Located in the southeast corner of Minnesota, La Crescent is nestled between the Mississippi River and the picturesque bluffs.
It’s no wonder then that humans have inhabited this area, abundant with wildlife, for thousands of years. The most recent inhabitants before the White settlers were the Dakota Indians, who were a branch of the Sioux, and the Winnebago.
Following the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, Nathan Boone, youngest son of Daniel Boone was among the early surveyors of this area. The various Indian tribes who had lived here were moved out in the 1840’s to accommodate White settlement.
La Crescent was founded in 1851 by Peter Cameron and was originally called, “Camerons”. Peter and his wife, Emma, were two of the town’s most colorful characters. Peter tried to dig a canal to change the flow of the Mississippi River so it would flow closer to La Crescent and bypass La Crosse, Wisconsin across the river. He died 10 weeks before its scheduled completion in 1857, and the canal was never finished, although the canal can still be seen in aerial photographs of the city.
The second name of La Crescent was “Manton”, named by William and Harvey Gillett, after they cleared the downtown area for settlement for Peter Cameron. In quick succession, the name of the town was changed again by the somewhat unscrupulous Kentucky Land Company, which was a land speculation company. They wanted a more romantic sounding name for the town to attract settlers and came up with “La Crescent”, after the bend or “crescent” shape of the Mississippi River around the town. La Crescent incorporated in 1857.
John S. Harris arrived in La Crescent in 1856 and soon gave the town its identity of” Apple Capitol of Minnesota”, a title that the city copyrighted in 2002. Despite the belief “by 99 out of 100” people that apples could not grow in Minnesota”, Harris planted his first apple trees here in 1857 and experimented with them until he grew trees hardy enough to withstand the severe Minnesota winters. He planted thousands of apple trees and hundreds of varieties, a full half of which he said were complete and total failures. Harris became known as “Father of the Orchardists” in Minnesota and was also a founding member of the Minnesota State Horticultural Society. Since 1947 La Crescent has celebrated this apple heritage annually with a weekend festival know as Applefest.
La Crescent has entertained a number of businesses throughout its history, but the one that has endured the longest is the apple industry. Around the 1940’s La Crescent had about 40 small orchards in and around the city. Although the number of orchards has dwindled to less than a dozen, the acreage is about the same, as the orchards have been expanded in the bluffs farther away from the city .La Crescent grows gourmet apple varieties not found in most other places. Eighty per cent of its apples are sold in Minnesota, although they are also exported to surrounding states and Canada. Meanwhile, people continue to flock to the beauty of La Crescent.