Paynesville's Trunk Highways

I was recently in the small central Minnesota town of Paynesville for a less than fortunate family gathering. On the way back to the Twin Cities I took some quick photos of some of the highways through town, most notably State Highway 23. Highway 23 passes through Paynesville on its way between the cities of Wilmar and St. Cloud, and has become a medium-priority corridor in MNDOT's Interregional Corridor system. MNDOT has been working to upgrade Highway 23 to 4 lanes between Wilmar and St. Cloud in recent years. MNDOT is currently looking at options for a bypass around the south end of town (go here to take a look at the proposed plans). However, funding appears to be an issue, as well as weather or not MNDOT is ignoring the needs of Paynsville to get traffic between Wilmar and St. Cloud (take a look at this little editorial).

Until the bypass is built, Highway 23 will continue to use the alignment it has been on since 1946. In fact, the highways entering Paynesville have been on the same basic alignments since 1953. Paynesville has historically always been a sort of crossroads, with roads from St. Cloud, Litchfield, Sauk Center, and Wilmar meeting here. Three state routes, Highways 55, 23, and 4 now meet on the west side of town. Although the highways here have stayed pretty static since 1953, the early years of the trunk highways through Paynesville were anything but stagnant.

Paynesville Highway History

Three of the original state routes met in Paynesville starting in 1921. In 1921 all of the roads leading into town were dirt, with no paving or gravel. Most of the roads into town were graveled in 1926, with the exception of Highway 4 to Sauk Centre, and Highway 22 to Litchfield. Note the original alignments used by the various state routes on what are today local or county roads.

In late 1926 the US Highway system was created. US Highway 71's original route passed through Paynesville, duplexed with State Highway 4. This would be the only time in Paynsville's history when a US route would pass through town.

In 1927 a new roadway was graded for State Highway 22 between Paynsville and Eden Valley, bypassing what is now County Road 34. Highway 22, as well as Mill Street in Paynesville, were oil treated in 1931.

In 1932 a new highway was completed for State Highway 4 and US 71 south towards Wilmar, bypassing the original route on Cemetery Road.

In 1934 Minnesota's Trunk Highway system was totally overhauled and enlarged. Only Highway 23 to St. Cloud, and Highway 4 to Sauk Centre remained the same. Highway 23 was extended south, replacing Highway 4 as the route to Wilmar. A new route, Highway 55, was routed through town from Minneapolis, replacing Highway 22. Notice Highway 55's original, and rather odd route to the southwest, duplexed with Highway 23. A few miles west of town, Highway 55 split from Highway 23 and continued north and west on a temporary route to Belgrade until the permanent roadway could be built in 1936. Lastly, notice Highway 4's new route through town, duplexed with Highway 55 to the south. Highway 4 splits off from 55 a few miles southeast of Lake Karonis towards Grove City.

At the same time the routes in Paynesville were being shuffled, a new road was built for Highway 23 out of town to the east towards St. Cloud, with a new railroad underpass that is still used today, bypassing the original route on Washburne Avenue and Minnie Street.

In 1936, the new grade for Highway 55 towards Belgrade was completed, including a new bridge over the North Fork of the Crow River (still used today). The original crossing used by Highway 4 since 1921 was abandoned, and a new connection was built for Highway 4, now County Road 130, just northwest of the bridge. In 1939, Highway 23's route from the east into town was finally paved.

In 1941, State Highway 4 was moved onto a new alignment, splitting from Highway 55 towards Sauk Centre a few miles to the west of town. The old route on what is now County Road 130 was vacated. At this point in time, State Highway 4 duplexes fully with Highway 55 through Paynesville, splitting off at points to the southeast, and northwest of town. From 1941 on, all trunk highways leading into Paynesville would be paved.

Just after World War II, a new through-town alignment was graded for Highway 23 between Washburne Avenue and Mill Street. This route had been planned as far back as 1932 according to highway plans of the time, but was not actually completed until 1946. Highway 23 still uses this alignment today. State Highways 55 and 4 are still using Lake Avenue and Mill Street at this point.

In 1953, a new alignment was constructed for Highway 55 to the south of town, bypassing the town center. Lake Avenue was maintained as a trunk highway to provide a route into the town's business district. Highway 4 remained on Lake Avenue, continuing north to a new junction with Highway 23, then duplexing with 23 through town and rejoining 55 at the junction on the west side of town.

In 1961, Highway 4 was replaced on Lake Avenue by new State Route 124. Highway 4 remained duplexed with 55 through town. Other than standard repaving and maintenance, the highways through Paynesville remained virtually unchanged after 1961. The only real change was the reconstruction of the west approach of Highway 23 to the junction with Highway 55 and 4 in about 1973.

Finally in 2003, (according to Steve Reiner's Minnesota Highways Page), State Highway 124 on Lake Avenue was turned back to Stearns County.


An old motel off of Highway 55 (and 4), just south of the junction with Highway 23.

Looking north on Highway 55, just south of Highway 23. This stretch of Highway 55 was built in 1953.

A classic Dairy Queen.

At the junction of Highways 55 and 4 with 23.

Looking north along Highway 55 and 4 at the North Fork of the Crow River. The highway up ahead was first built in 1936. The right turn lane for County Road 130 is visible just past the bridge. County Road 130 was the old alignment of Highway 4 before 1941.

Looking east on Highway 23 at Mill Street (the city street on the right). Highway routes through Paynesville once used Mill Street between here and Lake Avenue. This was the site of the east junction of Highway 23 with Highways 55 and 4 from 1946 till 1953. The curve in the road was built in 1946.

On Highway 23 at Washburne Street, the original alignment of 23 from 1921 till 1934 north of the intersection, and between 1921 and 1946 south of the intersection.

At the railroad underpass, just east of town. This rather narrow point in the highway was constructed in 1934.

At Industrial Loop Road, looking east. Industrial Loop Road was the original route of Highway 23 into Paynesville before 1934.

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