Home | Whats New | Site Index | Search

Scott County, Minnesota

Scott County Administrative Offices are located at 200 Fourth Avenue West, Shakopee MN 55379; phone: 952‑445‑7750.



Scott County is located in the south central part of the state, just south and west of the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. The Minnesota River forms the northern and western boundaries of the county. Dakota County is located to the east, and LeSueur and Rice Counties are located to the south; the eastern and southern boundaries follow government survey lines.

The topography of the county was formed during the glacial period: several ice sheets advanced and retreated through the area during this period. The terrain varies from nearly level to hilly and is pocketed by many lakes, characteristic features of land shaped during the glacial period. Along the Minnesota River is a flood plain ranging from a few feet to more than a mile wide. Well-defined terraces rise above the plain. Most of the county lies within the Minnesota River watershed and is well-drained. The many lakes located within the county, particularly in the central regions, are a major topographic feature.

The original vegetation of the county was forest and prairie. The county was located within the southern part of the Minnesota Big Woods area, and most of the county was forested at the time of settlement. Included within this forested tract were a few prairie areas where tall grasses flourished. A one half mile wide prairie extended from Eagle Creek to Belle Plaine parallel to the river, and patches of prairie and timber existed in part of southern and eastern Scott County.

Agricultural land uses have predominated since the period immediately following Euro-American settlement. The close proximity to the Minneapolis-St. Paul area has caused the northern part of the county to become increasingly urban and suburban in recent decades. Today urban and suburban land uses predominate the northern third of the county; the southern portion remains predominately agricultural.

County population grew steadily from settlement to 1900, rapidly at first, then at a slower but steady pace. The period between 1900 and 1930 was a period of population decline; at that time the nearness to the Twin Cities drew many Scott County residents away from the county. Since 1940 population growth has been steady with notable increases since 1950 and the beginning of significant suburban development of the county. The three communities nearest the Twin Cities (Shakopee, Savage, and Prior Lake) have become service centers for residents commuting to the Twin Cities and account for the majority of the population increase. The townships adjacent to these communities have experienced similar population increases, the lakes and woods providing popular homesites for commuters. The Minnesota River Valley towns of Jordan and Belle Plaine and the town of New Prague in southern Scott County have grown steadily since the time of settlement with only slight population losses during the early twentieth century; these towns are growing communities today and retain their historic small town identity. Elko and New Market in southeastern Scott County have experienced little change since settlement. These communities remain service areas for the surrounding agricultural area. Individual townships, with the exception of those affected by suburban growth since 1950, have experienced minor gains and losses in population since settlement. Census statistics for 1960 and 1970 indicate that all regions on the county are experiencing population growth: this will likely be the pattern in coming years as the region surrounding the Twin Cities continues to mature.

Scott County shares with other Minnesota River Valley counties a long history of European exploration and fur trading activity and a rich Indian heritage. The earliest white men to reach the area were the seventeenth century French explorers, fur traders and missionaries. The eighteenth and early nineteenth century brought British and New England adventurers as well. The Dakota Indians lived for a long period of time along the Minnesota River. The eastern part of the present city of Shakopee was the location of the largest Sioux village (population 200- 300) on the lower Minnesota River and the home of several chiefs taking the name of Shakpa, for whom the city of Shakopee is named. It was at this village site that initial permanent Euro-American settlement was made in 1844 by fur trader Oliver Faribault and in 1847 by missionary Samuel Pond.

Scott County lands were opened to white settlement in 1851, and by 1855 a stream of immigration had begun and the county was settled rapidly. Prior to this time whites were allowed into Indian lands as licensed traders or missionaries only. The Minnesota River Valley cradled the early years of settlement, the river being the major means of transportation. By 1856, however, settlement had penetrated the thick woods, primarily via Indian trails, and families were spread out thinly throughout the county. These early immigrants came from New England, the mid-Atlantic states, Germany, Ireland, Bohemia, and Scandinavia.

Characteristic of the early settlement period of the county are the speculative townsites platted prior to the financial panic of 1857 and the many small unplanned settlements that sprang up across the county before the advent of the railroad. By 1865 at least eighteen communities had been conceived, some planned, others growing out of a cluster of settlers. The major centers in the county date to this period: Shakopee, Savage (then Hamilton), Jordan, and Belle Plaine were all founded by 1854. Several other towns were also platted during the speculative townsite mania of the mid-1850s. Little Rapids (1854), Louisville (1854), and Belle Fontaine (1856) were never more than paper towns. The town of St. Lawrence (1856) was an important center on the Minnesota River for a short period but later abandoned; today it exists in name only. Many non-platted communities formed during the pre-railroad era were church related; six Catholic hamlets with strong ethnic ties sprang up to serve the surrounding families. Two of these grew to become the towns we know today as New Prague (1856) and New Market (1861). Other non-platted communities were little more than crossroads where a post office, school, or store might be located. Some of these remain in name only; others, such as Lydia (1861), are small centers serving the surrounding rural community.

Scott County entered a second phase of development with the coming of the railroad. Three major routes were constructed between 1865 and 1877, transforming small communities to prosperous local trade and manufacturing centers and causing new communities to form and others to relocate or stagnate. All of the major centers in the county are located along lines constructed during this period. The Minnesota Valley Railroad, constructed between 1865 and 1870, followed the Minnesota River Valley from West St. Paul to Mankato and brought significant growth to the pre-railroad river towns of Hamilton (now Savage), Shakopee, Jordan, and Belle Plaine. The village of Blakeley was platted in 1868 in southwestern Scott County at the time the line went through but never was able to compete with the more established communities on the line. The Minneapolis and St. Louis and the Hastings and Dakota lines both crossed the county by inland routes joining non-riverine communities with the larger centers. The Minneapolis and St. Louis was completed from Minneapolis to Merriam Junction in 1871 and to Albert Lea in 1877, reaching pre-existing Jordan and New Prague. The town of Merriam was platted at the junction of this line and the Minnesota Valley Railroad, but it never became more than simply a junction of two lines. The Hastings and Dakota, reaching from Hastings to Glencoe, was constructed between 1868 and 1872, and crossed the northeast part of the county. The line by-passed the earlier village of Spring Lake; Prior Lake was platted in 1875, soon after the line was built, and has become the major non-riverine center in the county.

The railroad construction period of the 1860s and 70s was a prosperous era for Scott County. The years following this period continued to be prosperous ones as local business interests and industries matured to meet the demands of the larger market. By 1890, however, the prosperity had peaked and had begun to level off, and by the turn of the century, the county had entered a new phase in its development.

Two additional railroad lines were built during the early twentieth century which crossed parts of Scott County. Unlike the lines constructed during the earlier railroad period, the later lines did not cater to the existing population centers in the county. In fact, they nearly bypassed Scott County entirely. In 1903 the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railroad was constructed across the southeastern corner of the county. The small community of Elko had been platted the year before by the Milwaukee Land Co. and served as a trade center for the surrounding agricultural area. The last line to cross the county was the Minneapolis, St. Paul, Rochester, and Dubuque Electric Traction Co, (later reorganized as the Minneapolis, Northern, and Pacific) which crossed the northeastern section of the county at Savage. This was primarily a passenger train with commuter service between Minneapolis and cities to the south as far as Northfield, in neighboring Rice County. The construction of a commuter line as early as 1911 demonstrates how Scott County's development had taken a turn. The county's proximity to the Twin Cities was becoming a crucial factor affecting county development.

Improved transportation and communication systems made more distant regions of the state reachable and made it necessary for local business and manufacturing centers to compete with the Twin Cities. Between 1900 and 1930, county population leveled off and declined slightly, a result of fewer people settling in the county and of county residents moving out of the county — either to the Twin Cities or to richer farmland in other parts of the state. County developers soon latched onto the region's growing suburban identity and promoted the county's natural assets. The lakes, rivers, and places of natural beauty had been enjoyed by vacationers and fishing parties during the late nineteenth century. During the twentieth century, however, the tourist and resort industry became increasingly significant to the county's development. Summer resorts and many lake homes were built, particularly along the shores of Prior Lake and Spring Lake in the central part of the county. Along the Minnesota River, sulfur springs were discovered, and their medicinal qualities were exploited. By 1920 three health resorts were operating in the county. The major drawing points of these vacation spots were natural beauty, a healthful climate, and convenience to the Twin Cities by rail, and later, by automobile.

During the first part of the twentieth century, the county often catered to the tourist market; Scott County was a nice place to visit and enjoy the natural beauty of the environment. Since 1950, the county has catered to the commuter. Between 1950 and 1970 the population doubled as new residents discovered the lakes and wooded homelots in an unhurried setting offering convenience to the Twin Cities.


Construction materials used in the building stock of Scott County follow a pattern common to many Midwestern areas. When settlers first arrived on their new lands, they built huts of logs or sod, or occasionally a dugout, As they became more established, these huts were replaced by more substantial dwellings of wood frame, stone, or brick construction, depending on availability of materials and personal preference. Farmhouses remain primarily wood frame types with designs derived from the common styles of each period. Stone houses were relatively rare in most parts of the county with the exception of the Minnesota River Valley, where both sandstone and limestone were quarried locally. Brick farmhouses are more common than stone ones but less common than wooden ones. They are concentrated in the northern and western parts of the county and the region around New Prague, where suitable clays and a preference for masonry construction were both present in the nineteenth century. Nearly every platted community in the county had a brick yard at one time.

The earliest types of barns and other outbuildings are unknown. The late nineteenth and twentieth century barns are of wood construction with fieldstone, ashlar, or concrete block basements. Many barns have been altered or razed as agricultural production methods have changed and as the emphasis has changed from principally grain farming to dairying with corn the leading crop.

The first commercial buildings were usually of frame construction. These structures frequently were destroyed by fire or were replaced with larger masonry buildings as the towns grew, Most Scott County towns still have a few examples of commercial buildings dating to the nineteenth century; most of Jordan's central business district dates to this period.

Residential structures in the non-rural areas were constructed primarily of wood and brick, The number of brick residences in Shakopee and Jordan is striking — even the most modest homes dating to the 1860s are often of brick construction. Stylistically, non-rural residences exhibit greater attention to ornamental details than do rural residences. The architectural movements of the Victorian and later periods are most notable, but most buildings are extremely modest in their display of high style elements. Earlier buildings demonstrate even less attention to styles.

The buildings in Scott County towns line streets which have been laid out in a grid pattern, even in areas where hills, rivers, or lakes interrupt the grid pattern. The curving residential street patterns of the newer suburban development areas are exceptions.


The primary significance of Scott County lies in its history as a region that records early Euro-American settlement in Minnesota and its continuous and creative development since settlement. Scott County has maintained a character of creative development from the early fur-trading posts located in the Minnesota River Valley, to the river-oriented commercial towns, to non-riverine communities of strong ethnic concentration, to railroad communities, to the increasingly industrial and suburban developments of today. Its development over the years has been strongly influenced by its location with respect to major towns on its periphery — particularly Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Prior to the opening of Scott County lands to settlement in 1851, the area was significant primarily as the site of the largest Sioux village on the lower Minnesota River and the location of several fur-trading posts cradled in the river valley. The Faribault cabin (ca. 1844) in the Shakopee Historic District (listed in the National Register in 1972) is associated with this earliest period of settlement.

A period of town founding, agricultural development, and commercial and industrial expansion followed the opening of county lands to white settlement. The Foss and Wells House (1858), the Pond Grist Mill (1875, in Shakopee Historic District — listed in the National Register in 1972), the Strunk-Nyssen House (1856/1880), the Jordan Brewery Ruins (1864), and the Lenzmeier House (1860) are examples of structures built during this period of early pioneer growth,

Immigrants from Germany, Ireland, and Bohemia entered the area during this early period along with settlers from New England and the mid-Atlantic states. The immigrant groups were responsible for settling and farming parts of the county's interior. Best preserved of the Catholic hamlets which grew with this settlement phase is St. Mary's of the Purification, which has been serving the religious needs of the German population of north-central Scott County since 1855. The present church building (1882) replaced earlier church buildings. A school (1893), sisters' convent (1921), and rectory (1910) also remain as parts of a church complex that expanded to meet the growing needs of the German Marystown settlement.

Scott County entered a second phase of development with the coming of the railroad. Between 1865 and 1877, three major routes were established, transforming the county's landscape and providing unsurpassed impetus for growth. The major communities in the county were shaped during this period, and many of their buildings date to this time. The Merchants Hotel (ca. 1865) and a pair of early Shakopee residences (ca. 1865) are associated with the early railroad period in Shakopee. Many of the buildings in the Jordan Historic District were also constructed during the early railroad period. The Hooper-Bowler-Hillstrom House (1871) and the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration (1869) are evidence of the growth experienced in Belle Plaine shortly after the rails reached town.

The latter part of the nineteenth century saw a leveling in county growth, but nevertheless continued maturation. The Reis Block (1883), the New Market Hotel and Store (1897), and the Coller House (1887) are associated with some of the county's second generation leaders and with the period of continued growth in the late nineteenth century.

The early twentieth century was a period of adaptation in Scott County. The county's proximity to Minneapolis and St. Paul and improved communication and transportation across the state made it necessary for local developers to find creative ways to promote the region if it was to compete with neighboring regions. Its growing suburban identity and existing natural assets became the region's drawing points. Mudbaden Sulphur Springs Co. (1915) was built during this period and is representative of the vacation spots, health resorts, and summer homes which flourished from the late 1890s into the 1940s.

Agriculture has been an underlying theme in Scott County's development since the mid-1850s. In fact, the industries that dominate the county today reflect the importance of county agriculture to the county's economy. Over the years, area agriculture has adapted to a changing economy, technology, and market. At first, subsistence farming dominated. Wheat became the dominant crop during the 1870s. Since about 1900, however, dairy farming has become increasingly important. The Kajer Farmstead (1918, 1920) is a highly visible farmstead vitally linked to this dominant aspect of county agriculture.

Since initial settlement, Scott County has grown steadily, rapidly at first, levelling off, and then rapidly again. Its history focuses on a sequence of early and continuous development and adaptation to new conditions as one of the fringe counties of a major metropolitan area.

Architectural Significance

The primary architectural significance of Scott County's structures lies in the evidence they give of the diffusion and adaptation of popular styles to the needs and preferences of area residents and builders. There is a notable scarcity of high style buildings and works by well-known architects. Rather, the buildings demonstrate the influence of major styles on simplified versions of the styles, often in local materials.

Among the structures best exemplifying locally identifiable "styles" are the early Shakopee residences (ca. 1865), the Hooper-Bowler-Hillstrom House (1971), the Bisson House (1884), and the Jordan Historic District (primarily the 1870 buildings therein). The local materials, modest proportions, and simple design are the characteristic features of these buildings.

Innovation in design and construction technique are rare in Scott County buildings. Three exceptions are the Strunk-Nyssen House (1856/ 1880), the round barn on the Kajer Farmstead (1918), and the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration (1869).

Whereas the Episcopal Church in Belle Plaine represents innovation in design, the Catholic Church, St. Mary's of the Purification (1882), is more typical of Scott County ecclesiastical architecture.

Commercial architecture in Scott County is well represented in the Jordan Historic District: this district illustrates both the simple functional designs dominant during the 1870s and the greater attention to popular styles of the late nineteenth century in the larger commercial buildings constructed during this later period. The Reis Block (1883) in Shakopee also shows the greater attention to style in the late nineteenth century.


Primary Sources:

Anderson, Gail, Historic Photograph Collection.

Belle Plaine Herald.

Jordan Independent.

Minnesota State Census Records.

Minnesota Historical Society Pamphlet Collection.

St. Paul Daily Dispatch.

St. Paul Daily Globe.

Scott County Recorder's Records.

Shakopee Argus-Tribune.

Secondary Sources:

Albrecht, Harold, This is Our, Town, Belle Plaine, Minnesota, Shakopee: Suel Publishing Co., 1954.

__________, This is Our Town, LeSueur, Minnesota, 1977.

Anderson, Gail, ed., Jordan, Minnesota, A Newspaper Looks at a Town, 2 Volumes, Jordan, 1975.

__________, "Jordan Brewery", unpublished paper, on file at the Minnesota Historical Society — James J. Hill House.

Blakeley Township Bicentennial Committee, Blakeley Township's Walk Through History, 1976.

Casey, W. J., A History of Cedar Lake Township, Jordan, Independent Printery, 1939.

Coller, Julius A. II, The Shakopee Story, Shakopee: North Star Pictures Inc., 1960.

Klein, James, History of St. Mary's of the Purification, Marystown, Scott County, Minnesota, Diamond Jubilee pamphlet, June 12, 1930.

Melville, George, A Sketch of Shakopee, Minnesota, Shakopee: 1891.

Neill, Edward D., History of the Minnesota Valley, Vol. 2, Minneapolis: North Star Publishing Co., 1882.

United States Department of Agriculture, Soil Survey, Scott County, Minnesota, October, 1959.

Maps, Atlases, and Directories:

Atlas and Farmers' Directory of Scott County, Minnesota, St. Paul: Webb Publishing Co., 1913.

Atlas of the State of Minnesota, Chicago: Andreas Publishing, 1874.

Minnesota Gazetteer and Business Directory, St, Paul: H. E. Newton and Co., 1872.

Minnesota, North and South Dakota, and Montana Gazetteer and Business Directory, Detroit: R. L. Polk and Co., 1896-97, 1900-01.

Minnesota Railroad and River Guide for 1867-68, St. Paul: J. Marshall Wolfe Publisher, 1867.

Minnesota State Business Directory, St. Paul: H. E. Newton and Co., 1873.

Minnesota State Gazetteer and Business Directory, Detroit: R. L. Polk and Co., 1878-79, 1886-87.

Platbook of Scott County, Philadelphia: Northwest Publishing Co., 1898.

Sanborn Insurance Co. Maps.

  1. Bloomberg, Britta, Minnesota Historical Society, Scott County Multiple Resource Area nomination document, 1979, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Home   Whats New   Site Index
LivingPlaces.com © 1997‑2023
Search   Contact   Privacy   Disclaimer