Mankato Tour

The purpose of this "History Tour" is to impress on you how the city is "the image of society inscribed in the ground." This History Tour is designed to lead you through several of the older neighborhoods in Mankato. The entire tour should take about two hours.

As you walk around the city, OBSERVE YOUR SURROUNDINGS AND NOTE YOUR OBSERVATIONS. Here is a partial list which will serve as a guide of things to look for:

  • General appearance of the neighborhood, including streets, trees, houses, etc.
  • Housing types--wood frame, brick, one or two story, style of housing stock, etc.
  • Housing quality (use standards such as substandard, moderately well kept, well kept). Is there plenty of parking space for cars? What are the conditions of the outbuildings?
  • Age of housing--often told by style. For example, two-story wood with high peaks, gables and porches is most likely pre-1900 (and may in some cases be the original farmstead for the neighborhood).
  • Demographic characteristics of the neighborhood: general age of the population (look for clues--bikes, toys, playground equipment along with fences and stationwagons might indicate a young family population. The condition of houses, cars, streets1 etc. might yield clues to the economic status of the residents.)
  • Condition of public facilities (streets, sidewalks, etc.). Have trees been planted on the boulevard to replace lost elms? What kind of public street lighting is available?
  • Density of population--the average for Mankato is 3 persons per household.
  • Density of uses: Are there various types of residences (single-family, duplex, apartment) and/or business uses near each other? Is there evidence of rehabilitation, reinvestment, or new development? Has any rehabilitation been sensitive to the character of the neighborhood and the original structure?
  • Are there public and private places for people to meet? Are there pedestrains on the street? Does this appear to be a cohesive neighborhood? Are there parks nearby? Do they appear to be well-designed?
  • Community buildings (schools, churches, etc.)--What are they? Where are they? Do they appear to fit in?
  • What are the boundaries to the neighborhoods? How significant are they?
  • What changes are taking place in each neighborhood?


The city of Mankato was originally laid out in a river valley, constrained by bluffs, slough, prairie and the river. Refer to the map below as you go along:

  • Houses were on small lots (44-66 ft. fronts)
  • Streets are at right angles to each other in old area.
  • Suburbs break the original layout: city begins to be built by many small, incremental decisions.


MSU old campus (first buildings in 1868) was sold for $200,000. The old Cooper Dorm became Colonial Arms (sold for $750,000) and two classroom buildings (originally offered to the County for $1) became the new County Office Building (cost: $3,000,000).


These old row houses are typical of housing in the east (particularly Baltimore). They have been sold, and are now a condominium.


This is the Lincoln Neighborhood.

  • An old elm used to stand in the triangular park: it died a few years back. There also used to be a fountain honoring the Civil War vets. It was melted down for ordnance in WW II.
  • This is the edge of land created by Warren's Second Addition (one of the early suburbs). From this corner you can see a slice of the history of Mankato housing:
  • 1860's: Second Empire house (217 Lincoln): building the roofline at the floorline of the second story was a tax dodge in 19th century France. But Americans liked the look. Original Passenger Railroad Station (816 Broad): now converted to a residence.
  • 1870's: Queen Anne style (104 Parson), Victorian gothic (231 Lincoln)
  • 1920's: Bungalow (209 Lincoln), Prairie School style (730 Broad): wide overhang, large porch is typical.
  • 1930's: Brick house (221 Lincoln): note the absence of a porch; they didn't use them any more.
  • 1950's: Rambler (808 Broad)


Here we see examples of what to do (and not to do) in rehabilitating old buildings.

  • Siding (aluminum & asbestos): 114 & 118 Lincoln
  • Stucco: 103 Lincoln
  • Substantial Rehab: 113 Lincoln (purchased in 1970 for $11,800)
  • Sandblasted brick: 820 Second (house is local brick--has soft inner core protected by hard outer surface; hard surface stripped by sandblasting)

*Note the sisterhouses (216 & 212 Byron) and the differences in their rehabilitation.


  • 107 Grove: new apartment house does not fit the character of the surrounding neighborhood.
  • Bethlehem Lutheran: Design is a common one in suburban areas, but does not fit the "inner city". This particular structure was designed to complement an older, traditional structure which has since burned down. Now the structure doesn't give you enough clues to what it is supposed to be.
  • 731 Second: Although this obviously looks like a church, it isn't—it’s a sound studio.


Here you are on the edge of the old silk stocking (upper class) district.

  • Ryan's Paint (630 Second): addition breaks the line of storefronts
  • Hubbard House (606 5. Broad): another fine Second Empire house
  • YWCA (603 Second): used to be Judge Cray's house
  • Johnson & Moonan Law firm (600 Second): filling in the porch ruined the lines of the building
  • KSA Architects (526 Second): used to be a funeral parlor.


  • Post Office: Note that there is an addition to the back. It is done so well that you hardly notice it. Also note the absence of handicapped access (federal buildings are exempt from the federal and state laws requiring handicapped access to public buildings).
  • Multi-Church Center: Site of the old Methodist church, it once served Methodist/ Baptist/Congregationalist denominations. Now it is only Methodists again. Architecturally, it is styled after the bus station and the Inn Town Motel across the street.
  • Inn Town Motel: This was the first motel in town. Now it has been converted to apartments.
  • Earl Johnson Furniture: The building used to be an auto sales and repair shop.


  • Cherry and Front: To the north is the Mankato Mall, an Urban Renewal Program project. This entire area used to look just like the shopping area to the south (Front St.). The old buildings were incorporated into the Mall, and their sense still remains.
  • Mankato Mall: This was once a major shopping mall. Now it is mostly offices & restaurants.
    • twists and turns pique your curiosity
    • natural light comes through clerestories and skylights
    • Note that roof is suspended independently of the buildings. If a building burns it will not affect the soundness of the rest of the structure.
  • Mankato Civic Center (Front & Hickory):
    • National Bank Building (229 5. Front) is on the registry of historical buildings. It is attributed to Louis Sullivan's Prairie School. Design elements from this building were incorporated into the Civic Center when it was constructed in 1995.
  • The Martin Building (120 5. Front) has four stories and Walnut Towers (101 Walnut) has nine stories, but both are the same height. The difference is in the ventilation system.
  • Railroad Station: This was the old hub of the city. Now it houses the Chamber of Commerce and the Convention & Visitor Center.
  • Holiday Inn (Front & Main): The lobby has such a low ceiling to allow access to the ventilation system.
  • Minnesota Valley Regional Library (100 E. Main): "Neo-penal" architecture. It is functional, although the building is low and rather small-scale for its significance. The library is designed in a very open format, and uses the fountain in the lobby as a source of "white noise" to smother random sounds generated throughout the large space. Note the use of floor materials to define space.


This is an urban renewal area with no buildings. The Embers restaurant is inappropriate--it fits Madison Strip, not downtown. The old riverbed came to the edge of the Holiday Inn--much of the land in No Town was reclaimed from the river.


This area has the best turn-of-the-century architecture in Mankato. The infrastructure (streets, sewers, etc.) is in place, some of it has been rehabilitated, but the area still has not caught on for commercial activity.

  • Hubbard Mill: brick building constructed in 1886, still in operation.
  • American State Bank (302 N. Front): infill architecture, styled after the Hubbard building.
  • Notice the cornices and decorations on the storefronts. Most are cast iron (not stone, although they look like it). Many are styled after Greek and Roman designs.
  • Travel Center (429 N. Front): adaptive reuse of a gas station.
  • Immanuel Lutheran Church (421 N. Second): Lightning destroyed the towers in 1968. New towers were built and the old church completely rebuilt. Notice the windows--they are chunks of colored slab glass, 1 inch thick, set in epoxy.


The houses in this area are reminiscent of the houses in the silkstocking district, but simpler. The houses are generally closer together and have less architectural detail in the structure.

  • Wesley Building (Broad & Washington): Prairie School style.
  • Tourtellote Parkway (4th St., between Washington & Mulberry): Site of the old railroad switching yard.
  • Gus Johnson Plaza (413 4th St.) and the Downtowner Apartments (413 5th St.) are on the sites of the original hospitals in Mankato (one for Catholics, one for Lutherans).
  • Grace Lutheran Church (Fourth & Main): The mosaic was done by the same firm that restored St. Mark's Cathedral in Venice.

County Courthouse (204 5. Fifth):

  • Courthouse is classic Richardson Romanesque design, built from local Kasota limestone.
  • On the south side of Fourth, from Cherry St., you can see the old railroad abutments for the line that ran from the Lincoln neighborhood past the courthouse to the switching yard at Tourtellote Parkway.


Compare: What does this tour tell you about the people who used to live in Mankato? What does it tell you about the people who live in Mankato today?

Analyze: You have seen evidence of many changes made in the fabric of the city over time. Which do you think were the most successful? What do you surmise that it took to implement them (Who? How? How much? Why?) Which do you think were least successful? Why didn’t they work (assume that the people who did it meant well and gave it some thought—where did they go wrong?)


1996 A.J.Filipovitch
10 January 2003