Population (2010)

12,759

Visitor Information

Direct your questions to the Monticello Chamber of Commerce and Industry (763.295.2700).

History

The first European settlers arrived in the early 1850s and initially founded two separate villages: Moritzious (which incorporated in 1858) and Monticello (incorporated in 1856). Ferry service began in the spring of 1855 at Moritzious. The two were combined into a united Monticello in 1861, a name derived from a hill about two miles southeast of the village. Most early businesses located along the Mississippi River. Monticello saw about three steamboat landings a week in the late 1850s but regular service was finished by the late 1870s. The main reason for the decline was logging: the river was often too choked with cut timber for steamboats to pass by. The nearby island in the Mississippi River was a favorite place to swim and fish in the summer; in the winter, the shallower water around the island froze and made for good ice skating.

Swarms of grasshoppers in 1856 and 1857 convinced many early settlers to try settling somewhere else. The ones who stuck around were primarily Protestants from New England, many of whom were dedicated temperance advocates. When Hull Hotchkiss opened a tavern in 1858, he was warned by locals to shut it down. He refused, so a mob disguised as Indians ransacked the place, destroying $800 worth of booze and the building. Hull didn’t rebuild.

The Monticello Starch Company was a big employer for a while in early 1900s. By the middle of the 20th century, mainstays in the local economy included a creamery, a lumberyard, and two mills. Passenger rail service ended around 1960; at its peak, four trains a day stopped in Monticello. During World War II, the area was home to a training school for glider pilots.

Monticello is home to one of the oldest Methodist congregations in the state—Community United Methodist Church—with roots back to 1855. Before the Civil War, the church opened its doors to slaves who were fleeing to Canada via the Underground Railroad, although they were restricted to the balcony during services.

Exploring the Area

The Wright County History Center in nearby Buffalo (2001 Highway 25 North; 763.682.7323) has a good research library and an interesting collection of exhibits on the county’s history.

Parks

The Mississippi River at Monticello

Monticello has several parks along the riverfront:

  • Ellison Park (E. River St.), where the city celebrates Riverfest, has a gazebo and benches and is a pleasant place for a stroll or a picnic.
  • East and West Bridge Parks (River Street next to the Highway 25 bridge) are connected via a short path and both are good for picnicking and relaxing; in winter, West Bridge Park has a skating rink and a warming house.
  • Mississippi Drive Park, aka Swan Park (Mississippi Dr.) is a good spot to watch the thousands of trumpeter swans who gather in the area from mid-November thru February.
  • Montissippi County Park (2801 Broadway W) has paved multi-use trails that are good for a bike ride or hike in the summer or cross-country skiing in winter.

Entertainment and Events

Farmers Market

Monticello hosts a farmers market on Thursday afternoons from May to October at the library parking lot (200 W. 6th St.).

Festivals

Riverfest is the big annual party, with a parade, fireworks, a petting zoo, art show, and live music; look for it in mid-July.

**Monticello is covered in the Headwaters Region Guide; other places in northern Minnesota are covered in Road Tripping Along the Great River Road, Vol. 1. Click the links above for more. Disclosure: This website may be compensated for linking to other sites or for sales of products we link to.

Where to Eat and Drink

The Cornerstone Café (154 W. Broadway St.; 763.295.3888) is a popular and laid-back place for made-from-scratch comfort foods, including delicious pies.

Von Hanson’s Meats (1580 Hart Blvd.; 763.295.0310) has a big selection of meat to go, including smoked meats and freshly made sausage.

Where to Sleep

Camping

River Terrace Park in Monticello (1335 River St. West; 763.295.2264) has camping sites next to the Mississippi River.

Lake Maria State Park (11411 Clementa Ave. NW; 763.878.2325) is about ten miles southwest of Monticello; there are 17 campsites that require a hike to reach—up to a mile from the parking lot—as well as three basic cabins that are also a short hike away.

Where to Go Next

Heading upriver? Check out Clearwater.

Heading downriver? Check out Otsego.

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If you like the content at the Mississippi Valley Traveler, please consider showing your support by making a one-time contribution or by subscribing through Patreon. Book sales don’t fully cover my costs, and I don’t have deep corporate pockets bankrolling my work. I’m a freelance writer bringing you stories about life along the Mississippi River. I need your help to keep this going. Every dollar you contribute makes it possible for me to continue sharing stories about America’s Greatest River!

©Dean Klinkenberg, 2015