Chisago County History

About the County
Chisago County, located just northeast of the seven-county Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area in east central Minnesota, was established in 1851, seven years before Minnesota became a state. The county seat, first at Taylors Falls, moved to Chisago City in 1865 and to Center City in 1875.

Chisago, the name of our county, comes from the Chippewa Indian word, Ki-Chi-Saga , which means Fair and Lovely Lakes. Chisago County was organized September 1, 1851. This was before Minnesota was organized as a state, but our forefathers realized that something had to be done to cope with their problems. The first election was held October 14, 1851 with 23 votes cast. The first Board of County Commissioners were: Samuel Thompson, Y.F. Moreton and N.C.D. Taylor. The first meeting was held at the home of Samuel Thompson on January 5, 1852, and Taylors Falls was chosen as the County seat. It was not called Court House, but the Seat of Justice of Chisago County.

Taylors Falls had been the seat since 1852, when the county (which then included parts of what are now Pine, Carlton, and Kanabec counties) was organized. But by 1860 the county was reduced to its present borders. The Swedes and other immigrants in the central and western parts, who outnumbered the Yankees on the St. Croix River, wanted to move the center of government to a more conveniently located place. In an 1860 election, the voters chose Center City, but no move was made. The law under which the county had voted was challenged in the courts, and after 2 years of battling, found unconstitutional.

Subject to the approval of the voters in the 1863 election, the legislature provided for Chisago County’s seat to move to Chisago City. The vote was again challenged, this time on charges of election fraud. After another 2 year delay, the state Supreme Court ruled the results valid. The Court House was moved to Chisago City November of 1865 in what is now called Old Town, where it remained until 1875 when it was decided for a second time to move the seat to Center City. This time the move was made and has remained since.

The new Court House at Center City was to be built by John L. Bullard for a cost of $5,023.70, and was accepted October 13, 1876. The old Court House in Old Town, Chisago City, was sold to Zion Lutheran Church in 1876 and used as a parsonage until they built their present parsonage next to the church. The wood frame courthouse built at Center City in 1876 stood at the site of the new Government Center until 1990 when it was moved, eventually being sited on the grounds of the Almelund Threshing Bee.

The St. Croix River which forms the county’s eastern boundary brought the earliest settlers to the area. The Dakota and Ojibway were largely gone when the first white settlers appeared. Europeans arrived from the north as early as 1680. French fur traders following the same route southward from Lake Superior established trading posts along the river as far south as Taylors Falls in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In the late 1880s the first sawmills were built along the St. Croix. The logging industry boomed into the twentieth century.

Among the first permanent settlers was a party of Swedes who traveled upriver from Illinois in 1851 and established a colony at Center City. This colony was made famous by Swedish writer Vilhelm Moberg in his novels the Emigrants, Unto a Good Land and The Last Letter Home.

Farming, begun in the 1850s, was a focus until the 1890s when vacationers discovered the county’s bountiful lakes and rivers. Today it is the beauty of the Dalles of the St. Croix, its park system and abundant recreational areas that bring visitors to the county.