The St. Paul and Pacific Railroad had built from a main line from the east side of St. Cloud over the Mississippi River in the spring of 1872, and further built passenger and freight depots along with a rail yard with a roundhouse and other buildings on the northwestern area of downtown St. Cloud, MN.
In November of 1872 the tracks were completed through St. Joseph to Melrose. The tracks ended there until July 1878, when the line was completed to Sauk Centre, then to Alexandria in November 1878. In 1879 the railroad was changed to the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railroad. The tracks were completed to Fergus Falls and onto Moorhead in 1879 also.
Towns on the abandoned portion of the line:
- St. Joseph
- Sauk Centre
- West Union
- Fergus Falls
In 1907 the Great Northern took control of the line; in 1970 the BN took control. In 1981 the BN abandoned Collegeville to Avon. They sold the segment between Avon to Barnesville via Fergus Falls to the Otter Tail Valley Western Railroad (OTCR) in 1986, who subsequently abandoned that segment in 1992 and ripped out the tracks from Avon to Fergus Falls, leaving all the bridges intact. BNSF abandoned St. Joseph to Collegeville in 2002.
The old rail grade was purchased by the MN DNR and is now a paved recreational trail from St. Joseph to Osakis. It also serves as the Wobegon Trail and from Osakis to Fergus Falls it is the Central Lakes Trail.
Thanks to Adam Jelinski for contributing information about this route.