Minnesota's Roads. "A perfect highway is a thing of beauty and joy forever," enthused a speaker at Minnesota's first "Good Roads" convention in 1893. "It blesses every home by which it passes."
Early in the 1890s, even before the automobile age, bicycling Minnesotans and those interested in improved mail delivery and farm marketing were clamoring for better roads. But Minnesota's constitution, adopted with statehood in 1858, expressly prohibited the state from engaging in "works of internal improvements." The few roads of that era were of secondary importance to the river highways that had carried most early settlers into the region, and after 1865 attention was focused on the fast-growing railroad and streetcar systems. Counties and townships built the few roads and bridges that their residents petitioned for, financed by property taxes and a requirement that all able-bodied men of 21 to 50 years of age work three days each year on the roads.
It was the automobile that finally brought good roads to Minnesota. In 1902 Minneapolis recorded its first automobile speeding arrest, and a new law the following year required autos to be licensed by the state boiler inspectors. By 1909, 7,000 cars and 4,000 motorcycles were registered, but road construction lagged until 1920, when there were over 330,000 licensed vehicles and a constitutional amendment was finally passed to "get Minnesota out of the mud." It allowed the state to construct a trunk highway system of 70 numbered routes financed by vehicle taxes. Today's I-35 follows portions of the route of Minnesota Constitutional Road Number 1 from Albert Lea to Duluth.
Welcome to Minnesota. Known to her citizens as the North Star State or the Gopher State, Minnesota has never claimed to be the Land of the Giants. But two famous American giants do hail from Minnesota. The giant lumberjack Paul Bunyan cut the pine forest of the north that helped build America's towns and cities, and the Jolly Green Giant towers over the south's lush corn, vegetable, and soybean fields, a part of the midwest's fertile farm belt.
Like its neighbors, the thirty-second state grew as a collection of small farm communities, many settled by immigrants from Scandinavia and Germany. Two of the nation's favorite fictional small towns—Sinclair Lewis's Gopher Prairie and Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon—reflect that heritage. But the vast forests, the huge open pit iron ore mines, and the busy shipping lanes of Lake Superior attracted different settlers with different skills and made Minnesota a state of surprising diversity.
Best known for its more than 15,000 lakes, Minnesota has some 65 towns with the word "lake" in their names, not counting those whose names mean "lake" or "water" in the Chippewa or Dakota Indian languages. There are also 13 "falls," 10 "rivers," 5 "rapids," and a smattering of "isles," "bays," and "beaches." Even the state name itself means "sky colored water" in Dakota. The mighty Mississippi River starts as a small stream flowing out of Minnesota's Lake Itasca, and a Minneapolis waterfall called Minnehaha inspired "The Song of Hiawatha," even though Longfellow never actually visited the falls his poem made known to every schoolchild.
Minnesotans are proud of their state's natural beauty and are leaders in resource conservation and concern for the quality of life.