Historical roadside marker in Twin Cities suburb could be resurrected
INVER GROVE HEIGHTS, Minn.—For almost seven decades, a historical marker on U.S. 52 in Inver Grove Heights paid homage to the site of a former Sioux village.
Joe Atkins, who grew up in Inver Grove Heights, recently recalled how the limestone and red brick marker, which measured 12 feet wide and 15 feet deep, "popped out of the landscape."
"There just wasn't much out there when we were kids," said Atkins, a Dakota County commissioner. "There was a refinery on one side and not much else on the other."
The marker, located in a roadside pull-off, was taken down brick by brick around 2005 as part of a bridge and interchange construction project at 117th Street—and stashed away inside a county maintenance building.
Now, plans are in the works to erect it near the proposed Pine Bend trailhead on the Mississippi River Regional Trail, about a half-mile from its original site.
"I think most folks just thought it was gone forever," Atkins said.
Curious about the marker's fate, Atkins started a search in 2015 that grew to include staff from Dakota County, the Minnesota Department of Transportation and Pine Bend Oil Refinery. The lost monument was found at a county maintenance building at Spring Lake Park Reserve near Hastings, said Steve Sullivan, the county's parks and recreation director.
"It's been basically just collecting dust," he said.
Referred to as the Pine Bend Historical Marker, it was built between 1939 and 1940 by the National Youth Administration and Minnesota Department of Highways, as MnDOT was known at the time. Dakota County took ownership of it from MnDOT about a decade ago.
"It's great that it has survived this long," Inver Grove Heights Mayor George Tourville said this month, "because it warrants telling the story again."
SIOUX FORCED OFF LAND TWICE
The Sioux village was formed on the west bank of the Mississippi in 1838.
An 1837 treaty ceded the Kaposia Village area to the north to newly arrived white settlers, forcing the Sioux band off that land and into the new village, which was named Medicine Bottle in honor of the band's leader.
The leader was considered a friendly man, according to a bronze plaque that accompanies the marker, and is often confused in historic circles with his nephew, who was also known as Medicine Bottle.
The nephew was a key figure in the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, which raged for six weeks throughout southwestern Minnesota, and was one of 40 men executed by the government.
Another treaty was signed with the government in 1851, and the band moved to a new Sioux reservation on the upper Minnesota River in 1852. The senior Medicine Bottle died that same year.
The village was later renamed Pine Bend, meaning the "bend in the river where the pine trees are," according to the 1915 book "Historical Notes of Grey Cloud Island and Its Vicinity," which was written by John H. Case and published by the Minnesota Historical Society.
"The land on which this Sioux village stood, together with their gardens and cornfields, was afterward pre-empted by William A. Bissell, the first white settler at Pine Bend, the present day Inver Grove Township," the book reads.
MNDOT, COUNTY EYE RESTORATION
MnDOT owns 100 historic roadside properties within highway rights-of-way that include scenic-overlook walls, wayside parks, stone picnic tables and fireplaces, interpretive markers and small stone bridges.
Most of them were built during the 1930s and early 1940s by unemployed Minnesotans under the federal relief programs of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, said Kathryn McFadden, MnDOT's historic roadside properties program manager.
"These are part of our cultural history," McFadden said, adding that 18 properties are on the National Register of Historic Places and many more are eligible. "They marked the start of road tourism, when people started to get cars after the war and they could afford to travel more. They needed a safe place to pull over on the side of the road to rest."
But many are showing their age, she said, and "have been deteriorating for a very long time."
Since 2006, MnDOT has allocated $2 million a year to restore or rehab its roadside properties. In 2013, the Lake St. Croix Overlook in Oak Park Heights was restored, while the Garrison Concourse, a Mille Lacs Lake overlook that's home to a giant walleye statue, was rehabbed in 2010.
Meanwhile, the Pine Bend Historical Marker is among just 10 former MnDOT properties the agency no longer owns because they either were too deteriorated or were in the way of road projects, McFadden said.
MnDOT will not pay for the cost of erecting the Pine Bend marker because the agency no longer owns it, she said.
Sullivan, Dakota County's parks director, said the county will apply for a Minnesota Historical Society Legacy grant next year to help fund the project. When the marker is erected depends on its condition and the cost to rehab it, he said, adding 2019 is a realistic goal.
A 1998 MnDOT report describes the marker as being in "fair to poor condition." It was rectangular and included a terrace with steps to a lower-level flagstone plaza. A wide-curving limestone step allowed visitors to get close to the plaque. In 1943, the Pine Bend 4-H Club added a flag pole to the site.
"It's a beautiful structure," Sullivan said. "Part of our mission is to provide education and interpretation, and being a historic structure, it has merit to be saved. So we're working on resurrecting it, giving it a new home."