When New Yorker William Haddock started the Western Farm and Village Association in 1851, he wanted to help interested city folks leave the urban environment and resettle in the country. Members paid $5 to join; most were mechanics from New York City and were foreign-born; they hoped that by banding together, they could buy supplies in bulk and thus more cheaply than as individuals. Scouts for the company traveled on ice skates upriver from La Crosse on the frozen Mississippi to search for land. They purchased 160 acres from Israel Noracong and founded a village they initially called Rolling Stone Colony; the name was translated from the Dakota word Eyan-omen-man-met-pah (the stream where the stone falls) after a rock in a nearby river that, according to legend, would rock mystically during periods of high water.
The village was platted in March 1852 and renamed Minnesota City by a unanimous vote of association members; the name reflected optimism that their new city was destined to be the new state capital. It attracted settlers very quickly—500 in the first year. Few stuck around, however, once they realized that the land was not ideal for farming and that the village was not directly on the Mississippi River. The initial scouting party had mistakenly believed their site was on the main channel because the water had been unusually high during their scouting trip. Only 20 families stuck out the first winter.
With most of the original colonists gone, others settlers began moving in. In 1880, the village had about 200 residents. The town developed primarily around agriculture with feed and flour mills and other businesses serving area farmers; cabbage was an important crop for decades. Many early farmers came ready to experiment, including some who made the first attempts to grow apples in the region. Minnesota City also had a strong railroad presence with connections not only north and south along the Mississippi River but also westward to Rochester.
Over time, though, Minnesota City suffered a number of setbacks. The widening of US Highway 61 rerouted traffic from Mill Street and the heart of town to its fringe; portions of town were annexed by neighboring Goodview. The local school was absorbed by Winona and eventually closed. Severe flash flooding in 2007 damaged many older buildings. Minnesota City is a bedroom community today.