Encircle Minnesota

Encircle Minnesota: From the origin of the Mississippi River through small towns and abundant lakes, you will relish experiencing “Minnesota Nice” as you Encircle the Gopher State. Regardless of how far or long I travel, I love coming home to my birthplace.

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1 Boys Crossing Mississippi River Headwaters in Park Rapids, Minnesota

These two boys had lots of fun crossing the Mississippi River Headwaters at Itasca State Park in northern Minnesota. The origin of the Mighty Mississippi was first explored by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft in 1832. His expedition was guided by Ozawindib, an Ojibwe chief. The Native Americans called the source both Omushkos and Lac la Biche. Schoolcraft renamed it Lake Itasca meaning “truth head.”

Miss Headwaters Visitor Park Shevlin, MN 56676

2 Paddleboat at Mississippi River Headwaters in Park Rapids, Minnesota

Floating along in the Coborn’s Cruises Chester Charles II paddleboat is a scenic way to view the Mississippi River Headwaters. These rocks mark the river’s origin in Itasca State Park. Founded in 1891, the park is the state’s oldest with over 32,000 acres and about 100 lakes. From here, the Mississippi River begins its 2,552 mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico near New Orleans.

Miss Headwaters Visitor Park Shevlin, MN 56676

3 Paul Bunyan Statue in Akeley, Minnesota

To celebrate the birthplace of Paul Bunyan, sculptor Dean Krotzer created the world’s tallest statue of the famous lumberjack in 1985. If standing, this bearded woodman would be 60 feet tall. This small town in north-central Minnesota is named after Healy C. Akeley. He co-founded the Red River Lumber Company in 1893. His lumber mill was the first to personify the giant of folklore in an advertising campaign by William Laughead starting in 1916.

Broadway St E & Hulet Ave SW Akeley, MN 56433

4 Babe the Blue Ox Mural in Akeley, Minnesota

Babe the Blue Ox was the constant companion of Paul Bunyan. This mural graces the side of a former grocery store. Across Broadway Street West are a giant statue of Paul Bunyan and a museum/visitor center of the same name. At the start of the 20th century, Akeley had a population of about 3,500. Most were lumberjacks or people who worked in a local sawmill. Today the town has less than 500 residents. Other images and statues of Paul and Babe can be found in neighboring towns such as Bemidji and Brainerd, Minnesota.

Graceson Ave N & Broadway St E Akeley, MN 56433

5 Hopperstad Stave Church in Moorhead, Minnesota

In 1130, the Hopperstad Stave Church was built in Vikøyri, Norway. It is still standing. This style of a wooden structure with post and lintel construction and a steep sloping roofline was popular in northern Europe during the Middle Ages. This replica plus a Viking ship are a few of the educational exhibits at the Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead. The museum’s mission is to tell the story of one-third of the state’s population with Nordic heritage. Moorhead has about 42,000 residents. The city is located in northwest Minnesota across the Red River from Fargo, North Dakota.

202 1st Ave N, Moorhead, MN 56560

6 Sinclair Lewis Boyhood Home in Sauk Centre, Minnesota

In 1885, Harry Sinclair Lewis was born at this middle-class house in Sauk Centre, Minnesota. “Red” was tall, a loner and an avid reader who dreamed of escaping the Midwest to become a famous writer. He had early success as the editor of the Yale Literary Magazine. This was followed by a few published short stories and novels. His first blockbuster was “Main Street” in 1920. Former neighbors saw themselves in the thinly guised story of small-town life in Gopher Prairie. Six more popular novels followed by the end of the decade. In 1930, Sinclair Lewis became the first U.S. writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Learn more about this great 20th century novelist by touring his boyhood home.

810 Sinclair Lewis Ave, Sauk Centre, MN 56378

7 Sinclair Lewis Mural on Palmer House in Sauk Centre, Minnesota

Native-born Sinclair Lewis was persona non grata by Sauk Centre residents after “Main Street” was published in 1920. His legacy is now deeply associated with this town of less than 4,400 people. The author’s profile is appropriately located at the intersection of Sinclair Lewis Avenue and Main Street. Roger Reinardy painted the tribute on the Palmer House, a hotel built in 1901. Sinclair Lewis worked here for two summers as a youth. A similar setting was called Minniemashie House in the “Main Street” novel.

500 Sinclair Lewis Ave, Sauk Centre, MN 56378

8 St. Cloud Skyline along Lake George in St. Cloud, Minnesota

There are 95 parks for the 65,000 people who live in St. Cloud, Minnesota. One of them is Eastman Park. Located near downtown, it offers regular community events or just a relaxing paddleboat ride around Lake George. On the right is the Cathedral of Saint Mary, a Catholic church built in 1920.

1101 17th St S, St Cloud, MN 56301

9 Cathedral of Saint Mary in St. Cloud, Minnesota

Father Francis Pierz established Saint Mary’s Parish in 1855. Two previous churches were replaced with the Cathedral of Saint Mary in 1931. Architect Nairne Fisher is credited with the Roman Catholic church’s Italianate design featuring a 75 foot bell tower. The brick structure is located in St. Cloud, Minnesota. The namesake for the city is Saint Clodoald. Nicknamed Cloud, he was entitled to divide the Kingdom of Orléans with his brothers in the early 6th century. Instead, he became a celebrated priest. His relics are buried near Paris in Saint-Cloud, France.

25 8th Ave S, St Cloud, MN 56301

10 Smile and Sad Masks of Greek Comedy and Tragedy Mural in St. Cloud, Minnesota

Some of the outdoor theaters in Greece accommodated an audience of 10,000 or more. When you sit at the top of these ancient ruins, you are amazed to hear a whisper from center stage. Now envision the actors from 550 to 220 BC wearing masks during their performances. The smiling and sad masks representing comedy and tragedy evolved from this period into the symbol for theater. This wall mural of the twin Greek masks is in St. Cloud, Minnesota.

10th Ave S & 1st St S, St. Cloud, MN 56301

11 Stearns County Courthouse in St. Cloud, Minnesota

The Stearns County Courthouse was built in 1922 featuring a Neoclassical design with a façade and pillars of granite from Cold Spring, Minnesota. It replaced an earlier courthouse from 1864. The judicial building is located in St. Cloud, the state’s tenth largest city with about 65,000 residents. The county’s original name was Stevens, a tribute to the first governor of Washington Territory. He took office in 1853. It was renamed for Charles Thomas Stearns. This politician helped establish the county when Minnesota became a state in 1858.

725 Courthouse Square, St Cloud, MN 56303

12 City of St. Augusta in Stearns County, Minnesota

St. Augusta is located in central Minnesota in Stearns County. When it became incorporated as a city in 2000, it was named Ventura. This was a tribute to Minnesota’s 38th governor. Jesse Ventura’s colorful and often controversial career has included being a Navy Seal, a WWF Hall of Fame wrestler, an actor and radio broadcaster plus a bodyguard for the Rolling Stones. The 3,500 residents quickly reconsidered and renamed the city St. Augusta. A prominent landmark is St. Mary Help of Christians. This Roman Catholic parish was founded in 1856.

24588 Co Rd 7, St Augusta, MN 56301

13 One-room Schoolhouse in Stearns County, Minnesota

While photographing this closed schoolhouse, I was approached by a retired farmer who barked, “What yah want?” “Just admiring it,” I said. His wrinkled face lite up. “My kid brother and I spent 12 years at the old Meyer School. Wanna go inside?” After sorting through a key ring, he opened the door. Inside was so well preserved it seemed the kids had just finished class. It contained the original wooden desks, a potbelly stove between well-used blackboards, a yellowed portrait of George Washington and an American flag with 48 stars. There were about 8,000 of these one-room schoolhouses across the state during the first half of the 20th century. This form of rural education ended in Stearns County in 1971. However, there is still a one-room schoolhouse operating in Angle Inlet at the northern tip of Minnesota.

21190 Co Rd 7, St Augusta, MN 55382

14 Amber Waves of Grain in Stearns County, Minnesota

This hay field in Stearns County, Minnesota, looks like the first two lines of “America the Beautiful.” The lyrics begin, “O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain…” Katharine Lee Bates published her poem as “Pikes Peak” on July 4, 1895. The composition would have probably drifted into obscurity if composer Samuel Ward had not written the music “Materna” in 1882. The two pieces were combined in 1910, forming one of the United States’ most patriotic songs.

19953 Co Rd 7, Clearwater, MN 55320

15 Pair of Bridled Horses at Fairhaven Farm in South Haven, Minnesota

These bridled horses just finished giving families a hayride around the Fairhaven Farm in central Minnesota. This team of Jim (on the left) and Jake were crossbred on an Amish farm. Their Belgian Horse heritage gives them the strength of a draft horse while their American Paint Horse genes are responsible for their handsome white, brown and chestnut colored coats.

13835 51st Ave, South Haven, MN 55382

16 Pumpkins at Fairhaven Farm in South Haven, Minnesota

Fairhaven Farm makes a delightful family outing in mid-October. This picturesque Yankee barn was built in the 1860s and once was a stage coach stop. In 1985, Marsha Anklam began her dream by purchasing this 50 acre property in the heart of Minnesota. Then she and David Macgregor slowly converted it into a fruit farm. This is a popular venue during autumn weekends to pick-your-own apples, pumpkins and gourds followed by a horse-drawn hayride.

13835 51st Ave, South Haven, MN 55382

17 Marilyn Monroe Divas Mural in Annandale, Minnesota

The word diva once meant an idolized, successful female performer with lots of talent and Marilyn Monroe was an iconic example. Norma Jeane’s classic smile and flowing blond hair have been immortalized in films, photos and art. This tribute, painted by muralist Chantal Boon, seems a fitting logo for Diva’s Hair and Body Care Professionals in the small town of Annandale, Minnesota.

52 Oak Ave N, Annandale, MN 55302

18 Fishing on Pontoon at Sunset in Annandale, Minnesota

Minnesota is The Land of 10,000 Lakes. There are actually over 12,000 of them. After surviving the long cold winter, most residents “go to the cabin” during summer weekends to fish, boat, barbeque and listen to the loons, the state bird. Nothing completes a perfect summer day better than a perfect sunset.

9194 MN-24 Annandale, MN 55302

19 Mom and Baby Loon Swimming in Wright County, Minnesota

Mom and Baby Loon Swimming in Wright County, Minnesota
All moms are proud when they have their baby out for a stroll (er, swim) and this common loon is no exception. In the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Minnesotans love watching their state bird gracefully swim during the day and then listening to their distinctive, almost maniacal calls at night. My lake in central Minnesota typically has a dozen breeding pairs of loons each summer.

8718 Jasper Ave NW, Annandale, MN 55302

20 Red Barn and Silo in Stearns County, Minnesota

Minnesota is ranked the fifth largest state in agriculture. So it is not surprising to see plenty of red barns and silver silos among the 26 million acres of farm land. It is estimated there are nearly 75,000 farms across the state. 43% of the cash receipts come from corn and soybeans. No wonder they call them cash crops.

7950 Hwy 55, Maple Lake, MN 55358

21 Sweet Corn Banner Over Fresh Vegetable Stand in Buffalo, Minnesota

Sweet Corn Banner Over Fresh Vegetable Stand in Buffalo, Minnesota

Lake Blvd S & 1st St S, Buffalo, MN 55313

Buffalo, Minnesota Composite of 58 Photos

58 photos of Buffalo, which is a typical Midwest town of 15,000 people located in the heart of Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Lakes. The images include a sweet corn stand, rows of soybeans, churches, a loon, lots of buffalo statues, and the government building for its role as county seat for Wright County. Buffalo’s slogan is, “Welcome Home!” It lives up to the “Minnesota Nice” reputation.

22 City Hall in Howard Lake, Minnesota

In 1855, Morgan Cochran became the first settler on a two-mile plot of land in Central Minnesota. The village was originally called Lynden. In 1869, it was given the name of an adjoining lake. This was Howard Lake’s second City Hall. The red doors once opened into a garage for horse-drawn fire engines. Upstairs was a barber shop. In keeping with its multi-purpose role, it is now the Municipal Liquor Off-sale store. Profits help augment the government’s annual budget to serve its 2,000 residents. The 1904 structure is listed by the National Register of Historic Places.

733 6th St, Howard Lake, MN 55349

23 St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Waverly, Minnesota

St. Mary’s has served Roman Catholics in this Central Minnesota town since it was built in 1890. The community of 1,400 people had a famous resident: Hubert H. Humphrey. He was the 38th Vice President of the United States from 1965 – 1969 while serving with Lyndon Johnson. When HHH died in Waverly in 1978, his wife of 42 years, Muriel Humphrey, completed his term as the U.S. Senator from Minnesota. Although the career politician was democratic, he earned bipartisan admiration and affection across the state.

Elm Ave & 6th St N Waverly, MN 55390

24 Trolley Car in Stillwater, Minnesota

Stillwater is a city of 18,000 residents located in the eastern part of the state. Incorporated in 1854, its name is a reference to the St. Croix River, the waterway defining the border with Wisconsin. Their slogan is “The Birthplace of Minnesota” because a delegation met here in 1848, headed by Henry Hastings Sibley, to appeal congress to be admitted to the union. Ten years later, Minnesota became the 32nd state with Sibley as its first governor. You can find a marker commemorating the event on the corner of Main and Myrtle Streets. It is easy to walk around and enjoy the charms of this riverside city. Alternatively, hop aboard the Stillwater Trolley for a 45 minute tour of its historic sites.

400 Nelson St E, Stillwater, MN 55082

25 Commander Elevator in Stillwater, Minnesota

19th century Stillwater is most associated with lumbering. However, saw mills were not the only commerce powered by the St. Croix River. There were also flourmills. In 1898, the Woodward Elevator Company built this grain elevator. It was relocated in 1904 and then operated by several milling companies. 15 years later, it was purchased by the Commander Company. Although they sold it in 1961, the city landmark is still called the Commander Elevator. It was last used for grain storage in 1986. The historic property is now the Tin Bins restaurant.

413 Nelson St. East, Stillwater, MN 55082

26 Joseph Wolf Brewing Company in Stillwater, Minnesota

In 1868, Martin Wolf started the Martin Wolf Brewing Company. Three years later, his brother Joseph bought the business with partner Joseph Tanner. In 1873, construction of the state’s first steam-powered brewery was complete. The business thrived until crushed by the passage of the Volstead Act. During Prohibition, the company struggled to survive by bottling non-alcoholic beverages but eventually closed in 1925. In 2013, the brand was revitalized and the beer started flowing again, thanks to Joseph’s great-granddaughters. Wolf Beer marketed several craft brews before closing again.

Nelson St East & St. Croix Trail N, Stillwater, MN 55082

27 Stillwater Caves in Stillwater, Minnesota

The bluffs along many Minnesota rivers are sandstone. This sedimentary rock is excellent at purifying seeping water. The process also creates caves. They tend to be moist and cool. During the 19th century, they were often extended with pickaxes and then used for storing perishables. Cave tours are available in the Twin Cities. Until recently, you could experience a 30 minute tour of the Stillwater Caves. It was used as a trading post beginning in 1838. In the 1880s, Joseph Wolf bought it to store beer from his adjacent brewery.

Nelson St East & St. Croix Trail N, Stillwater, MN 55082

28 History of Steamboats in Stillwater, Minnesota

In the late 1600s, French fur traders began arriving by canoe to the St. Croix River Valley to barter trinkets with the Ojibwe and Dakota tribes in exchange for animal pelts. Traveling was arduous. In 1838, soon after the logging boom began, the first riverboat arrived. Palmyra was captained by George B. Cole. By 1858, nearly 400 steamboats docked in St. Paul while serving regional river towns. The paddleboats carried goods and also were lavish transportation for immigrants and early settlers. Colonists were thrilled to hear the welcome whistle of an approaching stern-wheeler each spring as the ice melted. Approximately 25 steamboats made stops along the St. Croix River in the 1850s. During the second half of the 19th century, train tracks were laid in increasing numbers and better roads were built. These cause the rapid demise of steamboats. You can relive these historic times by cruising on one of five steamboats operated by St. Croix Boat & Packet. Anastasia was named after Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna, the daughter of Nicholas II, the last Emperor of Russia.

525 South Main St. Stillwater, MN 55082

29 Lift Bridge in Stillwater, Minnesota

A swing bridge was used to connect Minnesota with Wisconsin until 1931 when the Stillwater Bridge opened for two lanes of traffic. The middle of its 1,050 span over the St. Croix River is raised 140 feet to allow for passage of tall ships. Over the decades, the structure became deficient and notorious for gridlock. In 2017, it was replaced by the St. Croix Crossing Bridge. Fortunately, the river’s landmark was spared demolition by being listed with National Register of Historic Places. The lift bridge is now used by pedestrians and cyclists.

Lowell Park South, Sam Bloomer, Stillwater, MN 55082

30 Leo’s Grill & Malt Shop in Stillwater, Minnesota

Midwest small towns are known for their hospitality and Stillwater is the epitome of Minnesota Nice. Small towns are also known for tiny restaurants serving hometown food on Main Street. Leo’s Grill & Malt Shop fits that description perfectly. The handmade burgers are seared and juicy. The malts are thick and delicious. And if you have difficulty choosing between the fries or onion rings – treat yourself – order a basket of both. When proprietor Cory Buettner purchased Lily’s Grill & Malt Shop in 2005, he renamed this 1950s-themed gem after his dad, Leo.

131 Main Street, Stillwater, MN 55082

31 1884 Upper St. Croix River Log Jam Mural in Stillwater, Minnesota

In the 19th century, the St. Croix River Valley was filled with forests of white pine. At maturity, these trees grow 80 to 100 feet and are ideal for lumber. In 1837, the United States signed the Treaty of St. Peters with the Ojibwe permitting a very large tract of land to be timbered. This sparked a logging boom from 1839 until 1914. At its peak, thousands of lumberjacks from over 150 camps harvested trees in the winter and stacked their cuts on the banks of the St. Croix. As the ice melted in the spring, the logs were floated downstream towards sawmills steered by “river pigs.” Massive log jams were typical. Sometimes this river congestion extended 15 or more miles upstream. In 2007, Raduenz McErly captured this common springtime event in the mural titled, “1884 Upper St. Croix River Log Jam.”

04 Main Street North, Stillwater, MN 55082

32 Isaac Staples’ Sawmill in Stillwater, Minnesota

In 1853, Isaac Staples traveled from Maine to Stillwater to leverage his timber experience during the St. Croix River Valley logging boom. With an investment from his Maine-based business partner – Samuel Freeman Hersey – Staples built the Hersey and Staples Sawmill in 1854. Two years later, they purchased the financially-troubled St. Croix Boom Company. This company captured all logs flowing downstream into a boom. Boom rats then sorted the logs by owner based on each logging firm’s unique branded mark. This service by “The Octopus” was hugely profitable, making Staples a very rich man. In 1869, he purchased the Sawyer & Heaton Mills on this site. The 80 foot chimney is part of a powerhouse built in 1850. In 1894, the sawmill was destroyed by fire. This sheet-metal building was constructed by the Stillwater Manufacturing Company in 1900.

402-410 North Main St., Stillwater, MN 55082

33 Naming of St. Croix River in Stillwater, Minnesota

The St. Croix River headwater is in Douglas County, Wisconsin south of Lake Superior. 125 miles of its southerly flow defines the border between Minnesota (on the left) and Wisconsin (on the right) until it becomes a tributary of the Mississippi River in Prescott, Wisconsin near St. Paul, Minnesota. The Dakota people called the river Ouadeba. The Ojibwe named it Jiibayaatig-ziibi. When Missionary Father Louis Hennepin discovered it in 1683, he referred to it as River of the Grave. It was renamed Rivière de Sainte-Croix in 1688 by cartography Jean-Baptiste-Louis Franquelin while mapping New France. This French colony included the Great Lakes until the land was relinquished in 1763 with the signing of the Treaty of Paris.

Scenic Overlook, 460 Broadway St S, Stillwater, MN 55082

34 St. Croix Crossing Bridge in Stillwater, Minnesota

When the $646 million St. Croix Crossing Bridge project was finished in 2017, it replaced the Stillwater Bridge about a mile away and doubled the traffic capacity to four lanes. It is a mile long. On the Wisconsin riverbank, the platform is 150 feet above the water. About 14,000 trucks of concrete (140,000 cubic yards) were used during construction. The bridge’s design is called extradosed. This is a blend of box-girder and cable-stayed features.

Lake St. Croix Overlook, Lookout Trail, Stillwater, MN 55082

35 Aerial Lift Bridge in Duluth, Minnesota

This handsome Aerial Lift Bridge has been a prominent landmark of the Duluth Ship Canal since it was extensively remodeled in 1930. The 390 foot span elevates 135 feet. It is partially raised in this photo. Shipping schedules are available so you can watch a massive freighter pass beneath the bridge. In the background is a conical steel tower called the Breakwater Inner Light. It was built in 1910.

600 S Lake Ave, Duluth, MN 55802

36 North Pier Lighthouse in Duluth, Minnesota

In 1871, a canal was created at Minnesota Point that is 245 feet wide and leads into a major commercial harbor. This white lighthouse with its black lantern has aided navigation from the northern pier since it became operational in the early 20th century. It is adjacent to Canal Park, a popular tourist attraction near downtown Duluth. In addition to a visitor’s center and museum, the area features several restaurants and shops, many of which are housed in old warehouses.

600 S Lake Ave, Duluth, MN 55802

37 South Pier Lighthouse in Duluth, Minnesota

The South Pier Lighthouse stands 44 feet tall at the end of a 1,700 foot breakwater at the mouth of the Duluth-Superior harbor. The red and white brick light was built in 1901 and automated in 1976. It is one of five Minnesota lighthouses that are still active along the shores of Lake Superior.

702 S Lake Ave Duluth, MN 55802

38 Two Harbors Lighthouse and Museum in Two Harbors, Minnesota

This charming red lighthouse was built in 1892 on the east side of Agate Bay to help ships carrying iron ore to navigate the coastline of Lake Superior. Its 43.5 foot lantern was manually operated by the resident keeper until 1921 when the light was electrified. Since 1999, it has been managed by the Lake County Historical Society as a museum and bed & breakfast. However, it is still an active light, making it Minnesota’s oldest. The statue in the foreground is called, “Boy and Girl with Umbrella.” This wishing fountain was created in 1905 for the home of Thomas Owens, the former superintendent of the DM&IR railroad.

1 LightHouse Point, Two Harbors, MN 55616

39 Split Rock Lighthouse in Two Harbors, Minnesota

Split Rock Lighthouse is an octagonal, brick light in the Iron Range region of Minnesota. Ralph Russel Tinkham created the picturesque design. It became operational in 1910. For almost 60 years, the rotating beacon could be seen up to 22 miles away in Lake Superior thanks to the vigilant keepers. They had to crank the 6.5 ton lens weights every two hours while also maintaining adequate kerosene levels. In 1940, Split Rock was fitted with a 1000 watt bulb. This scenic lighthouse and ten adjacent buildings are one of the most visited parks in the state.

3713 Split Rock Lighthouse Rd, Two Harbors, MN 55616