MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – According to the last census, there are around 740 towns in Minnesota, give or take a few.

Of those, 594 are considered small towns, less than 5,000 people.

In this week’s Best of Minnesota, it’s a measure of civic pride as to which of those 594 small towns is the best. The results are in, and your votes took us on a tour of the town of Nisswa in the Brainerd Lakes Area.

It’s a pretty safe guess that when you get a group of Nisswa’s city and business leaders together on a big day such as this, you’re probably going to hear some pretty glowing remarks about the town.

But wait until you hear the stories about the people who left Nisswa. And then years later, moved back.

It’s at that point you’ll realize what a special place Nisswa holds in the hearts of these people.

“It’s a special town. You leave for a little bit but you want to come back,” one resident said. “It’s great, it’s the best place to come back to.”

Heartfelt sentiment for a town that almost wasn’t.

“What attracted the lumber people here were the huge stands of beautiful white pine. The railroad had been built as far as Brainerd, and the proposed path was to go through Hubert and straight onto lake shore, bypassing Nisswa,” Dick Carlson said.

Local historian Dick Carlson paints a vivid picture of how a costly topographical mistake by the railroad caused them to change the proposed route of the tracks.

“And so they had to tear up a 600-foot trestle and reroute back around to Nisswa,” Carlson said.

But the coming of the railroad also opened the door for a new kind of business.

“The area was well-known for the beautiful lakes and forests,” Carlson said.

The new rail line had cut the trip from the Twin Cities to Nisswa, from four days to six hours. People flocked to the area, and so began the Brainerd Lakes tourism industry.

“Summer time is obviously very busy with tourism and that’s a big part of what drives the economy in our town,” Nisswa Mayor Fred Heiman said.

“We just figured out that we have over 45 days during the year that we have some kind of event going on here,” Shawn Hanson with the Nisswa Chamber of Commerce said.

From turtle racing, Swedish dancing to their big fall festival, it’s pretty obvious Nisswa likes to party.

“And of course our biggest one coming up the Friday after Thanksgiving, it’s called Nisswa City of Lights. It’s like taking a Hallmark movie scene and moving it into downtown. It’s our favorite event of the year,” Hanson said.

Each one of these residents may have their own reasons for loving this little town, nestled among the trees and lakes. But they all have one thing very much in common.

“It’s just a friendly place,” Carlson said.

They are all more than eager to share all they have with the rest of us.

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