Our superb St. Peter

David Eide – Staff Writer

I’ve recently been thinking a lot more about the city in which we currently reside. I confess that in my first two years at Gustavus I very rarely ventured into St. Peter, preferring instead to mostly stay on campus. As a consequence of this I thought of St. Peter as kind of a separate world that I wasn’t really a part of. However, a couple of changes in my life on campus, like finally having a car which allowed me to head into town, caused a major shift in my perspective and now I feel a much closer connection to St. Peter and all its issues than I did in the past. I think it’s important for us to realize how much of an effect our presence has had on St. Peter and hopefully this article can get that point across.
St. Peter has quite a long and storied history. The land St. Peter is on was originally inhabited by the Dakota people who lived throughout what is now western Minnesota. St. Peter is also essentially right next to the site where the Treaty of Traverse Des Sioux was signed between the territory of Minnesota and the Dakota. This unfair treaty stripped the Dakota of much of their traditional land and wasn’t even followed by the state government for more than a couple of years. The tensions that ensued from this treaty directly led to the Dakota War of 1862 that led to the forceful expulsion of the Dakota from their lands and the mass execution of many Dakota men in Mankato.
There are even more notable historic events featuring St. Peter.

For example, St. Peter was originally going to be made the capital of Minnesota in lieu of St. Paul before a state legislator stole the bill enacting the change and hid out until the legislative session expired.

The park where the Veterans Memorial now stands was the intended location of the Minnesota State Capital building which certainly would have been interesting to drive past. St. Peter was also intended to be the host of the school that would eventually grow into the University of Minnesota, but it passed up that opportunity in exchange for hosting the state hospital that still stands today. In short, St. Peter has played host to several significant events in Minnesotan history and remains one of the most interesting historic towns in Minnesota.
Of course, there is more to St. Peter than history. The Co-Op or Family Fresh are where we usually go to get groceries. I’ve eaten at Patrick’s or Third Street more times than I can count, and there are tons of interesting shops and stores on Main Street that I love to visit. It’s easy for us to feel isolated from the town up here on the hill but it’s impossible to deny that the college and the town are deeply symbiotic. All of our infrastructure from our power to the sewage system is provided by the City of St. Peter while without the presence of Gustavus, St. Peter would undoubtedly not be as major of a town as it currently is.

In addition, there are many programs that continue to build the connection between St. Peter and the community like Big Partner Little Partner and the various recitals and plays that the campus puts on which are frequently visited by St. Peter residents. It’s important to maintain this connection as otherwise resentment can often boil up in small college towns due to the alienation between the college residents and the rest of St. Peter’s inhabitants.
Indeed, in recent years the campus and the town have become even more interconnected. In November of 2021 St. Peter held a number of elections for its city council and for the office of mayor. Many of the winners of these elections have some connection to Gustavus, including the newly elected mayor, Shanon Nowell, who served as the Executive Assistant to the Provost starting in 2006. Hopefully this new intertwining of the city government and the campus can result in an even more positive relationship between our two distinct yet dependent communities.
However, there are several issues that continue to create some distance between Gusties and the town that they live in. One of the biggest is that there is an unfortunate lack of many major entertainment options in town. Once upon a time, this was not the case. You didn’t need to drive to Mankato to watch a movie or play a game of bowling as both of those amenities existed in St. Peter. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case as the movie theater long struggled with financial difficulties and closed sometime in 2014 while the bowling alley was burned down in 2020 in a suspected case of arson.
Consequently, there’s a lot less pulling Gusties into town if they want to have a fun night out. I suppose there are a couple of bars in town, but a vast majority of students won’t be able to take advantage of them until their senior year at which point, they’ll be leaving soon anyways. There’s not a lot that can be done in the short term to address these issues. The businesses weren’t very profitable, and Mankato is only a 20-minute drive away so there’s less incentive to build these options back up. I still hope that as St. Peter grows in population, new attractions and businesses can begin to pop back up and draw Gusties back into town as there really is a lot to see.
When I was touring colleges back in high school, I saw a lot of small college towns. A lot of them looked like St. Peter but I ultimately concluded that out of them all, St. Peter had the most genuine character. I still hold to this assessment, it’s hard to put my finger on but there just is something authentic about St. Peter that I never quite got from other towns of a similar character. For that reason and all the reasons I’ve described, I am glad to be a resident of St. Peter and I hope you feel a small bit of pride in that as well.