Funkley, Minn., back on top . . . er, bottom

For many decades, the Minnesota towns of Funkley and Tenney have been vying for the distinction of smallest city in the state.

Funkley appears poised to regain the title.

In the 2010 numbers that the Census Bureau put out for Minnesota this week, the two were tied for littlest — five people each. For Funkley, which lies 32 miles northeast of Bemidji on U.S. 71, it was a return to glory, of sorts.

In almost every census from 1940 to 1980, as its population dwindled from 26 to 18, Funkley ranked as the smallest in the state. But in 1990, Tenney, which is near Breckenridge in western Minnesota, outdid Funkley by shrinking to four people.

And now, after 20 years in single digits, Tenney is considering whether to dissolve. A hearing is scheduled for April 5, after which a judge may order an election. If a majority of the city’s handful of voters approve, the city will dissolve and become part of Campbell Township in Wilkin County. The petition to ask for the hearing was signed by only one person, Mayor Kristin Schwab, but that met the legal requirement to get a third of all voters to sign.

It’s about time, says Wilkin County auditor Wayne Bezenek, who has to oversee elections. “There’s hardly anything in that town,” he says, just a grain elevator full of corn, beans and a little wheat.

It’s a rare situation, as it turns out. Since the law governing city dissolutions was passed in 1949, only two cities have dissolved — Island View, near International Falls, and Ronneby, near St. Cloud. One city, Kingston, near Litchfield, held an election but voted against dissolution, according to Chris Scotillo, executive director of municipal boundary adjustments for the state.

Funkley, meanwhile, is persevering. The biggest business is the Funkley Bar and Lounge, owned by Emil Erickson, who is also the city’s mayor. Erickson moved to town five years ago from Leonard, Minn., just as the former mayor was moving out. So he got the job.

Erickson says there aren’t many burning issues for the city, but he did attend last month’s Beltrami County board meeting to testify that having the bar stay open until 2 a.m. had not resulted in any problems.

Interestingly, the bar is licensed by the city of Funkley, not the county.

Erickson, 53, says he’d like to see Funkley grow, but notes that “there ain’t much to draw people.”

Beltrami County Auditor Kay Mack notes that only one person voted in Funkley in the November election. She also points out that the city levies $1,000 in property taxes to pay for elections.

(Thanks to U of M Extension researcher Ben Winchester for pointing out the tie in this census and for the great set of ancient census data.)

  • Michele

    Funkley’s other claim to fame: it was the only bar to stay open during the Red Lake uprising back in ’79/’80… It may be small but it lives up to it’s quirky name.