Owatonna is a city in Steele County, Minnesota, United States. The population was 25,599 at the 2010 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. The community was named after the Straight River, which in the Dakota language is Wakpá Owóthaŋna. The earliest the Owatonna area was settled was in 1854 and platted in September 1855, but it was incorporated as a town August 9, 1858, then as a city on February 23, 1865.
The name Owatonna is from a legend; Chief Wabena heard of the curing waters called minnewaucan. His daughter, Princess Owatonna, was very frail so he moved his tribe to the site of the natural springs on the banks of Maple Creek. Princess Owatonna drank from the springs daily and recovered her health. Her kindly spirit hovers near the bubbling waters and beckons weary travelers to pause in the beautiful valley and drink of the magic waters. It is actually true that for hundreds of years before the arrival of the first white settlers, Native Americans camped on the banks of a river they called "Ouitunya," which means "straight" and is today the name of the major river in Steele County. Mineral Springs Park is now on this site and contains a statue of the Princess Owatonna and visitors can see the springs and drink the water that saved Princess Owatonna.
In 1856, Josef Karel Kaplan emigrated from a village southwest of Prague Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) and selected a quarter section of land near the town of Owatonna. Kaplan described Owatonna as having just 50 small homes, but predicted 100 within a year, along with a railroad. With just four stores and a pharmacy, Owatonna quickly prospered and grew to 1500 inhabitants in just 5 years. Kaplan wrote about the Owatonna area in letters donated to the Minnesota Historical Society. He described often seeing Indians – people with "tough constitutions...brown skin and good dispositions", explaining: "When you read about battles between whites and Indians, it is the whites who are to blame." In 1866, Kaplan helped organize the Catholic Cemetery, and a year later, the National Bohemian Cemetery of Owatonna.
Kaplan's Woods is part of the land originally owned by Josef Kaplan, and later Victor and Anna Kaplan. The State of Minnesota created Kaplan's Wood State Park, which was later transferred to the City of Owatonna. The Kaplan's Woods Parkway contains over of hiking and cross country skiing trails, and nearly of hard—surfaced, handicapped—accessible trail. The parkway includes Lake Kohlmier, a lake. Maps of the parkway are available at the Park and Recreation office.
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.