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The city of Grand Rapids, Minnesota is the county seat of Itasca County. The city was named for a long rapids in the Mississippi River which formed the uppermost limit of steamboat travel in the late 1800s, although these rapids are now hidden beneath the dam of the Blandin Paper Mill. Because the river could not be traversed beyond the rapids, the area became the headquarters for logging companies, and Grand Rapids was the principal logging center of northern Minnesota for many years. With the coming of the railroad, Grand Rapids became the most important point on the Great Northern Railroad between Cloquet and Bemidji, although this stretch of the railroad was intitially known as the Duluth, Missabe & Northern Railroad. When its timber was depleted, the area continued to be important for its mineral deposits, Grand Rapids being one of the first points on the Mesabi range to attract the attention of prospectors. Farming also contributed to the area’s economy, and tourism and outdoor recreation is important to Grand Rapids today. Grand Rapids was the childhood home of Frances Ethel Gumm, more commonly known as Judy Garland. When he retired from show business, Hugh Beaumont, who played the Beaver’s father on Leave it to Beaver, became a Christmas tree farmer in Grand Rapids. The city is at the junction of US Highways 2 and 169. Highway 2 runs west toward Bemidji and east toward Duluth, while Highway 169 leads south to Hill City and then to Minneapolis, and north up the Mesabi Range, passing through Hibbing and other small towns before reaching Virginia. Grand Rapids is the beginning point of Minnesota Highway 38, which runs west toward Effie, and has been designated a National Scenic Byway.

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