Over 13,000 years ago, the gigantic Lake Agassiz formed in the northwest corner of Minnesota. And with that formation came what we know today as the Red River Valley. Rich mineral deposits were left behind as the banks of Lake Agassiz receded to nonexistence. The lake bed created a fine grain deposit and left behind an outstanding characteristic for the soil of the surrounding territory and broad valley. Combines and tractors now stroll the fertile land that became a prime location for its many agricultural uses. Wheat, sugar beets, soybeans, corn and potatoes see their way through the fertile soil and give rise to our living and existence here in the Red River Valley.


Before it was ever known as the place we now know it, there was the Pembina Trail. The deep ruts that were carved into our rich soil still remain here years after Joe Rolette boasted the ox cart traveled transportation for the Red River Valley.

As you enter our city you are reminded of this time in history as Joe Rolette – Father of the Pembina Trail – stares towards Highway 2 East and Highway 75 South. Mistakenly thought of as Paul Bunyan, the grandiose statue immortalizes the Pembina Trail which was the basis for the state’s first highway system and the Red River Valley’s first source of commercial transportation for nearly 40 years.

Evidence of the Pembina Trail can still be found in our area today. The deeps ruts cut by the thousands of Ox Carts into the prairie are still apparent five to six miles east of where the memorial stands. The ox carts that once plodded through are remembered every summer with our annual Ox Cart Days Festival and with the World’s Largest Ox Cart which stands next to the county museum reminding us of the ways smoothed for our generation by our forefathers.

By 1871, the ox cart trail had died and so had Joe Rolette. New modes of transportation began to take hold.



As the railroads were built and the people began to relocate to our Red Lake River, with a flip of a coin, Crookston got its name.

The potential of our community around 1872 was immense – railroads, saw mills, flouring mills and brick yards began to be built. Throughout the 1880’s and 1890’s, our town began to emerge with railroad trade, lumber and agricultural settlements that allowed our town to exist. The railroad boomed as it passed through Crookston with land sales attracting a large number of settlers. The St. Paul and Pacific Railroad extended their line north, crossing the Red Lake River. Now with eight railway lines, Crookston was a railway center reaching directly to St. Paul, Minneapolis, Duluth, Winnipeg, and across North Dakota. The town began to prosper once steamboats started traveling up the river bringing supplies and early pioneers. The crude log buildings gave way to more modern brick structures as streets were improved considering the various logging operations that comprised a significant portion of business. The untouched prairies soon became fertile farms and Crookston became the center of commerce. Operas and plays busted through the Grand Opera House while the Crookston Band performed concerts on the streets throughout the summer months. As the city continued to grow, countless clubs, societies, literary and musical circles were formed paving way to the years to come.

The place once known as “The Crossing” in 1872 and “Queen City” in 1879 that had only boosted grated streets, jails, and a few plank sidewalks, has come to a place in time where the growing city needs to be renamed. As the community stood indecisive, suggestions that the town carry the surname of the first major and railroad surveyor who was known as Mr. Davis were mentioned. Another proposal came about to honor Colonel William Crook, a rugged solider, railroad builder and pathfinder. However, according to legend and a toss of coin, we came to be known as we now are: the City of Crookston.


As rail transportation declined in the 1940’s, so did the central business district although much of it has remained. It is a far cry from the settlement of tents and tarpapered shanties known as ‘The Crossing”, grated streets and plank sidewalks of “Queen City”, to the present city of Crookston. Reality was that times had changed our town that was once the largest city on the Minnesota side of the Red River Valley. Today, our streets remind us of the changes that have occurred since those times. From the first boom our city saw during 1878 to 1882 several significant buildings were left behind from the times. Through the years, those beautiful buildings have seen some significant changes and demolition. Several instances like fire has taken a few buildings, notably the Opera Block on South Main Street but many storefronts have been remodeled over the years and currently house unique businesses and shopping. Even today, Crookston’s Historic Commercial District remains the largest concentration of late nineteenth and early twentieth century commercial structures in northwestern Minnesota’s Red River Valley. Since 1985, this historic district has remained on the National Register of Historical Places. Although most of the buildings have substantial remnants of their original structures, today, each building continues as we strive to preserve our past and look forward into the future.



The Crookston Historic Commercial District is the largest concentration of late nineteenth and early twentieth century commercial structures in northwestern Minnesota’s Red River Valley. Significant buildings in the district were constructed between 1882 and the late 1920’s, and represent the period from the first boom in 1878 until Crookston became the largest city on the Minnesota side of the Red River Valley in the 1920’s.

Crookston depended on railroad trade, lumber and agricultural settlement during its early days. James J. Hill’s St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Manitoba Railroads passed through Crookston on its way to East Grand Forks to the west and St. Vincent to the north. In 1905, Crookston became the administrative headquarters of the railroad renamed: The Great Northern. At this time, railroad land sales attracted large numbers of settlers primarily farmers to the area. Lumber operations floated logs down the Clearwater and Red Lake Rivers to Crookston and Grand Forks. For about thirty years, logging operations comprised a significant portion of the business operations in Crookston.

During the early period, most of Crookston’s stone and brick buildings were constructed. Crookston’s central business district has remained largely intact since the decline of rail transportation in the 1940’s. While fire has taken some buildings most notably the Opera Block in South Main Street awrecking ball has taken several others such as the Palace/Wayne Hotel which was located on the corner of North Main St.and 2nd St. Since this disastrous loss, most of the storefronts have been remodeled over the years, but all the buildings still retain substantial remnants of their original structures.

Buildings in the district represent local interpretations of popular styles by such architects as Bert D. Keck, James Knox Taylor, and E.H.Strassberg. The buildings in the district are associated with Crookston’s leading pioneer businessmen: Louis Fontaine, Felix Fournet, James E. O’Brien, Charles E. Kiewel, John McKinnon, and Thomas Bjoin.


Walking Tour

Stop by the Chamber & Visitors Bureau Office to pick up a Walking Tour Brochure or download a copy Here.