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The History of Mendota Heights

The history of Mendota Heights as it is known today begins at the turn of the 18th century, when in 1699 the French explorer Pierre Charles Le Sueur sailed past the bluffs looking for copper. Later French and English explorers and traders were close behind him, and in the 1700s both pursued the fur trade at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers, the Dakota word “mdo-te”, meaning “meeting of the waters” was the origin of the name Mendota.

The Mendota area was acquired in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, and after being renamed twice in two years, this area of the Louisiana Territory was standing on the brink of making history. In 1805, James Wilkinson, the commanding general of the U.S. Army, and governor of the Upper Louisiana Territory, sent Lt. Zebulon Pike to the upper Mississippi river with orders to find the source of the river, purchase sites from Native Americans for future military posts, and bring a few important chiefs back to St. Louis for talks. Pike purchased over 155,000 acres, including over half of modern Mendota Heights. Construction on what would be Fort Snelling in the now renamed Missouri Territory began in 1819.

By the 1820’s a government ferry operated across the Minnesota River, connecting the fort and the city of Mendota, which had sprung up quickly around the American Fur Company post that had been opened in 1825. Nearby Pilot Knob, named in the original Congressional Minnesota territorial bill as the capitol site of the territory, served as an important reference point for steamboat pilots, the first of which, the Virginia, arrived in 1823.

The settlement, important economically and militarily, grew steadily and in 1834, Henry Sibley arrived to manage the trading post. He built a stone warehouse and home, and became the civilian host for visiting explorers, statesmen, writers, artists, and international guests. Sibley was elected as a delegate to congress in 1848 for the now renamed Wisconsin Territory. He returned home in 1849 with a new Territory of Minnesota extending from the St. Croix to Missouri River. The Minnesota bill’s sponsor, Senator Steven Douglas of Illinois, had included Mendota as the capital. Sibley proposed and won St. Paul, which was open to settlement, in place of Mendota.

The 1850s had come with Mendota as a part of the Minnesota Territory, where it would stay. In 1851, the northeast side of Pilot Knob was the meeting place chosen by the Dakota for the signing of the Treaty of Mendota, which opened the lands west of the Mississippi, including Dakota County, to settlement. Father Augustine Ravoux built the church of St. Peter in 1853. It is the oldest church in continuous use in Minnesota.

In 1858, the village of Mendota became part of the newly formed Mendota Township, where it would remain until 1887 until it was incorporated once again as a village. 1926 witnessed another historical moment when the Mendota Bridge, the longest poured concrete bridge in the world at the time, was completed.

On February 21, 1956, the residents of the remainder of Mendota Township voted to incorporate as the Village of Mendota Heights.

History information provided by Kevin Kumlin