wing when it was initially opened in 1875. Explore the rich history of this region at the Goodhue County Historical Society and dabble in the museum's different exhibits. Watch a play at the Sheldon Theatre (initially built in 1904) and take in the beauty of one of the oldest operating theaters in the state. 


Paul Bunyan Land Amusement Park, Brainerd, Minnesota.
Paul Bunyan Land Amusement Park, Brainerd, Minnesota. Image credit Lorie Shaull via Wikimedia Commons

Heading north of the Twin Cities lies the picturesque town of Brainerd. Originally a dense pine forest, this area was used as hunting grounds and a place to forage for blueberries by the Chippewa Indians. In 1873, the town was officially settled, but much of the history of this beautiful town can be experienced at one of the local museums. Go back in time and experience the history of the settlers in the area by visiting the Crow Wing County Historical Society Museum and Library. See the tools and pieces of history that loggers used, railroad workers, and mining history. If you are passionate about architecture, the Parker Building is also a great spot to view some Romanesque architecture. 


: Landscape view of the Svea School, a four-floor country schoolhouse with Neoclassical architecture, that was built in 1907.
Svea School, a four-floor country schoolhouse with Neoclassical architecture. Image credit Cynthia Shirk via Shutterstock.

The creation and expansion of the railroad is an integral part of American history. One of the division headquarters was located in the town of Willmar. Originally settled in 1871, this town was an important regional shipping point. To take in the history of this town fully, a visit to the Kandiyohi County Historical Society is a must-do. This six-building museum has displays showcasing this town's importance and history. While here, learn what it was like for students in the 1880s at the District 18 Schoolhouse and be transported back in time. For nature lovers, the Sibley State Park is beautiful and has plenty of history for all to see. 

Saint Peter

 Downtown St. Peter, Minnesota
Downtown St. Peter, Minnesota. Image credit McGhiver via Wikimedia Commons.

For at least 9,000 years, people have been gathering at the wondrous location that eventually became the town of St. Peter (1853). A town that was the location of the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux, one can learn about one of the most significant events in Minnesota's history at the Treaty Site History Center. The treaty was signed in 1851, and roughly 24 million acres of land were sold to the United States government. Spend time at the home of the first mayor of Saint Peter at the E. St. Julien Cox House. At the same time, learn about the children that grew up and the impressive things they accomplished. Make sure to explore the St. Peter State Hospital Museum which holds a number of treatment artifacts, furniture, and photographs about life at the hospital. 

International Falls

Smokey Bear statue in park, International Falls.
Smokey Bear statue in the park, International Falls. Image credit EWY Media via Shutterstock.

The beautiful town of International Falls is far north in Minnesota, near the border between the United States and Canada. Not only is this small town filled with incredible views of nature, but it also contains an impressive history. Learn about more than 10,000 years worth of history at the Koochiching Museums. Learn about the native peoples who settled in the region after the last glacier retreated from the area. Discover why the fur trade was so dominant in this area at the museums as well. While not being able to visit anymore, the Grand Mound is an incredibly fascinating historical site and is an important site for Native Americans in the area. Containing five sacred burial mounds, villages, and fishing sites, this site was closed to the public in 2018. 

Minnesota is a state that is surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery in the United States while also holding a significant place in American history. With that being said, the incredible history of this state can be found in so many of its quaint, small towns. While exploring the nature of this state, be sure to be on the lookout for some of its rich history and learn about the often-overlooked importance of this small state.  

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