On this page you'll be
introduced to historic sites in the Mendota area. Some of them are simply interesting
points of local interest, but many have a unique place in the history of Minnesota
or have even been deemed of National significance. Each is well worth the trip
to see in person and, hopefully, this page will help you understand these sites
and the role they played in our rich history.
|Indicates a site that is of National historic significance
and has a marker in place from the National Register of Historic Sites.|
Minnesota Highway 55
When it opened on November 8, 1926, the Mendota Bridge
was the longest continuous concrete-arch bridge in the world, measuring 4,119
feet. Great fanfare occasioned the opening with a telegraph from President Calvin
Coolidge. Two huge caravans of approximately 15,000 cars met in the center of
the bridge and Minnesota Governor Theodore Christianson untied golden ropes for
its formal opening. The bridge was dedicated to the "Gopher Gunners" of the 151st
Field Artillery who died in World War I. Replacing the old ferry which ran between
Fort Snelling and the Village of Mendota since the mid-1800's, the bridge cost
$1,870,000 and was designed by Minneapolis engineer Walter H. Wheeler and nationally
famous engineer C. A. P. Turner. Koss Construction Company supervised the project
which took an average of 200 men two-and-one-half years to construct.
Henry Sibley viewed the Mendota area for the first time
in 1834 when he was a 23 year old clerk for the American Fur Company: "When I
reached the brink of the hill overlooking the surrounding country, I was struck
with the picturesque beauty of the scene...but when I descended to...where the
hamlet was situated, I was disappointed to find only a group of log huts..." The
following year he began construction on his house at Mendota on what is today
He hired stonemason John Miller, who used stone quarried
from the surrounding bluffs. River mud served as mortar. Hand-split shakes covered
the roof, and hand-cut wooden pegs joined the large timbers used by beams. The
laths were formed using willows and rushes woven together with vines and grasses
and plastered with mud. In later years, modern laths and plaster replaced them.
building served as Sibley's bachelor home and office for nine years, accommodating
the Indians he had befriended.
In 1843 he married Sarah Jane Steele, sister
of Franklin Steele, the sutler at Fort Snelling. Mrs. Sibley changed the office
into the parlor, and an office addition was added to the house's east. Here, the
new territorial governor Alexander Ramsey, conducted his first business in 1849.
Sibleys were gracious hosts and entertained many of the prominent people who arrived
n the territory including General Lewis Cass, Henry R. Schoolcraft, Henry Wadsworth
Longfellow, Lieutenant John Charles Fremont, George Catlin, and Stephen Douglas.
built a new home in St. Paul in 1862 and sold his Mendota home to the parish of
St. Peter's Catholic Church. For the next decade it served as a convent and industrial
school for girls before it was leased to several parties, including Burt Harwood,
a well-known artist, who used it for a studio and art school. It later became
a storehouse and subsequently a place for the homeless.
The St. Paul Chapter
of the Daughters of the American Revolution purchased the house in 1910 and restored
it for public opening that year. Over the years many pieces of Sibley's original
furniture found their way back to the house and the house looks much as it did
when Mrs. Sibley entertained there 130 years ago.
There is another house near the Sibley House which was
built by Pioneer Hypolite Du Puis in 1854.
During the 1950s it served as
the Sibley Tea House operated by the Daughters of the American Revolution. Today
it is the visitor's office for the Sibley House.
The difficulty of a circle rail route prompted
the railroad to seek a direct route through Mendota. An early town council approved
a grade through the center of town and obtaining fill from between 2nd and 3rd
Streets. The route is now abandoned, but the ridge and bridge remain and can be
seen near the Sibley and Du Puis Houses.
The site is now operated by the
Minnesota Historical Society.
The Faribault House was built in 1836 originally as a
tavern when the young town of Mendota was then part of the Michigan Territory.
This structure featured locally quarried stone with basement storage vaults for
large quantities of food and liquor. The two upper floors were built with hand-hewn
studs with willow branches interwoven between them, packed with mud, straw, and
covered with plaster. The house also originally featured a ballroom and a frame
structure with a kitchen and sleeping quarters at the rear.
The house was
originally built for Jean Baptiste Faribault, a well known fur trader and farmer
for Fort Snelling who, in 1820, became the first settler of Mendota and Dakota
County. The house and grounds were presented to and served as a chapel and residence
for the Jesuit missionary, Father Galtier before the completion of the Church
of Saint Peter in 1853, to which Galtier was never named as pastor - preferring
to continue his missionary work instead. The house passed through other ownership
over the years serving for some time as a hotel and later as a storage warehouse.
The Faribault House was restored first in 1936 by the Minnesota Highway Commission
(now the Minnesota Department of Transportation) as part of a Civil Works Administration
project. The house (and other historic Minnesota houses) were then donated to
the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). The DAR turned over management
of the house to the Minnesota Historical Society which restored the house again
in the 1980s.
Minnesota's oldest church in continuous use. In 1837
the Vatican established a new diocese (The Diocese of Dubuque) which encompassed
Iowa, Minnesota West of the Mississippi, and parts of both North Dakota and South
Dakota. The parish of Saint Peter's pre-dates any permanent place of worship.
Father Lucien Galtier had built a log church which later became the cathedral
of the Diocese of Saint Paul. Galtier relocated across the Mississippi River to
Mendota where he was given a one room cabin by Jean Baptiste Faribault, which
had been Faribault's previous residence. The cabin, though, collapsed one summer
night in 1842 and Father Galtier was invited to stay at Faribault's new home.
Father Galtier conducted mass from the Faribault house while he worked on the
construction of a new chapel, the first Church of Saint Peter, which came into
use in October of 1842. While the wood structure wasn't much of a building it
served its purpose and one piece did survive: the altar (a simple rough cupboard)
is still preserved at the museum of the Saint Paul Seminary. Galtier stayed at
Saint Peter's until 1844, when Bishop Loras sent him to Iowa.
successor was Father Augustine Ravoux. He made the structure built by Galtier
his residence and headquarters in the area. The wood structure remained in use
even after the stone church was finished, serving as a rectory and then as a school
before being demolished to make way for a railroad line. The current stone church
was built in 1853 from locally quarried stone with hand-split shingles. The cost
for construction was $4,425.80. While the exterior of the church remains much
as it did in 1853, a number of interior changes have happened over the years including
the addition of side galleries (1877); a sacristy-sanctuary was made by converting
the old rectory quarters, a new steeple and belfry were built to replace those
lost in a storm, and the side galleries were removed (1881); new pews and a different
aisle arrangement, a three foot elevation of the floor near the entrance for better
visibility from the back rows, a choir loft was added, and the church's first
furnace was installed(1902); stained glass windows (1904); side altars, statuary,
and new stations of the cross (1909); and brown wallboard was finally added (1940).
The steeple was again destroyed by a storm in 1951 requiring the construction
of a replacement which was completed in 1954, when the original furnace was also
In 1915 the City of Mendota felt it needed somewhere to
locally hold criminals and constructed a two cell jail. The jail is no longer
used by law enforcement.
However, the Mendota Jail is opened to the public
one day each year by the Mendota/West St. Paul Chapter of the Dakota County Historical
Society during the Mendota Days festival in July.
Lt. Zebulon Pike's land purchase in 1805 for Fort
Snelling included a portion of what is now Dakota County. The line ran through
land that presently includes Burnsville, Eagan, Mendota Heights, and West Saint
Paul. It doesn't actually run through Mendota, but the 1805 land purchase completely
encompassed the current site of city. [ Read
More about the Military Reservation Line ]
Township used to also encompass other neighboring towns before they incorporated
seperately. Make sure you check out the pages for Mendota
Heights and Lilydale too!
you know of a local site in this area that you feel should be acknowledged for
its historic significance we'd love to hear about it or help you to investigate
and document the site. Please contact the us at:
Dakota County Historical
130 Third Avenue North
South Saint Paul, MN 55075
<< RETURN TO MAP