The area in which Crookston is located was virtually unoccupied during pre-European contact and remained little more than a hunting ground associated with the Pembina settlements until the 1860s. The land in the immediate vicinity of Crookston is not connected with any verifiable Native American or European historic events or circumstances until transfer in the Treaties of Old Crossing in 1863-64. Prior to that time, the territory now included in Crookston was technically a part of Rupert's Land and Assiniboia before becoming part of the United States as a result of the boundary settlement in the Treaty of 1818.
The area in which Crookston is located was traversed by trappers and traders including Ojibwa and Lakota Indians, Métis, and other mixed-race people as well as white men between 1790 and 1870. A branch of the Red River Trails passed nearby; it was used by fur traders between the 1840s and 1870s.
The present day site of Crookston first saw settlement by non-Indian people around 1872. It was the site of a federal land office by 1876 and sited on a portion of the Great Northern Railway which began operations prior to 1880. The town was incorporated on April 1, 1879 as "Queen City". By the end of that year, the town boasted a jail, graded streets, and a few plank sidewalks. Soon, it was decided that the town needed a new name. Two factions emerged that supported two different names. One group wished to honor the town's first mayor, Captain Ellerey C. Davis, by renaming "Queen City" to "Davis." Another group picked the name Crookston to honor Colonel William Crooks, a soldier and railroad builder. The present day name was reportedly chosen by means of a coin toss.
Soon, immigrants from Scandinavia and Germany began populating Crookston. At one point, eight different railroad lines reached Crookston and the town became a center of commerce and manufacturing.
Crookston has not seen a major period of population growth for quite some time and the economy has suffered from increased competition from nearby Grand Forks, North Dakota. In what has been a socioeconomic marker of sorts in the US, a Wal-Mart opened in Crookston in 2007.
Crookston sits in the fertile Red River Valley, once a part of glacial Lake Agassiz. As Lake Agassiz receded, it left behind rich mineral deposits. This made the area around Crookston prime for agricultural uses. Grains such as wheat and other crops, including sugar beets and potatoes grow well in the area around Crookston.
Crookston has a relatively flat landscape. The Red Lake River flows through the city and makes several twists and turns (oxbows). Crookston has experienced some erosion of the riverbank. A recent minor landslide has led the city to seek a permanent solution to such problems.
U.S. Highway 2, U.S. Highway 75, Minnesota Highway 102, and Minnesota Highway 9 are four of the main routes in the community.
Crookston is the northern terminus of the Agassiz Recreational Trail, a 53-mile multi-use trail built on an abandoned railroad grade which has its southern terminus at Ulen. According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 5.15 square miles (13.34 km2), all of it land.
As of the census of 2010, there were 7,891 people, 3,109 households, and 1,743 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,532.2 inhabitants per square mile (591.6/km2). There were 3,303 housing units at an average density of 641.4 per square mile (247.6/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 90.2% White, 1.4% African American, 1.7% Native American, 1.6% Asian, 2.8% from other races, and 2.3% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 11.0% of the population.
There were 3,109 households of which 28.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 40.3% were married couples living together, 11.1% had a female householder with no husband present, 4.7% had a male householder with no wife present, and 43.9% were non-families. 36.7% of all households were made up of individuals and 13.3% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.27 and the average family size was 2.97.
The median age in the city was 35.1 years. 22.3% of residents were under the age of 18; 16.7% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 20.5% were from 25 to 44; 25% were from 45 to 64; and 15.5% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 49.4% male and 50.6% female.
As of the census of 2000, there were 8,192 people, 3,078 households, and 1,819 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,658.8 people per square mile (640.3/km²). There were 3,382 housing units at an average density of 684.8 per square mile (264.3/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 90.5% White, 0.50% African American, 1.54% Native American, 0.49% Asian, 0.02% Pacific Islander, 4.64% from other races, and 1.56% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 8.18% of the population.
There were 3,078 households, of which 30.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 46.5% were married couples living together, 9.6% had a female householder with no husband present, and 40.9% were non-families. 34.5% of all households were made up of individuals and 15.5% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.37 and the average family size was 3.10.
In the city, the age distribution of the population shows 24.2% under the age of 18, 14.9% from 18 to 24, 23.8% from 25 to 44, 19.5% from 45 to 64, and 17.6% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females there were 93.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 91.5 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $34,609, and the median income for a family was $44,157. Males had a median income of $30,564 versus $21,021 for females. The per capita income for the city was $17,219. About 7.5% of families and 12.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 14.4% of those under age 18 and 14.7% of those age 65 or over.
Crookston is the location of the University of Minnesota, Crookston (a campus of the University of Minnesota system). It began as an agricultural high school before becoming a two-year college and then a four-year university. On January 30, 2010, the Crookston Sports Center was dedicated.
Crookston is home to Crookston High School, home of the Pirates. Students from neighboring towns of Euclid, Gentilly, and Mentor attend Crookston High. The school district (#593) enrolls about 1,600 students in K-12. Before the new high school was built in 1997, students attended Central High School located in downtown Crookston. Central High School had been in operation since 1913.
Private elementary schools include: Cathedral Elementary – Catholic (formerly Mt. Saint Benedict high school), Our Savior's – Lutheran, and Bible Baptist – Baptist.
KROX 1260 AM is Crookston's only local radio station. The local newspaper is the Crookston Daily Times.
Crookston is home to the Grand Theater, the oldest continuously operating movie theater in the United States. It was originally an opera house and played host to legendary entertainers including author Mark Twain, Harry Houdini, and early film actress Mary Pickford.Dan Anderson, professional basketball player, was born in Crookston in 1943.
Joseph H. Ball, U.S. senator from Minnesota from 1940 to 1949, was born in Crookston in 1905.
Ronald N. Davies, judge of the United States District Court for the District of North Dakota, 1955–1985, was born in Crookston in 1904.
Leroy E. Matson, Minnesota Supreme Court justice
John Noah, ice hockey player who won a silver medal at the 1952 Winter Olympics, was born in Crookston in 1927.
Milton Orville Thompson, NASA astronaut and research scientist, was born in Crookston in 1926.
Wes Westrum played minor league baseball in Crookston for the Crookston Pirates. A boyhood resident of nearby Clearbrook, he later went on to star for the New York Giants.
Ed Widseth attended the Northwest School of Agriculture, now University of Minnesota, Crookston, before he went on to play football for the Minnesota Golden Gophers and won the NCAA national championship in 1933, 1934, and 1935. He was drafted in the first round of the 1937 NFL Draft (4th overall) by the New York Giants and played for four seasons.
Eric Barnum was born in Crookston in 1979. He is a composer of choral, instrumental, and vocal works. He received the 2004 JCCP Composers Grant and won the Chanticleer Student Composer Competition in 2003, for "She Walks in Beauty".