Owatonna is a city in Steele County, Minnesota, United States. The population was 22,434 at the 2000 census. It is the county seat of Steele County. Owatonna is home to the Steele County Fairgrounds, which hosts the Steele County Free Fair in August.
Owatonna was first settled in 1853 around the Straight River.
In 1883, Owatonna was the site of the State Fair and soon the county established its own fair in Owatonna, the Steele County Free Fair or SCFF, the largest free fair in Minnesota.
All the attention on the area in the late 1800s caused the city administration (and a fly-by-night corporation from which the city administrators profited) to devise a tourism and bottled water scheme in which a story centered around a "Princess Owatonna" was concocted. According to the story, Princess Owatonna, daughter of Chief Wabena, fell ill. She was so ill she couldn't lift her head to drink the smallest pool of water. The chief had heard of the wonderful curative effects of water bubbling from the ground in what is now Owatonna, and decided that only their magical restorative properties could save his daughter. After being given the water by her father, Princess Owatonna was miraculously cured, lending her name and image to both the town and the newly minted bottled water company. A statue of the princess appears in Owatonna's Mineral Springs Park, next to Maple Creek, a tributary of the Straight River, and a fountain where visitors can see the springs and drink the water that saved Princess Owatonna.
The Minnesota State School for Dependent and Neglected Children was built in 1886. The school took in orphans from around the state and taught them "the value of drill, discipline and labor." The children who died in the institution were interred in the graveyard behind the school. In 1945, the orphanage was closed and the facility began to serve handicapped children. In 1974, the City purchased the compound for its office space. Renamed "West Hills," it continues to serve as the city's administration complex and home to many nonprofit civic organizations including a senior activity center, the Owatonna Arts Center, two nonprofit day care centers, a chemical dependency halfway house, and Big Brothers/Big Sisters, among others.
Owatonna is an economic center of Southern Minnesota, with diverse industries. Federated Insurance is the largest employer with 1521 employees, followed by Viracon which has 1434 employees. Both have their headquarters in Owatonna. Other large employers in the community are SPX Corporation, Jostens , Cabela's, Truth Hardware, ISD 761, Wenger Corporation, Owatonna Clinic - Mayo Health Systems, and Owatonna Hospital - Allina Hospitals And Clinics.
Recently Owatonna has seen a large amount of commercial growth, with the arrival of well-known retail and restaurant chains. Some of these are Lowe's, Fleet Farm, Kohl’s, OfficeMax, MGM Liquors, Slumber Land Furniture Outlet, Starbucks Coffee, Caribou Coffee, Dunn Bros. Coffee, Papa Murphy's, Wendy's, Famous Dave’s, Timber Lodge Steak House, McDonalds, Subway, and Burger King.
The city is located in Minnesota’s 26th District, represented by Senator Dick Day, a Republican, who was first elected to the state senate in 1990 and has been reelected five times. In 1998, Senator Day was elected leader of his caucus. He currently sits on the Business, Industry and Jobs Finance; Transportation Budget and Policy Division; State and Local Government Operations and Oversight; and Transportation Committees.
Owatonna also lies in House District 26A, represented by State Representative Connie Ruth, a Republican. She was first elected to that office in 2000, and is currently in her fourth term. Representative Ruth sits on the following committees: Biosciences and Emerging Technology; Education Finance and Economic Competitiveness Finance Division; Higher Education and Work Force Development Policy and Finance Division; Transportation and Transit Policy Subcommittee; and Transportation Finance Division.
In the middle of Owatonna's downtown is the National Farmer's Bank, widely recognized as one of the premier pieces of the "Prairie School of Architecture" in America. Designed by Louis Sullivan, the building was finished in 1908 and features gold leaf arches, stained glass windows, and nouveau baroque art designs. It is on the National Register of Historic Places and is now occupied by a branch of Wells Fargo Bank.
As of the census of 2000, there were 22,434 people, 8,704 households, and 5,936 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,779.9 people per square mile (687.4/km²). There were 8,940 housing units at an average density of 709.3/sq mi (273.9/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 94.09% White, 1.56% African American, 0.13% Native American, 0.99% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 1.92% from other races, and 1.27% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 4.31% of the population.
There were 8,704 households out of which 35.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 56.5% were married couples living together, 8.4% had a female householder with no husband present, and 31.8% were non-families. 26.6% of all households were made up of individuals and 10.5% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.52 and the average family size was 3.08.
In the city the population was spread out with 28.1% under the age of 18, 8.4% from 18 to 24, 29.8% from 25 to 44, 20.8% from 45 to 64, and 12.9% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 35 years. For every 100 females there were 95.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 90.5 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $45,660, and the median income for a family was $54,883. Males had a median income of $37,691 versus $25,511 for females. The per capita income for the city was $20,513. About 4.3% of families and 6.6% of the population were below the poverty line, including 7.9% of those under age 18 and 6.9% of those age 65 or over.
Parts of the 1995 movie Angus were filmed in and around Owatonna, including Owatonna High School and its football team.
In 1974, the City of Owatonna purchased the campus of the former Minnesota State Public School for Dependent and Neglected Children, which had been in operation from 1886 until 1945. The site was renamed West Hills, and now serves as an administrative center for the City of Owatonna, as well as housing several non-profit organizations in the various historic buildings, including the Owatonna Arts Center.