Town Days Tour 2013 St. James



  • The City of St. James was founded in 1870 by the president of the St. Paul & Sioux railroad Company, EF Drake.
  • St. James is the county seat of Watonwan County and is located on Highways 4, 60, and 30. Lakes that are in or near town include: St. James Lake, Long Lake, and Kansas Lake, which is 6 miles south of town.
  • St. James has a unique story behind how it got its name. General Sibley was a member of the Board of Directors for the railroad. He was given the honor of naming the planned town, and proposed a lengthy Sioux Indian name. The next morning, the president of the railroad, EF Drake, asked Sibley the name he had chosen for the town but he had forgotten it. Rather than have the General go home and retrieve the document that had the name on it, Drake suggested the name “St. James” and the name was agreed upon by the railroad men.
  • The town site for St. James was chosen by railroad surveyors who established the halfway between St. Paul and Sioux City, Iowa. A train engine repair center was erected at the site and St. James grew around it. In 1871 when the village charter was established the population was 600.
  • Many great and interesting people called St. James their home or business-place.  Among those are Minnesota Governor Hammond and Reverend and Mrs. Theodore Mondale, who are Walter Mondale’s grandparents.
  • The first church came to St. James in September 1870, and was Presbyterian. The First Baptist Church of St. James was organized in February 1871 and their church was built in 1872. The Methodist Episcopal Church was also organized in 1871 and built a house of worship in the fall of 1872.
  • The first passenger train that came to St. James was on November 22, 1870. It was an excursion from St. Paul consisting of elegant coaches filled with railroad VIP’s.
  • In late July of 1873, a plague of grasshoppers appeared in St. James, and across much of Minnesota. Everything in the young village was ruined or destroyed, and the grasshoppers stayed for four long years. When they finally left as suddenly as they came the people were destitute, but the pioneering spirit persevered, and the town was rebuilt.
  • In the year of 1896, St. James had more than 100 businesses. These included: four large hotels, a 35-thousand dollar opera house, a modern creamery, a flour mill, 3 carriage and wagon manufacturers, a library of several hundred volumes, 1 cigar factory, a steam laundry, a bottling works, 8 churches, and a modern sewer system.
  • By 1940, St. James had grown to a city of almost 3,500 people. The business district included: 10 food stores, 5 general stores, 7 apparel outlets, 2 furniture stores, 7 car dealers, 13 gas stations, 9 lumber and building stores, 11 restaurants, 3 drugstores, 3 hardware stores, 2 music stores, 3 farm seed supply stores, 2 jewelry stores, and 12 other stores.
  • The Saluators Railroad Museum Park is located on St. James Lake, across from the Hickory Inn. The park features a 122 year old train depot, track, caboose, switch tower, and sand tank.



  • The St. James Public School District is one of the larger employers in town. Their mascot is the Saints.
  • St. James is home to several industries. These include: ST Industries, a maker of precision tools; a turkey processing plant; Tony Downs Foods, maker of frozen foods distributed nationwide; Watonwan Farm Service, which deals in farm products; Consumers Supply Corporation, wholesalers of feed-additives, lawn and garden products, and water softener salt; Nelson Hood Exchange, who exchange new and used truck hoods; and Westin Automotive Products, makers of automobile accessories.
  • St. James Health Services was awarded a contract with the Veterans Administration in recent years to supply health care to Veterans across southern Minnesota.


Festivals & Events

  • St. James celebrates its railroad heritage every year with “Railroad Days.” The annual event is held every June and features many fun activities for the whole family.
  •  The Watonwan County Fair is held in St. James every July. It is the oldest county fair in the state.
  • St. James hosts 4 concerts in the park every summer. One of these concerts is always timed to coincide with the National Night Out festivities.


  • The City of St. James has a population of approximately 4,600 people. The Mayor is Gary Sturm.
  • The Watonwan County Relay For Life is held in St. James every July. The fundraiser for cancer research consistently ranks among the top in the state and nation for communities its size.
  • In 2010 a 24-year-old soldier from St. James received the Army Commendation Medal for Valor. Specialist Jesse R. Sprint was awarded the medal for capturing an enemy gunman following a battle in Afghanistan.
  • Becky Cselovszki took over as Superintendent with the St. James School District in June 2010, and her contract was renewed for 2 years in 2012. She replaced longtime St. James Superintendent Nordy Nelson when he retired.
  • The St. James School District received a check for over $15,000 in 2012 for energy efficiency programs implemented over the prior few years. Upgrades included lighting retrofits and heating and ventilation updates. The district has received over $26,000 in such rebates since 2008.
  • The St. James Area Chamber of Commerce 2012 Business Of The Year was Johnson’s Meat Market in downtown St. James. The award was accepted by the owners of the meat market, Dustin and Nicole Johnson.
  • The St. James District 840 Foundation had a successful “Cash For Kids” fundraiser in 2012. The annual community fundraiser auction brought in around $25,000. The big items at the auction included 1-year naming rights to the high school gymnasium, which went to David and Carolyn Krause, in honor of their son Zach, reserved rows of seats at the annual Northside Christmas Concert, which went for nearly a thousand dollars, a personalized kindergarten shelf, which sold for over 800 dollars, and much more. The proceeds allow the District 840 Foundation to purchase educational items for St. James students that the school district’s budget does not cover.
  • KNUJ’s Hometown Hero for April of 2012 was Pete Eggen of St. James. Eggen has been the driving force behind several annual events in St. James, including the Chamber of Commerce Runs, Freeze Your Caboose Off Walk-Run and the Rail Run. He was also instrumental in bringing a new Disc Golf course to St. James, is an active member of the community’s Sertoma Club, and volunteers his time and efforts to several other organizations and events.
  • A St. James couple were named the Outstanding Senior Citizens of Watonwan County in July of 2012. Bob and Anne Sorensen were honored for their many hours of volunteer work around the community. They have helped with the Opera House Restoration project, organizing fundraisers for Hot Dog Days and Railroad Days, help with VFW and Legion events, assisted with the Main Street Project in St. James, and have worked with the Girl Scouts and the St. James Historical Society. One estimate had Bob and Anne Sorensen volunteering around 2,500 hours of their time.
  • The St. James Area Chamber of Commerce got a new Executive Director in October of 2012. Tabitha Johnson grew up in a small town with small town values, expanded her horizons in the metropolitan area, and married a St. James native.  



Click on the title below to listen to the Town Days Podcasts