Sartell is a city in Benton and Stearns counties in the state of Minnesota that straddles both sides of the Mississippi River. It is part of the St. Cloud Metropolitan Statistical Area. The population was 15,876 at the 2010 census and 16,277 according to 2013 census estimates, making it St. Cloud's most populous suburb and the largest city in the central Minnesota region after St. Cloud.
As the Anishinaabe people moved westward around Lake Superior and into the interior away from the Europeans in the 18th century (1736 to about 1780), they pushed the neighboring Sioux/Dakota people to their west—in present-day Minnesota—farther south and west away from them. By 1820 the Chippewa/Anishinaabe controlled all of northern Minnesota, but raids between them and the Dakota to the south continued. This area later named Sartell was an intertribal no man's land when European French fur-traders and British geographers first descended the Mississippi River from the Anishinaabe north (Jean-Baptiste Perrault 1789, David Thompson 1798), and American explorers ascended the river from the Sioux south (Zebulon Pike 1805, Lewis Cass 1820, Henry Schoolcraft 1832, Joseph Nicollet 1836).
The Watab Creek in Sartell marked part of the border line between the Anishinaabe to the north and the Dakota to the south who had lived farther north and east prior to the westward migrations of the Anishinaabe. This border was legally established by the USA in its 1825 Treaty with the tribes at Prairie du Chien which established a demarcation line between "the Sioux and the Chippewas' "the mouth of the first river which enters the Mississippi on its west side above the mouth of Sac (Sauk) river; thence ascending the said river (above the mouth of Sac river)".
In 1846, 1,300 Ho-Chunk people were moved to the Sartell area, followed by the Chippewa/Anishinaabe sale of the area north of the Watab River and west of the Mississippi to the USA. In 1848 more members of the Ho-Chunk/Winnebago tribe (related Dakotan speakers) were moved by order of the U.S. government to the mouth of the Watab creek, now called the Long Prairie reservation, to serve as a human buffer between the warring Dakota and Anishinaabe. Unhappy living between two warring tribes, the Ho-Chunk lasted less than five years there when some moved again in 1853 to more peaceful territory 50 miles south on the Mississippi, and three years later sold their grist and saw mills and moved south of Mankato. A 100-yard section of the old "Indian Trail" still remains just north of the creek's mouth albeit overgrown. The area was known as 'Winnebago' at the time of the 1866 ribbon map of the Mississippi river.
Sartell got its start as a small American town on the Mississippi River with lumber and a paper company as its main industries. The present site of the city was originally dubbed "The Third Rapids", as it was the third set of rough waters that French fur traders encountered as they traveled north from Saint Anthony Falls in Minneapolis.
One of the first white people to settle in the fledgling town was Joseph B. Sartell, who arrived in 1854 and worked as a millwright at a local sawmill. In 1877, he opened a flour mill at the nearby Watab River, and in 1884 he started the Sartell Brothers Lumber Company with his sons.
In 1905, construction began on both the Sartell Pulp and Paper Company and the Sartell Dam across the Mississippi, near the "third rapids". Both were completed in 1907, the dam project having claimed the lives of seven workers. Watab Pulp and Paper was rebuilt and expanded through the years, passing through multiple ownerships and eventually emerging as Verso Paper's Sartell mill, the city's largest employer.
In 1907, residents of the town decided to incorporate. Several influential people felt the town ought to be named Wengert, after a local businessman. But because of Joseph Sartell's many relatives and generous contributions to the community, the town was incorporated as "The Village of Sartell" in his honor. From 1907 until 1973 there was a Sartell on nearly every City Council, the most prominent being Ripley 'Rip' B. Sartell, store owner and mayor for 31 years.
The town continued to grow slowly, developing a number of businesses and a downtown on the east side of the Mississippi along U.S. Highway 10. In the 1960s, the highway was rerouted, greatly contributing to the demise of the downtown area. The later construction of the current Sartell Bridge over the Mississippi in the early 1980s replaced the remaining businesses. This and Sartell’s location near St. Cloud's major retail center account for its lack of a traditional "downtown".
Independent School District 748, Sartell-St. Stephen, was created in 1969 because residents wanted to educate their children locally. Despite the lack of a downtown, the city continued to grow at an increasing pace in the 1970s. From 1970 to the present, the city’s population has gone from 700 to over 15,000.