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History of Aitkin County

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Thousands of years ago, the melting of a glacial ice sheet resulted in a lake about 20 miles long and 5 miles wide. This lake was later called Glacial Lake Aitkin. The gradual melting of this glacier was the beginning of the Mississippi River drainage system. There are at least seven other rivers or streams draining into the Mississippi between Aitkin and Grand Rapids.

Lake Aitkin existed geologically for a very short period of time and created a series of smaller lakes now located in the area of Aitkin County.

Sioux Indians were among the original occupants of the area. During the 1600's, the Ojibwa / Chippewa forced the Sioux to move westward into what is now southwestern Minnesota and the Dakotas. There were many bloody battles for the Aitkin County area because the area was recognized as a rich hunting paradise. This area will forever remain rich in Native American history.

The County of Aitkin was named after William Aitkin whose occupation was an English fur trader. Aitkin was an adventurer well able to take care of himself in the wilderness and at ease among his own race as well as with the natives he traded with. Aitkin was a clerk in the American Fur Company that operated on the west side of Sandy Lake near the present Libby Dam site. William Aitkin married Stripped Cloud, an Ojibwa lady around 1818 and together they raised seven children. Aitkin remained active in the fur trade until his death in 1851.

Aitkin County was organized May 23, 1857. It was then that the Minnesota Territorial Legislature designated Aitkin as a county.

Construction of the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1871 brought dramatic changes to the Aitkin area. The railroad stimulated the logging industry and commerce with the Village of Aitkin, becoming the first permanent white settlement in Aitkin County.

The Mississippi River also provided a flourishing means of travel and commerce from the mid 1880's to the early 1920's, giving the area a rich history of riverboats, railroading, logging, and immigrant life.

For more detailed historical information, visit the Aitkin County Historical Society's page - or the Aitkin Chamber of Commerce page.

Aitkin County covers an area of 1,215,669 acres (1,828 sq. miles) with 55 full and fractional congressional townships.

Aitkin County had a population of 15,301 in the 2000 census. The City of Aitkin is the county seat where the county courthouse is located. The present day courthouse was built in 1929 after the first courthouse burned. The Aitkin County Veterans Memorial is located on the Courthouse grounds.

Aitkin County has 365 lakes, 10 school districts, 1647 miles of road, 123,000 acres of water (not counting rivers) and 95 miles of the Mississippi River.

The highest point in the County of Aitkin is Quadna Mountain which is 1,589 feet above sea level. The city of Aitkin is 1200 feet above sea level.

The largest industries in Aitkin County are tourism, forest products, and agriculture.

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