The Invisibility of Pre-Mennonite Settlement History in Mountain Lake, MN 1870-1890

Authors: Lisa Brownell*, Ohio Development Services Agency
Topics: Landscape, Cultural Geography, Historical Geography
Keywords: Cultural Landscape, Frontier, Settlement, Religion, Mennonite
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: 8217, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

When the railroad came through in 1871, putting Mountain Lake, MN on the map, it began to develop as so many other typical Midwestern towns. Early settlers were primarily from northeastern states coming west to the latest edge of the frontier. The town grew to have a depot, a hotel, several stores, blacksmiths, a school, and saloon. Then the Mennonites arrived in 1873 and the trajectory of Mountain Lake’s development changed forever. Approximately 1,800 individuals arrived from Russia seeking religious freedom. It wasn’t long until Mennonites made up a majority of the town’s residents, business owners, and farmers in the surrounding townships. In many histories of Mountain Lake, the story begins when the author’s forbears arrived; earlier settlement gets a short footnote at best. But the transition to majority-Mennonite wasn’t immediate.

Pre-Mennonite settlement in Mountain Lake conformed to the village plat laid out by the railroad company and in the surrounding countryside followed the typical patterns of frontier settlement found in township and range land survey areas. Mennonite settlers did not arrive in an unpopulated place, but instead many were able to purchase improved land and farmsteads already arranged in a dispersed configuration. The new arrivals brought many aspects of their culture with them but did not apply European village and farm land-use patterns to the Minnesota frontier.
This paper explores the impact of the first wave of settlers, how they shaped what came after, and clues to that story that can be observed still in Mountain Lake.

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