Bloomington History

How Bloomington Started

Did you know that where your house is now there used to be lots and lots of water? Did you know there used to be mountains in Minnesota? Did you know that fossils of ancient sea animals have been found in the valley of Nine Mile Creek? Scientists think that ice covered Canada and the northern United States millions of years ago. When the last large glacier melted, it made a big lake. This lake was called Lake Agassiz, and covered all of northern Minnesota. The lake began to drain, and it made a deep valley where the Minnesota River is now.
Prehistoric Native Americans

The first people to live in the area that is now Bloomington were the prehistoric Native Americans. Scientists didn't know this until they studied the old burial mounds in the city. Scientists have learned that these people had great skills to survive the weather of the area. Many of these burial mounds can be found in Mounds Spring Park, by Indian Mounds Elementary. There used to be 36 mounds, but now only 20 can be found. The Native Americans buried the dead with their tools, clothing, and jewelry, and people have tried to steal these things by digging them up.

The Dakota Native Americans

After the prehistoric Native Americans, there were two main Native American groups that lived near here. One was the Dakota, or Sioux, group. This group had three main tribes living in the area. Their chiefs were Black Dog, Cloud Man, and Grey Iron. The Dakota lived in homes called tepees. The Dakota developed many foods we eat today. They grew potatoes, squash, corn, and many other things. They also hunted deer, bison, and other animals to eat.
Ojibway Native Americans

The Ojibway Native Americans were the second main tribe to live near the Bloomington area. They found food, many kinds of fish, and grains in Minnesota. They hunted deer, moose, elk, and bison to use for food and clothes. They never killed more animals than they needed. They also set traps for beaver and other animals, to trade the fur for other things.
Native American Fighting

The Native Americans were not always peaceful. In fact, the government decided that they had to separate them. The Ojibway could live north of the Minnesota River, and the Dakota could live south. Both tribes had to go to Fort Snelling, to get their supplies from the government. The Ojibway didn't like the Dakota crossing their land to get to the fort. The Dakota thought the Ojibway would get more food and supplies, since they were closer. These thoughts and feelings caused the start of the Indian wars.

Why People Came to Bloomington

After the Native Americans had been in the area for many years, other explorers found out Bloomington was a great place to live! The six reasons people started to move to Bloomington were:
  • flat land to build homes on,
  • lots of rainfall,
  • many plants and animals living there,
  • nice temperatures during the 4 seasons,
  • beautiful lakes and rivers, and
  • good soil to grow crops.
Early Explorers

Fur traders from France were the first white men to explore the area that is now Minnesota. People think they were here over 200 years ago. Jonathan Carver, a trader-explorer, traveled up the Minnesota River in 1766 and spent the winter in the village of Chief Shakopee. There he traded with the Dakota Native Americans. In 1805, Zebulon Pike came to explore the land that is now Minnesota. Pike’s men were supposed to find land to build army forts on. He camped where the Minnesota/Mississippi Rivers meet, and spent time with the Dakota and Little Crow. Pike decided to build a fort there, and wanted to call it Fort St. Anthony. Col. Josiah Snelling came to the fort, and helped to build it. It took 4 years to build 14 stone buildings, 2 log buildings, and a 10 foot high stone wall. Col. Snelling was in charge of the project, so they decided to name it Fort Snelling.
First Missionaries

Gideon Pond and his brother Samuel came to teach the Native Americans about Christianity. They were missionaries. The Dakota named them Red Eagle and Grizzly Bear, because they were
over 6 feet tall. Gideon and his brother did not have permission to be on the Native American's land and they didn't know their language. They only knew a few soldiers at Fort Snelling. These soldiers sent the Ponds to a Dakota Indian village to teach them how to plow a field. Gideon Pond wanted to work with the Native Americans. At his first mission school by Lake Calhoun, he wrote a Dakota language dictionary. Many words had strange sounds, so he made new letters that only had one sound. This made it easier for the Native Americans to write their language.


In 1839, a Dakota warrior was killed by the Ojibway. That summer, a war broke out between the two with awful battles fought at Stillwater. The Dakota moved to the Minnesota River near Bloomington, and Gideon followed them. His brother decided to go to work in the village of Chief Shakopee. Gideon stopped teaching the Native Americans when the Dakota had to move to reservations in 1851. After working with the Dakota, Gideon decided to start the Oak Grove Presbyterian Church in Bloomington. When it started, there were only 13 people in it. It was found where the Bloomington Cemetery is today. In 1864, a group of people thought the church should be moved. It cost only $260 to move it. Now it can be found at the comer of Old Shakopee Road and Penn Avenue, by the Presbyterian homes. The cross at the new church is made out of the wood from the old log church.

Oak Grove Mission

Gideon Pond built a log cabin for his family. This became the Dakota mission. At the mission, Gideon held church services, taught school, and taught farming. His family lived at the Mission Home until he built a brick house, which you can visit today. Descendants of Gideon Pond have lived in this house since the 1800' s.
Pioneer Houses

As more people came to live in the Bloomington area, they had to buy some land and build a house. One kind of house they built was called a sod house. It was called a sod house, because it was built from grass, weeds, and mud. The floor was made of hard packed dirt, and they could sweep it, and even mop it! Sod houses were warm in the winter and cool in the summer, and were inexpensive. Spring rain caused flowers to bloom on the walls and roof. The other common type of house was the log cabin. People built these when there was a lot of wood and trees around. Men and boys built the cabins together. The cabin was usually only 12 - 15 feet long, and only 7 or 8 feet high! The roof and door was made of boards. They didn't have glass, so windows were covered with animal skins or greased paper.

The First Settlement

In 1843, the first white people came to live in Bloomington. They were Peter Quinn and his wife. The government told Peter he had to come to teach the white man's farming ways to the Native Americans. The Quinn's lived along the Minnesota River, close to where Portland Avenue is now. In 1849, two men came to run the Bloomington Ferry. Their names were William Chambers and Joseph Dean. This was an important business, because people didn't have a way to cross the Minnesota River in Bloomington until now. When people wanted to get to Shakopee or Mankato, they came to the Bloomington Ferry to cross the river. In 1889, the Bloomington Ferry Bridge was built, and the Bloomington Ferry went out of business. In 1852, the Goodrich, Whalon, and Ames families came to Bloomington and settled close to the Ferry. They named Bloomington after the city they were from, in Illinois. The name means flowering field.
By 1854, several pioneers came to live in the area which is now Bloomington. A man named John Bailiff built his home near Nine Mile Creek and Old Shakopee Road. He built a hotel called Half­way House, because it was half way between St. Paul and Shakopee. Many famous people who traveled by stagecoach from Fort Snelling stayed there.
The Oxborough family came from Canada. They built a trading center on Lyndale Avenue and called it Oxborough-Heath. Today it is called the Cloverleaf Shopping Center. The Bailiff store used to be found at Penn Avenue and Old Shakopee Road, where they Presbyterian Homes are today. It was a grocery store and general store. Other known pioneer families who came to Bloomington were named Chadwick, Dean, Harrison, Thompson, Bagley, Mahoney, and Newell. Hector Chadwick had a blacksmith shop near the Bloomington Ferry.

Most of Bloomington's early jobs were in farming, blacksmithing, and flour milling.


The first school was at the Dakota Mission, which was Gideon Pond's home. Their teacher was Gideon Pond. Both Native American and pioneer children went to this school. In 1855, the first public school for all children was opened. This school was in an early pioneer Miss Harrison's house. Then, in 1859, the first real school building was built. It was called the Gibson School, and was found at France Avenue and Old Shakopee Road. If you went there today, you would find Cub Foods and Valley West Shopping Center. The next school was called Cate's School in 1874. If you went there today, you would find the Clover Leaf Shopping Center. Three other schools were the Ferry Hill School, the Poplar Bridge School, and the Kell School.

Did You Know...
  • Bloomington became a city the same day Minnesota became a state? (May 11, 1858)
  • When a city started in pioneer days it was called a township? For example, instead of just being called St. Paul, a city would be called St. Paul township.
  • When Bloomington became a city, it was called Town of Bloomington, not Bloomington Township? The reason this happened, is because it was bigger than other townships, so it was given a special name.
  • Nine Mile Creek got its name because it is 9 miles from Fort Snelling to where Old Shakopee Trail crosses the creek?
  • Old Shakopee Road was the main road of Bloomington?
  • There is no main street in Bloomington?
  • The Twins, Vikings, and the North Stars used to play in Bloomington?
  • Bloomington is home to the Mall of America, which is one of the biggest shopping malls in the world?