Jill grew up in Strandquist, population 69, and Karlstad, population 760, two small towns in Minnesota. When her father returned from a 50th class reunion for the first class he taught in Strandquist, he commented that “all the tiny towns would be gone in a few years.” Could it be true that our childhood towns would disappear forever? Jill and her husband Deane began a journey across Minnesota to document and photograph our state’s smallest incorporated cities with a population around 100.
From St. Vincent, population 64, in the farthest northwest corner of the state to Whalan, population 63, in southeastern Minnesota, Little Minnesota: 100 Towns Around 100 chronicles the history of white settlement in each town, and highlights points of interest for the curious traveler. Following the arrival of James Hill’s Great Northern Railroad, settlers arrived in remote Little Minnesota and developed beautiful farms, churches and thriving business districts. Annual festivals, music, dancing and baseball were a major part of their lives. Many citizens went on to achieve national recognition in politics and government.
Astonished at the number of men who died in war from Little Minnesota, the author included a list of 335 men who died from all the small towns. A second book, Little Minnesota in World War II, tells the stories of 140 men.
In 2001, Jill opened an independent bookstore, Beagle Books, in downtown Park Rapids. She is a 1974 graduate of the University of North Dakota and has worked as a physical therapist until 2015.
Jill lives with her husband Deane, photographer for Little Minnesota, live in Park Rapids on the road to Itasca State Park.
Books in print:
Little Minnesota: 100 Towns Around 100. By Jill Johnson, Adventure Publications ISBN: 978-1-59193-319-9.
Best of Itasca State Park by Deane Johnson. Adventure Publications, May 2014.
Little Minnesota in World War II: The Stories Behind 140 Fallen Heroes from Minnesota’s Littlest Towns by Jill Johnson and Deane Johnson, Adventure Publications September 2017.