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Situated in the center of Watonwan County, Saint James, Minnesota serves as the county seat. Like many other Minnesota cities, Saint James owes its existence to the railroad.

In 1867, the directors of the St. Paul and Sioux City Railroad determined that the halfway point between Saint Paul and Sioux City would be the center of Watonwan County and that this would be the ideal place for a railroad depot.

Intending to create a city as well as a stop along the rail line, General Sibley, a member of the board of directors of the railroad, proposed a Dakota Sioux name for the town that would be developed there, but it was a long name and he couldn't remember it the following day. E.F. Drake, the president of the St. Paul and Sioux City Railroad, suggested a simpler name, one that everyone could remember - Saint James. Thus, this point on the map was named before the first building was erected.

The railroad completed its track from Lake Crystal to Saint James in 1870, building a temporary railroad shanty in June of that year. By July, a town had been laid out.

S.C. Clark chose the first lot in the new town, selecting a place for an enclosed office building, at the spot where the Saint James Hotel would later be built. In September, J. Dean and Company built an office for a lumberyard, although no lumber would be available until the end of October. As lots were chosen, buildings were erected, and Saint James had the appearance of a town within six weeks.

By late November, the railroad had been completed, and the first passenger train rolled into Saint James on November 22, 1870, carrying officers, directors, and stockholders of the railroad, along with their families. After eating dinner at the Saint James Hotel, they returned to Saint Paul.

That first winter, there were nine stores in business, the Saint James Hotel remained open, along with the Union House, and two saloons.

Saint James was incorporated as a village in February of 1871, a school district was organized in August, and a two-story schoolhouse was constructed in October. The population of Saint James was six hundred by February of 1872.

The St. Paul and Sioux City Railroad donated a lot to the first Christian denominations who expressed an interest. The First Baptist Church of Saint James was organized in February of 1871, and that congregation completed the first church building in Saint James by September of the following year. A Presbyterian congregation in the summer of 1871, sharing the Baptist church building every other Sunday. A Catholic Church constructed its own building on the corner of 3rd Avenue and 7th Street in 1876.

In 1878, Watonwan County moved its county seat from Madelia to Saint James, building a new courthouse in 1895.

In 1890, the Omaha Railroad built a roundhouse, with twenty-five stalls, for servicing its locomotives, and the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railway added a line through Saint James in 1899.

By the turn of the 20th century, the city had more than a hundred business firms, four large hotels, four banks, an opera house, a creamery, flour mill, and four large grain elevators. There were several livestock buying firms in Saint James, two newspapers, eight churches, seven lodges or fraternal organizations, and a library and public reading room, as well as three carriage and wagon manufacturing firms, a cigar factory, steam laundry, and a bottling works. The city had modern sewer and water systems, and an electric works. Between 1880 and 1900, the population of Saint James had gone from 444 to 2,607.

By 1940, the city had added several stores selling food, furniture, clothing, hardware, and jewelry. There were auto repair shops and filling stations, nine lumber and hardware stores, drug stores, restaurants, and several other businesses. The population of Saint James in 1940 was 3,400 and, after a slight drop between 1900 and 1910, it was continuing to grow. The city had a park, a gymnasium, and auditorium attached to its high school, a volunteer fire department, and ten churches.

The Omaha Railroad located its division offices in Saint James, with a dispatcher's office serving all of its lines west of Minneapolis-Saint Paul. Six Omaha Railroad passenger trains and several freight trains used the Omaha lines, and the Minneapolis and the St. Louis Railroad had daily passenger service. Additionally, four bus lines came into the city each day.

Celebrating the historical importance of the railroad, the community celebrates Saint James Railroad Days each summer.

Today, the population of Saint James is more than four thousand. The Tony Downs Food Company is a major employer.

This is a guide to the city of Saint James. Sites representing local and county governments, businesses, churches, schools, and individuals are appropriate for this category.

 

 

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