KEYC - The Story Behind The Ruins On The Minnesota River

The Story Behind The Ruins On The Minnesota River

Posted: Updated:

Between St. Peter and Kasota lie ruins of a bygone era in the middle of the Minnesota River. You've probably spotted them while driving along Highway 169 from Mankato toward St. Peter. Beside a few peeks between the trees along the highway, the stone structures on the river lie mostly in obscurity.

Ruins to the world around them.

For most of us, they stand against the current in mystery, their story unknown.

Working off of the extensive Minnesota railroad history written by John C. Luecke, guidance from Bob Sandeen at the Nicollet County Historical Society and with the help of Jerry Vetter at Vetter Sales and Service in Kasota for filming, let's find out.

In the 1850s, the United States couldn't expand fast enough. They wanted access to the raw materials the frontier could provide, and they needed a way to get it back east. Getting a railroad to connect southern Minnesota's wheat to Winona was vital, because from there it could get to the grain trading capital of the world in Chicago.

Minnesota, only recently having become a state, issued huge land grants and bonds to developers. Though the planning stages began in 1858, construction didn't get going until 1862, starting in Winona and heading toward St. Peter along the route we know as U.S. Highway 14. Fittingly, the company doing the work called itself the Winona and St. Peter Railroad Company.

It would take almost a decade to reach its namesake destination, with the company being purchased by Chicago and North Western Transportation Company along the way.

Construction continued, with the first train crossing the Minnesota River into St. Peter on May 6th, 1871.

The connection to Chicago was made, and the trains running between Winona and St. Peter were bustling, bringing in new settlers, and sending back fresh wheat, with the 2500 foot behemoth bridge, upgraded to an iron swing bridge in 1880 to allow steamboat traffic on the river, serving as a central cog in the process.
 
"That's a lot of freight. A lot of passengers. The Mayo brothers came up from Rochester to work with patients at the state hospital. That was a vital link," Sandeen said.

A vital link... so what happened to it?

What always happens. Things change.

Steamboat traffic disappeared on the Minnesota River about the same time the bridge was upgraded to accommodate them. North Western would end up being broken up and sold off to Canadian Pacific and Union Pacific. But the demise of this bridge came long before that.

St. Peter was not the end of the line. The railroad would continue another 200 miles to Watertown, South Dakota. And it turns out that the Minnesota River was just too big of an obstacle to deal with. Massive trestle bridges are massively expensive to maintain. A better, cheaper route was found. Instead of crossing the river twice, why not just a straight shot over to New Ulm.

St. Peter could easily access the rail by crossing what is now the 99 bridge, and the cities on the interior... Traverse, Oshawa, Nicollet, and Courtland, never developed enough to demand rail access, if at all.

Without the demand, there's no need to keep it going.

Rail was put down to the south of the river between Mankato and New Ulm by 1900, rendering the section to the north effectively useless.

It would languish in obscurity for another 50 years, though North Western would finally get permission to end service in 1954, and the bridge was taken down in 1957.

Only the Kasota Stone pillars are left behind. And the Minnesota River, and nature herself, are tearing them down as we speak, at their own pace of course.

The river has shaped our region for millennia. It continued to shape how we traveled in the century and a half since pioneers founded cities and made Minnesota a state. Shaping how we traveled shaped how we traded, and that shaped how we grew.

Things are moving faster now... a completed bridge spanning between Kasota and St. Peter is still a thing of living memory.

But the dinosaur bones left behind - in the form of abandoned bridge pillars - contain within them the story of how we came to be.

-- KEYC News 12.

  • Thrive: Eat, Move, SleepMore>>

  • Thrive: Shingles Can Strike Years After Chicken Pox

    Tuesday, May 23 2017 7:53 PM EDT2017-05-23 23:53:49 GMT

     Anyone who has experienced the chicken pox virus may have a reactivation known as shingles. 

     Anyone who has experienced the chicken pox virus may have a reactivation known as shingles. 

  • THRIVE: Hepatitis C Treatment

    THRIVE: Hepatitis C Treatment

    Monday, May 22 2017 5:11 PM EDT2017-05-22 21:11:22 GMT

    New drugs have made Hepatitis C treatment more effective. 

    New drugs have made Hepatitis C treatment more effective. 

  • THRIVE: Harvest Of The Month

    THRIVE: Harvest Of The Month

    Tuesday, May 16 2017 9:44 PM EDT2017-05-17 01:44:35 GMT

    Eating fruits and vegetables are an essential part of our diets to stay healthy...

    Eating fruits and vegetables are an essential part of our diets to stay healthy...

  • THRIVE: School Snack Carts

    THRIVE: School Snack Carts

    Tuesday, May 9 2017 11:39 PM EDT2017-05-10 03:39:04 GMT

     Participating area schools are utilizing a snack cart in the morning to help keep kids on track.  "A hungry student is a student that might have trouble focusing on their schoolwork, concentrating in the classroom. There might be behavior issues, trouble learning so this is just kind of a morning snack to hold them over until lunch," ISD 77/Mankato Clinic Foundation, Kelsey Rounds said.  The snack carts are brought to the hallways around 9:30 in the morning.

     Participating area schools are utilizing a snack cart in the morning to help keep kids on track.  "A hungry student is a student that might have trouble focusing on their schoolwork, concentrating in the classroom. There might be behavior issues, trouble learning so this is just kind of a morning snack to hold them over until lunch," ISD 77/Mankato Clinic Foundation, Kelsey Rounds said.  The snack carts are brought to the hallways around 9:30 in the morning.

  • THRIVE: Less Invasive Bunion Surgery

    THRIVE: Less Invasive Bunion Surgery

    Wednesday, May 3 2017 6:52 PM EDT2017-05-03 22:52:09 GMT

    A bunion is a bump on your big toe where a normal bone changes position to become more prominent or stick out. 

    A bunion is a bump on your big toe where a normal bone changes position to become more prominent or stick out. 

  • THRIVE: Maintaining Behavioral Changes

    THRIVE: Maintaining Behavioral Changes

    Thursday, April 27 2017 6:51 PM EDT2017-04-27 22:51:58 GMT

    Whether it has to do with working out or dieting, making a life change can be difficult enough in itself, but maintaining that behavior change forever is the hardest part.

    Whether it has to do with working out or dieting, making a life change can be difficult enough in itself, but maintaining that behavior change forever is the hardest part.

  • THRIVE: Maintaining Sleep Schedule

    THRIVE: Maintaining Sleep Schedule

    Thursday, April 20 2017 9:35 PM EDT2017-04-21 01:35:10 GMT

    Maintaining steady sleep schedule with ways to fall asleep without using medication.

    Maintaining steady sleep schedule with ways to fall asleep without using medication.

  • THRIVE: Prostate Cancer Screenings

    THRIVE: Prostate Cancer Screenings

    Thursday, April 6 2017 6:38 PM EDT2017-04-06 22:38:46 GMT

     The men's health forum coming up on April 11 brings health awareness to men.. Focusing in on prostate cancer at this year's event. 

     The men's health forum coming up on April 11 brings health awareness to men.. Focusing in on prostate cancer at this year's event. 

  • Most Popular StoriesMost Popular StoriesMore>>

  • New Life For The Old Poor Farm

    New Life For The Old Poor Farm

    Wednesday, May 24 2017 11:42 PM EDT2017-05-25 03:42:53 GMT

    In the 19th and 20th Centuries, poor farms served as a welfare system for many counties in Minnesota. While many have disappeared, the one in Blue Earth County still stands.

    In the 19th and 20th Centuries, poor farms served as a welfare system for many counties in Minnesota. While many have disappeared, the one in Blue Earth County still stands.

  • 5 Sets Of Twins In Graduating Class of 39

    5 Sets Of Twins In Graduating Class of 39

    Wednesday, May 24 2017 11:45 PM EDT2017-05-25 03:45:38 GMT

    Mountain Lake Class of 2017 has a unique make up.

    Mountain Lake Class of 2017 has a unique make up.

  • Pedestrian Injured After Hit By A Semi

    Pedestrian Injured After Hit By A Semi

    Wednesday, May 24 2017 7:05 PM EDT2017-05-24 23:05:26 GMT

    The Minnesota State Patrol says a pedestrian is facing life-threatening injuries after being hit by a semi.

    The Minnesota State Patrol says a pedestrian is facing life-threatening injuries after being hit by a semi.