The city of Nisswa is located in north central Minnesota just 13 miles north of the Brainerd/Baxter micropolitan area. This location provides residents and tourists with access to larger market areas, government agencies, medical facilities, cultural performances, and numerous recreational amenities.
Nisswa can be considered a bedroom community of Brainerd, the Crow Wing County seat. As of the 2010 census, 1,971 people consider Nisswa their primary residence. Nisswa has a total area of 18.34 square miles, of which 10.78 square miles is land and 7.56 square miles is water. Surrounded by lakes, Nisswa is part of the Brainerd Lakes Area. Minnesota Highway 371 serves as the main route in the city.
Nisswa’s abundance of natural resources, numerous lakes, and eclectic downtown brings tourists and second homeowners to the area especially during summer months. Many communities in the central lakes region are seeing a transition from primarily seasonal homes and cabins to year-round homes and primary dwellings.
Small towns and unincorporated townships in north-central Minnesota were established largely due to the influence of railroad companies and the rail lines they constructed. In 1898 Ernest Smiley established a railroad stop and Post Office at his homestead located on what is now Poplar Avenue just off Nisswa’s main street. The stop was called 'Smiley'. When the township was founded in 1900 it was named Smiley Township. In 1908, when the village incorporated, the name was changed to Nisswa from the Ojibwe word “nessawae”, which means “in the middle”. In this case, in the middle of Clark, Nisswa and Roy lakes. In 1946, Nisswa became a municipality.
In the automobile phase (1920-1965), improvements were made along the Leech Lake Trail, now known as Highway 371, which allowed urban residents from Minneapolis/St. Paul and other urban centers to live and vacation in the Central Lakes area.