How a Minnesota Town Body Slammed Its Neighbor

The city of St. Cloud, Minnesota, is home to about 60,000 people. It’s located near the center of the state and is the state’s tenth largest municipality by population. And if it had its way about 20 years ago, it would have been bigger. Just ask the 3,000 or so people who live in nearby St. Augusta.

St. Cloud was first settled by non-natives in 1851 and the population grew quickly, with multiple settlements forming. In 1856, some of these settlements congregated and incorporated into the town which is still there today. The nearby area (here’s a map — they’re only ten miles apart) now known as St. Augusta was also settled by pioneers at around the same time, but for reasons unknown, its residents didn’t incorporate into a political entity until much, much, later. Why they decided not to in the mid-to-late 1800s is unknown, but the story changed as the 20th century came to a close. By the time St. Augusta wanted to become a town, it was too late. St. Cloud wanted it instead.

By the 1990s, St. Cloud wanted to annex the smaller of the two. St. Augusta could prevent this by incorporating but that required the approval of the state government, and the state government didn’t really care about the political status of a group of 3,000 or so people who hadn’t themselves previously cared about their political status. So when St. Augusta tried to incorporate in 1999 under the name Neenah, no one really paid it much attention. The attempt failed.

A year later, they’d try again. This time, though, they decided a PR push was in order — one centered around a new name, honoring Jesse “The Body” Ventura, a professional wrestler who, surprisingly, won the state gubernatorial election in 1998 as a third-party candidate. The town figured that Ventura’s unorthodox approach to governing was something they could leverage to their advantage, and they were right. Ventura took notice of the stunt as did the local press; St. Cloud radio station WJON reported that “the area was soon swarmed with reporters and the Governor himself stopped by to pay a visit.” The ploy worked and the state government let Ventura become a real town.

On May 2, 2000, the town officially incorporated as Ventura, Minnesota. But it was short-lived. The now-townsfolk weren’t too fond of the name and, that fall, voted to revert back to St. Augusta. They kept their status as an incorporated town, however.


Bonus fact: There’s an unincorporated town in North Carolina called “Whynot,” pronounced the same as “why not.” It’s not a word borrowed from another language unless a mix of laziness and frustration constitutes one. Wikipedia sums up the history: “The origin of town’s name came from residents debating a title for their community. A man finally remarked ‘Why not name the town Why Not and let’s go home?.'”

From the Archives: When Minneapolis and St. Paul Battled over Population: More municipal in-fighting in Minnesota.