A sad story of how Kandiyohi lost its capital bid

The story of Kandiyohi’s rise and decline in the race to become the capital of the State of Minnesota is not one of joy and great development. In fact, it’s just the opposite. If you’d like to know what happened, just hop on for the ride.


It started out when a party of land boomers discovered it and felt that the land and water would be a major part of the new community’s appeal. They laid out a plat of their proposed community, with a large capitol square right in the middle. Then, they filed a claim for ownership and began their promotion. Among other things, they hired two woodsmen as “site sitters” in keeping with the laws.

They were aided in their campaign by Gov. Henry Sibley, a hunter who thought the Kandiyohi lakes country was only two short jumps from heaven, and spent as much time as he possibly could in the area.

The federal government had given the new state “10 entire sections of land to be selected by the governor of said state in legal subdivisions, shall be granted to said state for the purpose of completing the public buildings.”

The legislature authorized the governor to appoint a committee of three persons to make recommendations for a new capital site. Gov. Sibley made those appointments and sent them on their way. They left St. Paul either by ox cart or horseback; reports differ. The commissioners spent more than a week on the site before heading back to St. Paul. Their report to Gov. Sibley was a unanimous paean of praise for the Kandiyohi lakes area as the site of the new state’s capital.

They reported that they had found no other place in the entire new state so well suited for the site. No others, for example, were as close to the center of the state as Governor Sibley’s favorite hunting grounds.

There was some trouble with the new site because some of the land had already been granted to budding railroads.

Meanwhile, time had moved on and Minnesota had held another election in which Alexander Ramsey became governor. He appointed another commission to locate another capital site. They recommended a site at Lake Minnetaga which, when it came to a vote, garnered only six votes from the entire senate. The land boomers who were trying to sell the Kandiyohi area to the senate kept adding goodies to their original plans. It didn’t take long before a large university appeared in their prospectus.


Most importantly, the ongoing Civil War demanded the full attention of all government officials. Any other governmental business had to take a back seat. By the time the war was over so much governmental business had accumulated that the matter of a capital was very low on the importance scale. Winona, the territorial capital was bidding for the new one. St. Paul got into the act, and there were others, in an attempt to keep everyone happy the state prison went to Stillwater, and St. Paul (by virtue of being the temporary capital during the war) was to continue to serve as the capital but on a permanent basis. The senators who had backed the Kandiyohi site brought the matter up several times, only to be rebuffed each time.

The matter became moot when the government sold the Kandiyohi capital lands, mostly to the farmers who had rented them for years.

That’s the way the entire matter ended, a victim of time and government in action. Had it been otherwise, the Kandiyohi lakes would now be in the very center of a vast metropolitan area.