Alexandria is located in the heart of lake country in West Central Minnesota and serves as the county seat of Douglas County. The city population is 13,045 within city limits, but the unique layout of over 300 lakes in the county makes the service area more like 35,000 people. It’s a perfect balance of size which offers quiet and quaint relaxation, while also possessing comfortable full services and all the best shopping, dining and overnight accommodations that you can imagine. While all the lakes and woods provide great outdoor opportunities, you can also find plenty of fun around many of our attractions. Alexandria has a thriving Downtown district, excellent trails, plenty of arts, museums, parks, wineries and a whiskey distillery.
The Alexandria Area is full of history and interesting geology. The modern geological form of the area can be attributed to the events of the last glacial period, often referred to as an Ice Age. The Wisconsin Glaciation began over 75,000 years ago with Minnesota covered by multiple lobes from the Laurentide Ice Sheet that covered most of Canada. The Alexandria Area was affected by a section of the giant ice sheet called the Wadena Lobe in the early advances of the ice, and some areas by the larger Des Moines Lobe towards the end of the glacial period. These lobes were thousands of feet thick and covered most of Minnesota for about 65,000 years. As the lobes advanced, they sheared off rocks and soils down to the bedrock that were then carried countless miles across the landscape during the progression of the advance. When the glaciers began to retreat around 10,000 years ago, they deposited countless tons of rock material, gravel, debris and ice to form the lakes, rolling hills and valleys that are now part of the signature beauty of the area. Many of the large rocks can still be seen scattered across the regions.
Alexandria harbored its first pioneer settlement in 1858 right before the start of the Civil War. Two brothers from the east coast, Alexander and William Kinkead, travelled west to settle in Minnesota. They built a homestead on the south shore of Lake Agnes, which is adjacent to today’s downtown district. William Kinkead was commissioned to survey the area and create a governmental route from the St. Cloud area to the border of the Dakota Territory. This road eventually went on to become a big factor in the progression of settlement in the region. Only one year after arrival, Alexander Kinkead established a Post Office and served as the Postmaster. This is how the city got its name, Alexandria.
The early days of the Alexandria settlement was quite primitive. Another Kinkead brother and his wife, George and Clara, moved to Alexandria during those early settlement times. Clara wrote a well-documented diary of her travels and experiences so historians have a good sense of what life was like in those days. The diary and much more information can be found at the Douglas County Historical Society.
As the Civil War continued, there were also rising tensions between the settlers and the Native Americans of Minnesota. Many early settlers fled the area in fear, and a military stockade was built in 1863 in response to the Dakota Conflict of 1862. Fort Alexandria became the center of activity for the entire region until the troops left in 1866. The Fort included log cabins, a general store, post office, church, school, blacksmith, washhouse and a smokehouse. Settlement of Alexandria really began to take form after the 1860s, and it remains to be a regional hub today. A replica of Fort Alexandria can be found at the Runestone Museum, only 2 blocks from the original site.
The Birthplace of America
It’s hard to miss Alexandria’s giant Viking statue standing guard at the shores of Lake Agnes just north of downtown. Big Ole stands 28 feet tall and bears a shield which reads “Alexandria: Birthplace of America.” This claim is not unfounded as an artifact was discovered near Alexandria in 1898 that turned the American discovery story upside down.
The artifact, called the Kensington Runestone, was discovered by a farmer named Olof Ohman in the tangled roots of an aspen tree. The runic artifact suggested that a group of Scandinavian explorers visited the area in 1362, much earlier than the voyages of Columbus. The Kensington Runestone has led researchers from all around the world on many studies and investigations into the authenticity of the artifact. The controversy remains today and you can visit the actual artifact at the Runestone Museum, and visit the discovery site at Kensington Runestone Park. The reputation and impact of this discovery was widespread, including the influence of Minnesota’s professional football team, the Minnesota Vikings.
The Kensington Runestone ….Medieval or Modern?
An Entry from the Runestone Museum: The Kensington Runestone, found under a tree in Minnesota in 1898, has puzzled scientists and produced a large number of theories about its origin. The Runestone has a message carved in runes, medieval characters used in Scandinavia and northern Europe. The message, dated 1362, tells of a group of Norse explorers who traveled to present day Minnesota on an “acquisition journey.” The rest of the message says that ten of their men died in some manner, and also that a small detachment was left guarding their ship, 14 days from the stone’s discovery site. Some insist the stone must be a medieval 14th century artifact. Others insist it is a modern 19th century hoax. For every argument on one side of the debate, there is a counterargument. The debate has continued for almost 120 years. It is hard to prove beyond any doubt that the Runestone was carved in medieval times. However, journeys further westward are consistent with Norse practice since the beginning of the Viking Age in about 750. The Runestone Museum describes the Greenland Norse settlements and shows evidence of summer trading camps in Labrador. If not absolute proof, what can be said is that studying the history of the Kensington Runestone will engage you in many scholarly pursuits: History, technology of ships, medieval trade goods and settlement, calculating Easter dates, early use of Arabic placement in numbers, geography, military history, history of European Royalty and on and on. Come and visit the museum and see for yourself!
Visit Alexandria, MN
Today, visitors and residents alike revel in the beauty and quiet serenity the Alexandria Lakes Area provides. Located right off I-94 between the Twin Cities and Fargo, Alexandria makes for a great destination to visit for a weekend or a week long get-away. Many natural sources of fun and recreation can be utilized on the lakes, parks, trails and landscapes of the area. You’ll find endless outdoor opportunities for biking, hiking, fishing, snowmobiling, skiing, boating and much much more! There is unique and locally-owned shops in the Historic Downtown and many more great shopping opportunities throughout the city. Great restaurants, entertainment, museums, golf, wineries and a distillery all play into the perfect Minnesota vacation in Alexandria. We hope to see you soon, and often!