Scenic Byway: Minnesota River Valley National Scenic Byway: Minnesota River Valley
Browns Valley to Ortonville

Discovery Sites: Browns Valley to Ortonville

Walleye Browns Valley
to Ortonville
Goose Ortonville
to Montevideo
Canoe Montevideo
to Granite Falls
Tipi Granite Falls
to Redwood Falls
Waterfall Redwood Falls
to New Ulm
Beer Stein New Ulm
to Mankato
Steamboat Mankato
to Belle Plaine

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Site 1: Continental Divide
Minnesota/South Dakota border approximately 2 miles west of Browns Valley on TH 28/7.

A wayside rest offers information about this high point between two watersheds.

You can view the historic marker.

Ask a geologist to look over Minnesota's landscape, and you will hear the story of a great sheet of ice which moved and shifted across the land, pushing and scraping the earth, leaving behind ridges and plains. As these glaciers melted, the water filled into low areas forming some of the 12,000 Minnesota lakes. Rivers flowed around the ridges, draining into three great river systems that move Minnesota-born water to three distant seas. Those glacial ridges form Minnesota's Continental Divide.

Minnesota's waters flow in three directions.

The water flow is dependent upon which watershed the water is in. Depending on the lie of the continental divides, Minnesota waters flow either to Hudson Bay, the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean.

Browns Valley, although only about 984 feet above sea level and situated in a deep valley, is nevertheless on the Continental Divide. Lake Traverse drains north into the Red River and on into Hudson Bay while Lake Big Stone flows south by way of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers and on to the Gulf of Mexico. Theoretically a raindrop could split on Browns Valley's main street and half of it flow north and half south. There have been times during floods when the two lakes have temporarily joined.
Open year round &
Site 2: Samuel Jerome Brown Memorial Park
West Broadway Avenue in Browns Valley.
Browns Valley was established in 1866, a little while after the government confiscated it from the Sioux Indian Reservation. Major Joseph R. Brown built a trading post that year. The post office was known as Lake Traverse but was later changed to Browns Valley in honor of Major Brown after his death in 1870. In 1881 the railroad came to town. Browns Valley was the county seat until 1886, when it moved to Wheaton, Minnesota. Browns Valley was Platted in 1878.

On April 19, 1866 Sam Brown, the son of Joseph R. Brown and at that time, the chief Army Scout stationed at Fort Wadsworth, started on horseback to warn the settlers there of what was thought to be an impending Indian attack. He rode the fifty-five miles in five hours only to find the report to be false. He was caught in a blizzard and lost his way, drifting many miles to the south and into the Waubay area. He is called the "Paul Revere of the Frontier" due to his famous ride.

Site 3: Wadsworth Trail
One-half mile west of Browns Valley on TH 28/7.
An original pioneer trail blazed in 1864 extending from St. Cloud to Ft. Sisseton (Ft. Wadsworth) South Dakota.

Site 4: Browns Valley Man
Located one-half mile east of Browns Valley on TH 28/7.
On October 9, 1933 W. H. Jenson of Brown's Valley, Minnesota was laying new gravel in his driveway when he discovered bone fragments and a flaked blade in the gravel. This prompted Jenson to go to the gravel pit and search for more. Not being a trained archaeologist Jenson did not chart his work; he instead had a friend film him sifting through the gravel. His hours of work produced more flaked blades and bone fragments, which made up the adult male called Brown's Valley Man. The blades were of particular value because they gave insight to the time period and cultural background of the Brown's Valley Man. This skeleton was estimated to be 9,000 years old, making the skeleton one of the oldest found in the New World.

Brown's Valley is associated with the Paleo-Indian culture. Brown's Valley was a Paleo-Indian burial site, the only one in Minnesota. &
Site 5: Big Stone Lake - Headwaters of the Minnesota River
This portion of the Minnesota River is on the border between Minnesota and South Dakota in Big Stone County along TH 7.

Big Stone Lake is a long, narrow freshwater lake and reservoir forming the border between western Minnesota and northeastern South Dakota. The lake covers 12,610 acres (51 kmē) of surface area, stretching 26 miles (42 km) from end to end and averaging around 1 mile (2 km) wide. Clear waters, sandy beaches and secluded bays are ideal for excellent trophy walleye fishing, sunbathing, swimming and water skiing. It was formed at the end of the last ice age, filling the river valley of a river that drained the historical glacier lake, Lake Agassiz. Big Stone Lake is fed by the Little Minnesota River at its north end, and is the source of the Minnesota River, which flows 332 miles (534 km) to the Mississippi River. Flow from the lake to the Minnesota River is regulated by the Big Stone Lake Dam, located at the southern end of the lake.

Two state parks are located at the lake: Big Stone Lake State Park in Minnesota and Hartford Beach State Park in South Dakota. The two parks provide picnic, boat launching, trail, and camping facilities. An educational center at the lake is part of the Minnesota state park. Several vacation resorts are located along the shores of Big Stone Lake as well.

The communities of Ortonville, Minnesota and Big Stone City, South Dakota are located at the southern tip of the lake; Browns Valley, Minnesota is located at the northern tip.

Big Stone Area Chamber, 800-568-5722
Site 6: Big Stone Lake State Park
North of Ortonville on TH 7.
Big Stone Lake State Park is part of the Minnesota River Country Landscape Region, a large area which extends almost 200 miles from Ortonville to Mankato. At one time, the landscape consisted of tall and mid-grass prairie, interspersed with marshes, lakes and streams. Today, extensive farming has replaced the prairie. Cottonwoods, ash, and silver maples can be found on the lake's shoreline. The Bonanza Scientific and Natural Area located within the park protects more than 80 acres of native oak savanna and glacial till prairie habitat. Bonanza also includes 50 acres of oak basswood forest and spring-fed ephemeral streams.

The lake is the source of the Minnesota River and attracts anglers who catch walleye, northerns and bluegills.

In 1923, State Auditor Ray Chase critiqued the state park system and thought there was a geographic imbalance in the system. In his proposal for additional parks, Chase urged that more state parks be established in southern Minnesota. The Ortonville area was targeted as a place with a need for a state park. It wasn't until 1961 that Big Stone Lake State Park was established at the urging of Ortonville business people who were concerned about lakeshore development. Working with U.W. (Judge) Hella, director of Parks and Recreation Division, legislation was drafted to establish Big Stone Lake as a state park.

Big Stone State Park offers semi-modern camping, hiking, picnicking, swimming, fishing, and nature watching among remnant prairies and mixed hardwoods at two main recreational areas: Bonanza area (15 miles north of Ortonville) offers primitive camping, hiking, picnicking and bird watching among its virgin prairies; the Meadowbrook area (8 miles north of Ortonville) has tent/trailer camping with electric hookups, a picnic/playground area, swimming beach, hiking path and fishing.

Site 7: Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge
Approximately 1 mile southeast of Ortonville, off of TH 7/75.
The upper reaches of the Minnesota River in west central Minnesota are a refuge for wildlife and are fascinating to people interested in wildlife- oriented recreation. The Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge consists of 10,795 acres of marsh and open water created by the three-mile dam across the Minnesota River Valley. More than 230 bird species have been observed in the area since 1971.

A wide variety of habitats exist on the refuge from the wet world of the river and reservoir areas to the dry world of the granite rock outcrops.

The dam in the Minnesota River created an additional 4,250 acres of wetlands which provide resting places for migrating waterfowl and shorebirds, and homes for summer residents such as common egrets, great blue herons, cormorants, and many species of ducks.

Low-lying woodlands support migrating warblers and other song birds, as well as resident populations of deer and other mammals. Woodlands along the Minnesota and Yellowbank Rivers containing American elm, ash, box elder, and silver maple provide old tree trunks with hollow cavities which are good nesting sites for wood ducks and hooded mergansers. About 850 acres of refuge lands consist of low woodlands.

The refuge still contains about 1,700 acres of native or unplowed prairie. This is typical tall grass prairie country, with wide expanses of grassland and only occasional oak trees.

A portion of the refuge lands are used to grow crops for winter wildlife use or to prepare ground for the seeding of native prairie grasses and wildflowers.

One of the most interesting habitats on the refuge is the 100 acres of granite outcrops. These bare rock areas support unusual species of cactus and other plants. The high outcrops provide some excellent views of the entire refuge and its wildlife residents.

The refuge offers a six-mile self-guided auto tour along which you will experience Western prairie, mixed hardwoods, and wetlands with over 230 different species of birds living there.

A foot trail provides a close-up view of prairie plants, river meanders and wildlife. The 100 acres of granite rock outcrops support unusual species of cactus and other plants and provide an excellent view of the refuge. Pick up the tour leaflet at the first tour stop.

Other things to do are bicycling, canoeing and boating, fishing, hunting, and cross country skiing or snow shoeing.

Site 8: Ortonville Free Library
412 NW 2nd St., Ortonville.
Built in 1915 with Andrew Carnegie funds, it houses a modern library. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The Ortonville Public Library is part of the Pioneerland Library System.

Site 9: Ortonville Commercial Historic District
Second St., Madison and Monroe Aves., between Jefferson and Jackson Aves., Ortonville
Vicinity of 2nd Street, Madison and Monroe Avenues, Ortonville. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Ortonville (1879-1922)

The county courthouse is located in the district. It was constructed in 1902 of brick and native granite. In the 1970s and 1980s, the building was renovated. The lawn boasts a granite carved county war memorial erected in 1920 and the courthouse is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The library on the street was built in 1915 with Andrew Carnegie funds, it houses a modern library and is also listed in the National Register of Historic Places (see Ortonville Free Library)

The Columbian Hotel in Ortonville, overlooking Big Stone Lake, represents hundreds of significant commercial buildings in small, agriculturally based communities in western Minnesota. These communities are often losing population due to changes in the agricultural economy and are struggling to find markets to maintain viable historic downtown business districts. These communities should be encouraged to find the resources to adapt these landmark buildings to viable uses and preserve them for future generations.

Visit The Columbian Hotel, Ortonville Free Library, or the County Courthouse

Site 10: Big Stone County War Memorial
Big Stone County Courthouse lawn, 20 SE 2nd St.
This memorial was erected in 1920 and is a square granite monument topped with carved eagles and a globe.

Site 11: Big Stone County Courthouse
20 SE 2nd Street, Ortonville.
Listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

When Big Stone County was established in 1862, it was attached to Renville County for judicial purposes. From 1866-1873, Stevens County handled Big Stone's legal matters. In 1873, the governor appointed county commissioners, and county officers were elected in 1874 and 1876 though there were only 85 families living in the area. The process was later declared illegal and it was not until 1881 that official organization occurred.

The building that served as courthouse was destroyed by fire in 1885. A store building was then used until a new building was built the following spring. Insurance money paid for part of the $4,298 construction cost. However, the three-story frame building was labeled inadequate from the start.

The current Big Stone County Courthouse was built in 1902, one year after the county issued construction bonds. The building's light tan brick is accented with Ortonville granite in a transitional style between Romanesque, in the central arched doorway, and Classical formalism, shown in the arrangement of the windows. The central pavilion, wide gable, and keystoned lintels of the windows carry out the theme.

Fremont D. Orff of Minneapolis designed the building, which was built by D.H. Olsen at a cost of $29,999.


Site 12: Big Stone County Museum
Located at the junction of TH 12 & 75.
The museum was built on the site of the familiar Paul Bunyan anchor. The Big Stone County Museum features the North American Waterfowl Collection and a turn of the century excursion boat, plus interpretation about the granite mining industry, Big Stone Lake, and pioneer life.

The museum is the home of many historical treasures of the past, including a granite anchor, a symbol of glacial River Warren, which is now Big Stone Lake, and the headwaters of the Minnesota River. The Muskegon - Golden Bantam boat, which once traveled the waters of Big Stone Lake, is also on display at the museum.

Come see the Charles Hanson North American Wildlife Collection, now displayed inside the former Artichoke Lake General Store which has been relocated to the museum grounds. Developed by local farmer explorer Charles Hanson, this collection contains over 500 waterfowl from across the Americas and the world. You'll see native waterfowl as well as upland birds and other exotic specimens from places as far away as the Arctic Sea.


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