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Straddling the Mississippi River, upstream from its confluence with the Crow Wing River, Brainerd is the seat of government for Crow Wing County, Minnesota. Originally the area was inhabited by the Ojibwe. The first European-American settler known to have come to the area was Zebulon Pike in 1805, as he was searching for the headwaters of the Mississippi River. During the early to mid-1800s, fur traders, trappers, and loggers began comping to the area. Fort Ripley was established nearby. The town itself was founded in 1870 by the president of the Northern Pacific Railroad, John Gregory Smith, who named the township for his wife’s maiden name. The railroad constructed a bridge over the Mississippi seven miles north of Crow Wing Village, and used the Brainerd station as a machine and car stop, which prompted many residents of Crow Wing Village to move to the new town, and Brainerd became a city in 1873. The railroad was an important part of the city’s development, but Brainerd has been, and is, home to several other industries as well, including paper mills. Today, Brainerd is heavily developed into commercial and residential areas, with most new construction taking place in neighboring Baxter. It is served by Minnesota Highways 18, 25, 210, and 371.

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