You can find Mt. Holly on Google Maps, one lonely dot near the center of Shakopee. Zoom in and see that the city resides entirely on the corner of Third Avenue East and Holmes Street, across from the Scott County Jail. The town consists of a tidy 1940s bungalow and a single pine tree. Until very recently, Mt. Holly had but one resident: its mayor, Mike Haeg. The minuscule municipality experienced a three-hundred-percent population increase when Haeg’s wife and two children were granted citizenship by the mayor, also the town’s leading advocate of population control.
“People often ask, Why your own town?” Haeg says. “I always tell them I want an elected official who shares my interests.” Haeg is a gregarious man, tall and eager to shake hands, a proud member of Mensa who works with an advertising concern in downtown Minneapolis. He and his wife Tammy and their two children, Jackson and Autumn, live, to all appearances, a normal life, except that every night they come home to the smallest town in Minnesota.
In the autumn of 2004, Mike and Tammy were renting in Minneapolis and seeking to buy a home, but couldn’t afford property in the city. While visiting Tammy’s parents in Shakopee, her father nodded toward the future Mt. Holly and said, “Watch that house, the owner’s going to die any day.”
Sure enough, the elderly owner expired within twenty-four hours, and, soon after, the Haegs purchased their first home. Mt. Holly came into existence about a year later, when Haeg was beginning to feel the malaise of a man who’d moved from the bustle of Minneapolis to the sleepy commuter paradise of Shakopee.
One night, while reading a book about homesteaders, it occurred to him that he should try to make his own city. “Nowadays, you really can’t just go somewhere and start a town—but I was tired of saying I was from Shakopee,” he says. After nearly a year of trying to get Mt. Holly recognized by the state, Haeg was about ready to give up. “Nobody could get past the why to tell me how,” he says. “People thought I was one of those crackpots trying to avoid taxes.”
Haeg recalled, from a class on the history of marketing he’d taken years ago, that the first man to sell advertising was from the pleasant-sounding Mt. Holly, New Jersey. So one day, when renewing his driver’s license, he simply wrote ‘Mt. Holly’ as the city. A flustered clerk allowed the heretofore fictitious locale on state-sanctioned paperwork, making the little village official: On October 27, 2005 (recognized by the four citizens of the new town as Founder’s Day), Mike Haeg’s new driver’s license read “Mount Holly, MN.”
For Haeg, Mt. Holly is not a mere novelty. He has a vision. He wants to see it grow into a cultural center for Shakopee’s youth. He’s planning on opening a silkscreen studio in his attached garage and constructing a stage where local bands can play. “Kids in the suburbs can’t always get to Minneapolis,” Haeg says. “I want them to have a place to express themselves.” He’s seeking grants to offer workshops in photography and art as well.
Mt. Holly’s civic ventures are already becoming a vital part of the local scene. There’s Hi-Billy Days (Mt. Holly celebrates its Hi-Society and Hillbilly roots), the annual Soybean Feed (ten bucks gets you a seven-course vegan meal from traveling chef Joshua Ploeg, and all the euchre you can play), and camping trips organized by Mt. Holly’s own Fraternal Order of the Sasquatch (F.O.O.T.S.). The mayor has ambitious plans for Mt. Holly’s infrastructure, as well. By this summer there will be a “Welcome to Mt. Holly” sign in the front yard, city-limit postings, a unique Mt. Holly zip code, and certified status as a Tree City, USA. “I think you need a ratio of one planted tree per ten residents. We’ll plant four and skewer the whole thing,” the mayor says.
This article originally appeared in The Rake magazine.