Wednesday, January 18, 2017

History of Eagan, Minnesota

The first residents of the Eagan area were the Dakota or Sioux Indians. Around 1740, a settlement known as Black Dog Village was documented along the Minnesota River, stretching and/or migrating from Mendota to near the present Burnsville/Eagan border.  This band of Native Americans had been driven from their traditional homeland near the Mille Lacs Lake in North Central Minnesota and were attracted to the Eagan location by nearby trading posts.
Chief Black Dog 
European interest in this region began with the French explorers and fur traders during the 1600's.  Eagan remained under French domain (and for a time under Spanish domain) until the area was obtained by the United States in 1803 as part of the Louisiana Purchase. 
After the War of 1812 a series of frontier forts were constructed.  Among these was Fort Snelling at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers.  Completed in 1824, Fort Snelling served as a stabilizing influence and focal point for development of the region.  The original area of the fort included a parcel of land approximately one mile wide extending through the area that became Eagan, adjacent to the Minnesota River. 
After 1851, the terretory of southern Minnesota, west of the Mississippi River was opened to westward expansion for settlers.  Those who first moved to this area were generally from either Ireland, French Canada, Germany or from the eastern part of the United States.  These settlers established farms in the area and agriculture became, and would remain, the predominant activity of Eagan residents for the next 100 years. 
 Sell Family sorting onions on Eagan farm                                                                          
The political organization of Eagan began with the admission of Minnesota as a state in 1858.  The area was first included as a part of Mendota Township.  In 1860, the Township of Eagan was established within its current boundaries. Eagan celebrated its 150th Anniversary as a community in 2010.
Members of Eagan's first board of supervisors were Patrick Eagan, James Callan and Robert O'Neill.  Patrick Eagan, from whom the City of Eagan takes its name, was a native of Ireland and had come to this area with his family in about 1854.  He served as the boards' first chairman.  The elected officers of the township included three supervisors, who served three year terms, and a treasurer, a clerk, an assessor, two justices of the peace and two constables, all of whom were elected for two year terms. 
At the time of its formation in 1860, Eagan's population was 567 according to the 1860 Census.  Most of the residents were farmers.  In addition to the crops that were needed to support their own families and livestock, many local families engaged in crop farming, particularly wheat and garden produce. Around 1885, the growing of onions began in parts of Eagan.  The onions were shipped to various parts of the country and the volume was such that, at one time, the area was called "The Onion Capital of the United States."  However, with a few years of poor harvest combined with competition from southern growers, the status as "Onion capital" ended by approximately 1930. 
Meetings of the Town Board during the early township days were usually held in a schoolhouse located near the present Northview School on County Road 30/Diffley Road.  In 1893, the first Eagan Town Hall was built near the intersection of Pilot Knob and Lone Oak Roads. When the original building burned, the town board decided to place the new town hall as close to the center of the township as possible. Built in 1914, this new building served as the meeting hall for Eagan until 1965.  This original surviving Town Hall building was restored and served as a museum exhibiting memorabilia from Eagan's past and is cared for by the Eagan Historical Society. In 2013, the 1914 Town Hall was damaged by a fire, set by an arsonist. The building's use and restoration is being planned as its 100th year is commemorated.
A newer, larger town hall was constructed next to the 1914 Town Hall on the northwest side of Pilot Knob and Wescott Roads in 1965. 
First Eagan City Hall/Police Station (built 1965)
When a new Municipal Center was built on the east side of Pilot Knob Road in 1983, this first City Hall/Police Station building became the Fire Administration Building. In 1996 this building was raised, but its beams were retained and can be found as a part of the picnic shelter at Lexington/Diffley Athletic Fields.
A Fire Administration building was constructed at that site in 1995 and was utilized for that purpose until 2011 when the Fire Administration functions moved to a new Fire Safety Center at Yankee Doodle Road east of Lexington Avenue. 
The Eagan Police Facility was built as an attachment to the current Eagan Municipal Center, remodeled to its current form in 1995. The Wescott Library, Eagan Civic Arena and Cascade Bay all share the Municipal Center Campus area that is a portion of Patrick Eagan's original farm property in Central Eagan.


During the early years, the population of Eagan grew at a relatively slow rate, rising from 642 in 1880 to 1,185 in 1950.  During the 1950's however, with the initiation of the interstate highway system and the growth of the entire metropolitan area, Eagan slowly began to change from farmland into a developing suburban community. 
The initiation of construction of the Cedar Grove Housing Development in 1959 had a major impact on the city's population.  The number of Eagan residents increased from 3,382 in 1960 to 10,398 in 1970, to 20,700 in 1980, to 47,409 in 1990 to 63,557 in 2000 and to 64,206 in 2010.
The township days in Eagan ended in 1972 when authorization was given for Eagan to incorporate as a village.  A year later, the legislature passed a law which allowed Eagan to be officially designated a city on January 1, 1974.  As a city, Eagan is governed by a five member City Council, including the Mayor and four Councilmembers, all of whom serve four year terms.  City elections are held in November of even numbered years. 
The City of Eagan is a dynamic community and a place where careful land use planning is resulting in lovely residential areas, extensive outdoor recreation opportunities and a quality commercial and industrial base.