Minnesota from the Railroad
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Minnesota from the Railroad: Historical Overview

A look at the Minnesota landscape reveals a complexity of patterns - patterns of settlement, of town planning, of transportation. Many of those patterns took shape during Minnesota's great age of railroad building. From the 1860s into the early 1900s, hundreds of miles of tracks were laid that changed the way Minnesotans lived and worked.

Before the railroad arrived, towns clustered close to rivers and streams that provided transportation for people and goods. Farmers grew much of their own food, taking their grain to the local mill for grinding into flour and feed. Rapid expansion of the railroad in the 1870s and 1880s changed all that.

Coinciding with the opening of Minnesota lands to settlement, railroad expansion brought thousands of immigrants into the state. Through government land grants, railway companies had acquired nearly one-fifth of Minnesota's total acreage. Now the companies began selling it to settlers and speculators. They turned other tracts of land into town sites, platting towns along the tracks to spur development.

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