Mankato History

Mankato History

Mankato was originally called Mahkato, meaning greenish blue earth to Mankato’s first inhabitants, the Dakota Indians.

Heritage plaques are placed
within the community to
communicate local history.
Heritage plaque in Highland Park.

The first Europeans came through Mankato in the 1700s looking for the Northwestern Passage to the Far East. Parsons K. Johnson and Henry Jackson staked the first claims in Mankato in 1852. A general store was opened shortly thereafter. Steamboat travel along the Minnesota River led the way for additional settlers, but proved to be an unreliable mode of transportation in low-water years. Stagecoach travel became the popular mode of transportation in 1852 when a crude military road from Mankato to St. Paul was built. In 1868, the railroads came to Mankato, making it the railroad hub for southern Minnesota. The stagecoach line and the railroads eventually eliminated the need for steamboat travel. The last boat, TheHenrietta, made its final run from Mankato to St. Peter on April 27, 1897.

Mankato was named the Blue Earth County Seat in 1853 and grew rapidly in the 1850s and 1860s. By 1854, U.S. mail was delivered regularly to Mankato due to the efforts of General Store owner George Marsh.

The Henrietta, circa 1897.
Photo courtesy of the Blue Earth County Historical Society.

Mankato received its charter on March 6, 1868. It provided for a mayor and three city council members and remained intact until 1952, when the council/manager form of government was approved.

Mankato sits on land purchased in an 1851 treaty between the U.S. Government and the Dakota Nation. Following the treaty signing, the U.S. Government delayed and skipped several land payments to the Dakota Nation. The actions of the U.S. Government sparked the U.S.-Dakota Conflict of 1862.

In 1868, Mankato became the site of the second Normal School in Minnesota. The facility became a teachers’ college in 1922. The building was destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1924. To accommodate the large numbers of students after World War II, the curriculum expanded to include science and fine arts courses. The Mankato Teachers College became Mankato State College and later Mankato State University. In 1999, it was renamed Minnesota State University, Mankato.

Mankato has experienced high water many times due to its location along the Minnesota River. The first flood was in 1881 and affected small portions of Mankato. Notable flooding did not occur again until 1951 when the banks of the Blue Earth and Minnesota Rivers overflowed into North Mankato. Mankato received little damage. Congress passed a flood control bill in 1958, but no local action was taken. In 1965, the banks of the Blue Earth River overflowed into Mankato, sparing downtown Mankato but hitting West Mankato the hardest. The lower levels of Mankato Area Public Schools’ West High School were flooded with four feet of water. New floodwalls and dikes have since been installed to protect Mankato from the river’s fury.

City Center Walking Tour and More

View unique aspects of Mankato’s rich heritage and celebrate local history by taking a historical walking tour through the area. A brochure details all of the tour’s stops and provides a map. For a copy of this brochure call Mankato’s Public Information staff at (507) 387-8516 or go online at