The Fur Trade was conducted from 1700 to roughly 1851. Beaver pelts were the primary medium of exchange, however finer furs were traded, such as mink and otter. The French, British and American traders were most involved in trading with Native Americans. The French existed in a period ruled by mercantilism, in which trapping licenses were strictly distributed and monitored. The British period of fur trading was marked by extensive intermarriages between the indigenous tribes and colonial traders.
In 1868, The Minnesota Valley Railroad reached Mankato. It was funded in part by private loan and bonds. The second-hand locomotives were necessary for the expanding economic hub in the rural Midwest, and it arrived just in time. Horse-drawn wagons could no longer keep up with the fur trade, wool trade, and agriculture in the area. The finished tracks and train with its cars were met with a feast and celebration, topped off with the mayor, ex-governors, and the “father of railroads in Minnesota”. It was quickly followed by the Northwestern Telegraph Line.
The Blue Earth Historical Society was created in 1901 by a group of individuals dedicated to preserving the past. Many of the original settlers were passing away and the society founders felt it was a time to reflect on the history and the future of the county and Mankato. Judge Daniel Buck served as the first president. Thomas Hughes was the society’s first secretary. Charles A. Chapman was a vice-president of the Society in 1901. Herbert C. Hotaling was the other vice-president. Phillip Mueller was the first treasurer.
The first two school houses in Blue Earth County were constructed in 1855. Mankato’s history of higher education and boarding style education was first impacted by Father James Thomason with his Woodland Seminary in 1864. Although it did not succeed, it was followed in 1964 by the Mankato Commercial College which lasted until 1980. Also following Thomason’s Seminary was the School Sisters of Notre Dame in 1912, a successful story which has celebrated 150 years of service in Mankato.
While the city of Mankato got electricity in the 1880s, and many communities throughout Blue Earth County between 1912 and 1915 due to the Rapidan Dam, most rural homes did not get electricity until Rural Electrification with the New Deal. This act, passed in 1934 on the National level, did not reach Blue Earth County until 1936. From then to the end of the decade, miles of electrical lines were laid and brought to homes.
The story of Mankato’s name is interesting in that it is commonly cited as a misinterpretation between the indigenous Dakota population and the colonial Anglo-Saxons. Traditionally, the area was referred to as “Mahkato” but in a clerical tragedy it was recorded as “Mankato”. Scholars have now proven that this tale is false and that using various sources, including Stephen Rigg’s dictionary A Dakota-English Dictionary published in 1852, the area would have actually been spelled “Makato”.
The Flood of 1965 was a culmination of unprepared dike building, record snow falls, and rain. The flood caused mass evacuation of Mankato, North Mankato, and LeHillier residents and businesses. Record water levels rising to roughly 29 feet caught the attention of the federal government and required the aid of the National Guard. The citizens of these communities came together during the weeks of the flood to fill sand bags, evacuate family and neighbors, feed volunteers or displaced persons, and to rebuild the town.
This article focuses on the history of fire departments, weather observers, and fallout shelters throughout Blue Earth County. Many fire departments were started as a reaction to a large fire in the community. The Mankato Fire Department started in 1860 and in 1894, a Gamewell Fire Alarm System was installed and they added a chemical tank. In 1914 and 1916, Mankato added its first two motorized vehicles and customized them to fight fires. Since then, major advances have been made in firefighting technology and the Mankato Fire Department has kept up each step of the way.
Brett’s department store was one of downtown’s largest and most popular during its long lifetime, 1868-1991. Opened as George E. Brett Inc. in 1868 by its namesake, who had come to Minnesota in 1863 from Maine, the store was located on the corner of South Front and Jackson Streets. In 1893 R. D. Hubbard sold the Northeast corner of the street to Brett for $11,000 and its new location was 329 South Front Street.