Lincoln Park Residential Historic District
The Lincoln Park Residential Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995. Portions of the content of this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2016, The Gombach Group.
The Lincoln Park neighborhood is located southeast of downtown on the side of the river bluffs. The topography of the historic district slopes upward about 70 feet from northeast to southwest as the neighborhood ascends the angled hillside. At the southern edge of the district, the hills fall off sharply to the south down to a former creekbed located about 80 feet below the intersection of Byron and Shaubut Streets. Along the southeastern edge of the district the bluffs begin to ascend quickly, rising approximately 140 feet over a distance of 600 feet. These hills are too steep to provide residential building lots and are covered with trees. The steepest of these bluffs extend in a thin, unbroken line for about one mile to the south. The Mankato State Normal School was built in 1870 about two blocks northeast of the historic district, and since 1979 has occupied the top of the bluff about three-quarters of a mile east of the district.
This hilly terrain provided early residents of the Lincoln Park neighborhood with both assets and challenges. The historic district has excellent views of the Minnesota River valley to the northwest and of the former creekbed and open lands to the south. Some blocks in the neighborhood meet at odd angles or abruptly cut off some streets as the original surveyors maneuvered the steep hills to lay out the neighborhood. Many of the houses in the district are built into hillsides with retaining walls and stairways which secure and manipulate the hilly terrain. The bluffs separate the district geographically from the rest of the city on the southern and southeastern sides.
The majority of buildings in the district are houses and residential outbuildings. There are more than 40 brick, stone, and poured concrete retaining walls and stairways. Most of the houses in the district stand on 50-foot-wide lots with common setbacks. Most of the lots currently contain grassy lawns and mature deciduous trees and shrubbery; it is not known how they were originally landscaped. Most of the blocks have sidewalks and grassy boulevards. Houses were built along both north-south and east-west running streets. There are alleys bisecting about two-thirds of the blocks. Most of the streets retain their original widths of 47, 66, 80, and 100 feet. All of the streets in the district retain their original names with the exception of East Pleasant Street, which was originally called Clark Street.
Most of the houses are woodframe and are sheathed in clapboard siding, wood shingles, or stucco. One of the houses is built of locally-quarried yellow limestone laid in a coursed ashlar pattern. Thirty of the houses are brick. Approximately one-half of these appear to be of solid brick construction and about one-half are probably brick veneer over a wooden frame. Most of the houses are in fair or good condition. Most contributing garages are small woodframe gable or hipped-roofed structures which have clapboard siding. There are also eleven 1-1/2 story and 2 story carriage houses in the district.
Many of the earliest houses are Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, French Second Empire, and Italianate in design. The three styles most frequently represented are Craftsman (49 houses), Queen Anne (40 houses), and Colonial Revival (32 houses). Examples of vernacular Victorian-era design are also fairly common, and several examples of the American Foursquare style and the Prairie School also exist.
The contributing buildings in the district were built between 1856 and 1930. Three of the houses were built in the 1850s and 1860s. Approximately 76 houses were built during the 1870s, 1880s, and 1890s. Another 111 houses were built in the first two decades of the 20th century and 7 houses were built in the 1920s.
A large majority of the structures in the district are intact or only slightly altered. Houses were considered to be contributing to the district if they date from the period of significance and if they retain basically intact massing (with the three principal public facades most important), retain basically intact window and door openings, and retain a basically intact original porch or an intact early porch addition. Houses with new exterior siding were considered to be contributing if the massing, window, and porch integrity conditions were met. A total of 170 of the district's 203 houses were classified as contributing.
The integrity of the district as a whole is also amazingly strong. There are only ten parcels which contain principal structures which postdate the period of significance. The number of post-1950 replacement garages is far fewer than the number seen in comparable residential neighborhoods in other Minnesota cities.
The Lincoln Park Historic District comprises one of the largest and most intact late 19th and early 20th century, upper-middle class residential neighborhoods in Minnesota outside of Minneapolis and St. Paul. The 215-parcel district includes only ten parcels which contain principal structures which postdate the period of significance, and retains an unusually large number of intact pre-1930 carriage houses and garages. Because of the district's integrity, it strongly evokes the character and feeling of urban residential life in a Midwestern city in late 19th and early 20th century, and creates an excellent laboratory in which to study residential property types.
The district contains intact examples of a number of historic architectural styles. The earliest houses include good examples of the Greek Revival, French Second Empire, and Gothic Revival styles, intact examples of which are relatively rare in Minnesota. These houses were built between circa 1860 and 1875. Dating from circa 1870-1886 are about one dozen examples of the Italianate style. Among the most intact are the limestone Wilkinson/Palmer House, three brick examples—the Smith House, the Durkee/Veigel House, and the Little House—and the woodframe Noe House.
The exuberance and complexity of Victorian-era design is well-represented in the district through about 45 examples of the Queen Anne, Eastlake, Stick, Neoclassical, Shingle, and early Colonial Revival styles which date from the 1880s and 1890s. These include about one dozen Queen Anne style houses which have corner towers or turrets, as well as many houses with equally complex massing, ornate open porches, and intact examples of sawn and turned wooden ornament, stained glass, and decorative shinglework. These houses were built at the height of what social historians call the "cult of domesticity," in which the middle class Victorian home was believed to be highly symbolic of the importance and virtue of family life in American society. Residential interiors were divided into many separate rooms (e.g., parlors, music rooms, libraries, sitting rooms) which provided privacy for family members and a distinct separation between public and private spaces. Both interiors and exteriors were abundant with cornices, latticework screens, wainscoting, and columns. Some homes had as many as three or four entrance and service porches contributing to the complexity in design and function. While these homes were extolled as being unique and individualistic, in fact they often represented only minor variations on common themes.
Dominated by the ornate and sometimes ostentatious, the 19th century houses in the Lincoln Park Historic District include relatively few examples of more modest vernacular design. Most of the approximately 20 examples which do exist are small woodframe dwellings. The earliest examples include the McMurtrie House which has rare pedimented window frames and the Shellenberger House. Both date from about 1885.
The district also contains a collection of approximately 110 houses which date from the first two decades of the 20th century. These include intact examples of the late Queen Anne and Colonial Revival styles which are often simpler in massing than their earlier counterparts and ornamented with stronger or heavier detailing. More abundant, however, is a group of almost 70 Craftsman, American Foursquare, and Prairie School designs. With their boxlike massing, simple rooflines, overhanging eaves, exposed rafters and beams, and stained wood shingles, these houses clearly illustrate the evolution from Victorian pretension to the beginnings of simple, modern design. The construction of these houses coincided with a cultural movement to free women from endless housework and enable them to participate in greater society. Plaster cornices, ornate moldings, spindlework, and other hard-to-clean clutter was removed from residential interiors and replaced by simple woodwork, smooth plaster walls, and a lack of ornament. The increased costs of indoor plumbing, central heating, and kitchen innovations reduced the square footage of houses. Room arrangements became simpler as a single parlor or living area replaced multiple public rooms, and bedrooms became smaller.
While it appears that most of the houses in the district were built at the commission of individual owners, some houses suggest the activities of developers who may have built multiple properties. For example, there are three nearly-identical Queen Anne style houses located at 116 Pleasant St. E., 120 Pleasant St. E., and 135 Fulton St. Nearly-identical, adjacent Queen Anne style houses also stand at 108 and 112 Parsons St. At the northeastern corner of Byron and Bradley streets stands a cluster of four nearly-identical American Foursquare style houses at 423, 427, and 429 Byron Street and 110 Bradley St. Nearly-identical, adjacent Craftsman style houses stand at 225 and 229 Pleasant St. W. In addition, a group of Craftsman style houses scattered throughout the district are surprisingly alike in design and contain a similar bracketed pent eave above the second story windows, suggesting the work of a single designer or contractor. Examples of these houses include the houses at 527 Byron St., 216 Locke St., 220 Locke St., 127 Lincoln St., and 522 Record St.
The architects and contractors who were responsible for the design and construction of the houses in the Lincoln Park neighborhood have not been systematically identified. The 1910 Mankato city directory lists 11 carpenters, 10 general contractors, 5 brick, stone, and cement contractors, 2 plastering contractors, and 1 painting contractor at work in the city. The 1914-1915 city directory lists 43 carpenters and general contractors, many of whom could have used various patternbooks, architectural plan services, and lumberyard blueprints to design and construct houses in the district. Mankato's major architectural firms in the late 19th and early 20th centuries included Frank Thayer (who practiced in the city from 1885-1902), Henry C. Gerlach (who practiced from 1885 through at least 1914), Albert Schippel (who was in partnership with George Pass in 1900 and was practicing alone in 1910 and 1914), and George W. Pass (who established a practice in 1878 which was carried into the 20th century by his son). Gerlach designed O'Malee Place which was built circa 1913 and lived in the historic district at 503 Byron Street in a house which he probably designed. Schippel designed the Brandrup House which was built in 1904. Pass and Son designed the Lincoln Park School which was built in 1921.
The buildings in the Lincoln Park Historic District comprise Mankato's largest concentration of intact homes originally built by the city's merchant and professional class between 1856 and 1930. The historic district was generally settled from north to south as the residential development of Mankato spread outward from the banks of the Minnesota River. Several of the blocks in the northern portion of the district show overlaying patterns of development with some dwellings from the turn of the century being constructed on the sites of previous houses. The most recent houses dating from the 1910s and 1920s are concentrated near the western, southern, and eastern edges of the district.
In 1886, a short-lived horse-drawn streetcar system was established by Mankato businessmen John C. Noe and William M. Farr. Noe lived in the Lincoln Park neighborhood at 120 Center St. Streetcars first ran on portions of Front Street parallel with the Minnesota River. The service was later expanded to include Center and Byron Streets in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. In 1895 the company failed and the tracks were removed. Most of the southern portion of the Lincoln Park Historic District was platted during this period as Lewis and Shaubut's Addition (1871), Van Brunt's Third Addition (1874), and Warren's Third Addition (1875). About one-third of the houses in the historic district were built between 1870 and 1899, including 12 houses which date from the 1870s, 20 which date from the 1880s, and 44 which date from the 1890s.
By the late 19th century, Lincoln Park was one of the city's largest merchant and professional class neighborhoods. A study of 1902 city directory listings suggests that most Mankato women who worked as domestics in 1902 were employed in the Lincoln Park neighborhood and in the blocks immediately to the north between Liberty and Walnut Streets. A similar study of persons whose occupation was listed as "laborer" in the 1902 city directory suggests that these families were concentrated along the railroad tracks and riverfront in the flood plains west of Lincoln Park, within the downtown commercial area, and in northern Mankato. This pattern is consistent with national trends in which families of middle and upper-middle income brackets throughout the U.S. chose to live together in neighborhoods which were isolated from the noise, odors, ugliness, and congestion of commercial and industrial areas. Women and children, who were considered to be particularly susceptible to the negative influences of the industrial and political world, were protected by placing them in homogeneous, isolated neighborhoods which the men left each day as they went to work in factories, warehouses, quarries, and commercial districts.
Lincoln Park itself was created in 1885 when a group of local citizens led by John H. Ray, who lived at 217 Lincoln St., purchased the land and deeded it to the city. The park was apparently first conceived as a war memorial park and maintained by neighborhood residents. The First Congregational Church (1871), located at the northern end of the district, was also built during this period. Several other Mankato churches were located just north and west of the historic district boundaries.
The first two decades of the 20th century were marked by steady economic and population growth for the city. Public and private services and institutions were continually improved. Mankato's Carnegie Library opened in 1903 (listed on the National Register) and Immanuel Hospital was built in 1906 by the Lutheran church. The Mankato Commercial Club was established in 1906, succeeding the Mankato Board of Trade which had been established in the 1860s. In 1917 a new reinforced concrete Main Street Bridge was built over the Minnesota River.
In 1908 the Mankato Electric Traction Company began operating an electrically-powered streetcar system. [see: Streetcar Suburbs, 1888 to 1928] Tracks ran throughout Mankato including on Pleasant, Center, and Byron in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. The streetcar system remained in operation until 1930 when it was dismantled and many of its routes were assumed by gasoline-powered buses. Over one-half of the houses in the historic district were built during the first two decades of the 20th century, with 50 houses being constructed between 1900 and 1909 and 66 houses built during the 1910s. Most of these houses were built on lots which had been platted in the 19th century. There were no major additions platted within the bounds of the Lincoln Park Historic District during this period with the exception of the Bryn Mawr Addition (1903) along Ramsey Street on the eastern side of the district. Also constructed during this period were the district's two historic apartment buildings, the Newbery (circa 1905) and O'Malee Place (circa 1913).
A study of early 20th century city directory listings for heads-of-household (usually men and, in most cases, presumed to be the property owners) in the historic district suggests that they were predominantly proprietors, professionals, managers, white collar workers, and skilled workers. Only three of the 96 heads-of-household for which information was gathered did not appear to fit this pattern—two were janitors and one was letter carrier. There were no unskilled workers identified as residing in the district with the exception of the janitors and letter carrier, and no laborers, despite the fact that Mankato had extensive stone quarries, concrete plants, flour mills, and factories which employed such workers. Seven of the 96 heads-of-household identified were widows and 11 were presumably retired from work.
Lincoln Park heads-of-household included the owners and managers of granite works, stone quarries, concrete works, iron works, and the Mankato Gas and Electric Light Company, as well as the manufacturers of furniture, confections, tools, harnesses and saddlery, and cigars. Many of these individuals were involved in two or more enterprises and many also served on the boards of directors of local banks. The owners of downtown businesses included the proprietors of banks, a bookstore, a grocery, dry goods and department stores, a hotel, a hardware store, and automobile dealerships. This group of proprietors also includes the editors and publishers of the Mankato Free Press and the Mankato Weekly Post. There were approximately 16 professionals including an architect, physicians, a civil engineer, dentists, and at least eight attorneys. Skilled blue collar workers included a cigarmaker, a cabinetmaker, and a dressmaker. Skilled white collar workers included a music teacher, a surveyor, a wheat inspector, a ticket agent, a stenographer, and several travelling salesmen, and approximately six government employees (e.g., health inspector, assistant postmaster, treasury clerk, tax collector). In many cases, subsequent (rather than original) owners of the houses in the historic district were also found to be proprietors, managers, skilled white collar, or skilled blue collar workers. Unfortunately, the city directory listings provide little information about the occupations of the women who lived in the historic district during this period, many of whom were undoubtedly co-proprietors of family businesses.
By the 1920s, Mankato was south-central and southwestern Minnesota's largest city, with a trade area which extended miles from the city. By 1920 the city was one of 16 trade centers in a population range of 11,000-16,000 which were located in the Upper Midwest region bounded by central Wisconsin, central Montana, the Canadian border, and northern Iowa.
During this period, many homes in the historic district were occupied by the second-generation owners of Mankato's businesses and industries. For example, Lincoln Park resident Dr. William Radichel owned and operated North Star Concrete, one of the city's largest cement manufacturers, in the early 20th century. North Star Concrete had been founded by his father, D. W. Radichel, and began operations in Mankato in 1888. Brett M. Taylor was president of Brett's Department Store in the early 20th century. He was the grandson of the store's founder, George E. Brett. Taylor had grown up in his grandparents' house next door at 227 Lincoln St.
In addition to their business interests, many of the early residents of the Lincoln Park neighborhood were prominent in government, politics, and public affairs on local, regional, and state levels. For example, Milton B. Haynes was a civil engineer who came to the county in 1856 and surveyed many of the townsite plats in Blue Earth and surrounding counties. He was county surveyor for three terms and city engineer for 11 years. Lewis P. Hunt was postmaster of Mankato in 1883 and 1897. George W. Scherer was county superintendent of schools for six years beginning in 1892. Thomas Hughes served as county attorney from 1897-1901 and was followed in office by Samuel B. Wilson who served from 1901-1907. Attorney John C. Noe and a partner, William F. Farr, established Mankato's horse-drawn streetcar system which opened in 1886. Many of the residents of the historic district served as presidents of the Mankato Board of Trade and the Mankato Commercial Club, as mayors of Mankato (many serving multiple terms), as city council members, as Blue Earth County Commissioners, and as members of the governing boards of institutions such as the Mankato State Normal School.
State legislators included Morton S. Wilkinson who was elected to the first Minnesota territorial legislature, George T. Barr who was elected to the state legislature in 1889, and F. M. Currier who was elected in 1891. State senators included George T. Barr who served in the 1890s and Adolph O. Eberhart who served from 1903-1906. U.S. Congressmen and Senators included Morton S. Wilkinson who was a U.S. senator for six years beginning in 1859 and was elected U.S. Congressman in 1868. General James H. Baker was elected Minnesota Secretary of State in 1859 and again 1861. His appointed offices included U.S. Commissioner of Pensions (1871) and Surveyor General of Minnesota (1875). Mankato attorney Christian J. Laurisch served as Minnesota Railroad and Warehouse Commissioner in the early 20th century. Adolph O. Eberhart served as State Lieutenant Governor from 1907-1909 and Governor of Minnesota from 1909-1915. Samuel B. Wilson was appointed director of the Minnesota Public Safety Commission in August of 1917 and served as Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court from 1923-1933.
Residents of Lincoln Park also wrote historical, professional, and nonfictional works. For example, attorney Thomas H. Hughes was a respected historian and author whose many works include the History of Blue Earth County (1909) and Indian Chiefs of Southern Minnesota (1927). General James H. Baker, an Ohio-born journalist, wrote The Sources of the Mississippi (1894), History of Transportation in Minnesota (1901), and Lives of the Governors of Minnesota (1908).
The civic and professional activities of the women who resided in the Lincoln Park neighborhood are less well documented. One of the state's small number of early female physicians was Mary Ellen Parker Brandrup, who graduated from the University of Minnesota Medical School in 1901 and worked as a physician at the St. Peter State Hospital and in private practice before moving to Mankato in 1912. She was a member of the state central committee of the Republican party in 1922-1923 and a member of the state crime commission in 1922. Minnie McGraw was the first librarian of Mankato's Carnegie Library which opened in 1903. Lisabeth Hunt was one of the founders of the Mankato Art History Club, which was organized in 1896. Nellie Morse Hunt served as the District Corresponding Secretary of the Foreign Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church beginning in 1900. Genevieve Hawley Ray, was the first president of the Mankato Civic Improvement League which was organized in 1903.
Portions of the Lincoln Park Historic District also served as part of the literary setting for a series of children's novels written by Maud Hart Lovelace, a native of Mankato. The series, known as the "Betsy-Tacy" books, consists of ten autobiographical novels which were published between 1940 and 1955. Lovelace set the stories in the early 20th century and used her childhood friends and acquaintances as models for the characters. For example, the character "Tacy" was based on her childhood friend, Frances Kenney, who lived in a house southeast of the historic district, and the character "Tib" was based on another of Hart's friends, Marjorie Gerlach, who lived at 503 Byron St., within the historic district. Mankato is given the fictional name "Deep Valley" in the stories, and Lovelace used locations such as Mankato's hills and bluffs, the Carnegie Library, the city's opera house, Lincoln Park, and Mankato High School as settings for the novels.
The "Betsy-Tacy" stories are known for their accurate depictions of life in a small mid-western city in the early 20th century. They are also acclaimed as important early feminist literature for children in their portrayal of positive female role models. In the novels, "Betsy" and her friends have goals which reach beyond a life of raising children in "Deep Valley;" instead they earn their own money, attend college, and embark on careers. "Betsy" even travels to Europe for a year, just as Maud Hart herself had done in 1914.
Maud Hart was born in the house at 214 Center St. in 1892. She grew up at 333 Center Street, just southeast of the historic district, where she and her family lived until circa 1905 when they moved to a house at Cherry Street and S. Fifth Street, north of the historic district. Hart attended Pleasant Grove School (now the site of Lincoln School) and Mankato High School. She lived in Mankato until the fall of 1910 when she entered the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Her parents left Mankato about 1912. Maud Hart Lovelace published a total of 23 novels between 1926 and 1966.
† Susan Granger and Scott Kelly, Gemini Research, Lincoln Park Residential Historic District, Blue Earth County, MN, nomination document, 1994, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.