Blue Earth County History

The area now known as Blue Earth County is located in the south central area of Minnesota. Most of its borders follow the straight lines of the government survey system; the irregular western portion of the northern edge is defined by the course of the Minnesota River where the flow of the river bends from a southeasterly to a northeasterly direction.

The name of the county is a holdover from an incident in the earliest recorded Euro-American history of the area. In 1700, the French explorer LeSueur made an unsuccessful attempt to mine copper from the blue earth found in the area. Today, the name Blue Earth designates not only the county, but an important river of the area and in a derivation of its Dakota form (Makato), the county seat of Mankato as well.

The major waterways run irregular courses through the county and empty into the Minnesota River on the north. A few sizable lakes are scattered throughout the county. The topography ranges from the rugged wooded areas of ravines and river valleys, especially in the area radiating from the south of Mankato, to the flat prairies of the southern sections.

The beginnings of permanent Euro-American settlement of the area came after the Dakota had ceded the land under the treaties of 1851 at Traverse des Sioux and Mendota. The Minnesota River and its tributary streams provided ready access to the territorial capital of St. Paul, located downstream, and Mankato was one of several cities platted along the upper Minnesota in 1852. The county was established in 1853.

As in other areas of the state further east, there was considerable rural agricultural settlement as well as a wave of speculative townsites platted during the 1850s and 1860s. These townsites were often platted by organized groups of individuals such as the Blue Earth Claim Association of St. Paul, which platted Mankato, and the Minnesota Settlement Association, which platted the first townsite of Mapleton. Others were the effort of individual landholders. Virtually all of these towns were located near water arteries.

The population of the county filled in during this period. The scattered 1860 population of 4,803 had grown to 17,302 by 1870, with individual township totals ranging from 234 to 1,391. By the late 1860s, all townships had been organized into governmental units. Nationality groups included German, Welsh, Norwegian, Swedish, Irish and Scottish.

A significant and typical change in urban settlement occurred with the coming of the railroad. From the laying of the first tracks in 1868 to the completion of the last segment in 1908, several new townsites were platted as station points. At times, pre-existing towns received a boost from gaining railroad connections, just as often, the designation of a station point a few miles distant from an earlier town signaled the disappearance of the latter. The intersection of several lines at Mankato helped to solidify its position as a regionally important center of commerce and industry. The elevators and depots of the network of country stations further encouraged the agricultural development of the rural county. Complementing the railroad townsite system were several small unplatted crossroads communities, usually centered around a creamery, school, town hall or general store.

The county's basic layout has remained intact since the completion of the rail system, as is the case in most of prairie southern Minnesota. All but one of the incorporated communities surviving today was either platted on a rail line or were pre-existing communities which gained a rail line. Mankato remains, as it did at the turn of the century, as a regional center for education, commerce, and industry; the out-county towns, despite the removal of much of the trackage of the rail system, continue in their role as agricultural service centers and shipping points. The vast majority of land in the county remains in agricultural use.

Reprinted from the Blue Earth County Family Heritage Cookbook, compiled and published by the Blue Earth County Historical Society, 2000