24 March 2009

News from Lake Wobegon

A bill has been introduced into the Minnesota legislature which would combine parts of three counties to form a single county, with a name to be chosen by the residents, but tentatively identified as "Lake Wobegon County."

This actually is not a promotional stunt. The urban area of St. Cloud, Minnesota includes parts of three counties (Stearns, Benton, and Sherburne), thus creating an administrative nightmare for officials dealing with 47 different jurisdictions within a 30-mile radius.

I have thought for years that the American system of "counties" could be markedly streamlined and made more efficient. County borders were determined when territory was settled (eighteenth century on the East coast, 1850s in the Midwest), and the goal was to have the county seat within a one-day journey for county residents so they could travel to the courthouse and return home. Those boundaries were established when the mode of transportation was the horse or the horse-drawn cart. Nowadays there is little sense in duplicating administrative offices and services within an hour's drive of one another.

Those unfamiliar with Lake Wobegon can read the link about Garrison Keillor's home town in Minnesota where "all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking and all the children are above average."


  1. Just on the name: here in Oz we have the Wobbegong (or Wobegong) shark. It's a fairly inoffensive creature, more prone to being eaten by humans than eating them.
    The word wobbegong is purported to be an Australian Aboriginal word meaning "shaggy beard".

  2. Interesting. Re the fictional town's etymology, this from Wiki:

    The name is a play on words, with several possible meanings: Normally the word "woe" means "beset with trouble." The word "wobegone" is defined as "affected with woe," while the phrase "Woe, be gone" indicates a dismissal of troubles. It can also mean to "appear shabby, derelict or run down", suggesting a town that has seen better days.

    On the show Keillor says the fictional town's name comes from a fictional old Indian word meaning "the place where we waited all day in the rain [for you]."


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