Welcome to St. Peter

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St. Peter was founded in 1853 by Captain William Bigelow Dodd, who claimed 150 acres north of what is now Broadway Avenue. He named the new settlement Rock Bend because of the rock formation at the bend of the Minnesota River. The town site was platted and surveyed in 1854 by Daniel L. Turpin. In 1855 a group of St. Paul businessmen interested in promoting the town formed the Saint Peter Company, and the town was renamed St. Peter. The president of the Company was Willis A. Gorman, Territorial Governor of Minnesota. Many of the streets in St. Peter were named after streets in New York City; Park Row, Chatham, Broadway, Nassau, Union for example. Captain Dodd was originally from Bloomfield, New Jersey, his second wife Harriett Newell Jones, a native of Cabot, Vermont was living in New York at the time of their marriage at the Church of the Holy Communion in New York City, that church helped fund the church in St. Peter which shares the same name.

In 1857 an attempt was made to move the Territory of Minnesota’s capital from St. Paul to St. Peter. Gov. Gorman owned the land on which the bill’s sponsors wanted to build the new capitol building, and at one point had been heard saying, “If the capitol remains in Saint Paul, the territory is worth millions and I have nothing.” At the time, St. Peter – a city in the central region of the territory – was seen as more accessible to the far-flung territorial legislators than St. Paul, which was in the extreme eastern portion of the territory, on the east bank of the Mississippi River. A bill was passed in both houses of the Territorial Legislature and was awaiting Governor Gorman’s signature. The chairman of the Territorial Council’s Enrolled Bills Committee, Joseph J. Rolette of Pembina, took the bill and hid in a St. Paul Hotel, drinking and playing cards with some friends as the City Police looked fruitlessly for him, until the end of the legislative session, too late for the bill to be signed. Rolette came into the chamber just as the session ended. One might say that the bill was an attempt to “rob Paul to pay Peter”. Today, St. Paul is the second largest city in the state (second only to neighboring Minneapolis), while St. Peter is a relatively small rural town.

In 1851 the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux was signed between the Sioux (Dakota) and the U. S. Government just one mile (1.6 km) north of St. Peter. The Nicollet County Historical Society—Treaty Site History Center is located near the site of the treaty signing. The promises of the treaty were not kept. The Dakota became angered and the Dakota War of 1862 began in Cottonwood County. In August 1862 the Dakota attacked the German settlement of New Ulm. A company of volunteers from St. Peter, headed by Captain William B. Dodd, St. Peter’s founder, went to the defense of New Ulm. Captain Dodd was killed on August 23, 1862, and was briefly buried in New Ulm. On November 11, 1862, Captain Dodd was buried with high military honors in St. Peter on the grounds of the Church of the Holy Communion (Episcopal), on land he donated to the church. Captain Dodd, his wife Harriet and two children are buried behind the present stone church built in 1869-70 at 118 North Minnesota Avenue.

In 1866 the Legislature established the first “Minnesota Asylum for the Insane” in St. Peter. It was later known as the St. Peter State Hospital, and is now called the St. Peter Regional Treatment Center.