Main Street – New Ulm, Minnesota

New Ulm, Minnesota, (map) in Brown County, is the local urbanist small town Utopia. New Ulm is definitely in good shape as small towns go. Having a college (Martin Luther) in town is good, but its location away from Main Street means it doesn’t interact as much as Carleton in Northfield. It parallels the Minnesota River, and aligns its grid with that mighty stream. The main part of town (Main Street here is called Broadway) is separated from the River by railroad tracks. Its most important feature is a giant statue of Hermann the German, commemorating Armenius’ victory over the Romans at Teutoburg Wald, which helped liberate New Ulm, which reflects the strong German culture of the area, as illustrated by the local Schell Brewery.

Broadway is a county, but not state level road, so it doesn’t have the traffic issues facing St. Peter, where a heavily trafficked US highway comprises Main Street.

The buildings along Broadway are almost fully rented. Yet parking is available. The town itself has an interesting idealistic planning history. Wikipedia writes:

The city was founded in 1854[9] by the German Land Company of Chicago. The city was named after the city of Neu-Ulm in the state of Bavaria in southern Germany.[10] Ulm and Neu-Ulm are sister cities, with Ulm being situated on the Baden-Württemberg side and Neu-Ulm on the Bavarian side of the Danube river. In part due to the city’s German heritage, it is a center for brewing in the Upper Midwest, home to the August Schell Brewing Company.

In 1856, the Settlement Association of the Socialist Turner Society (“Turners”) helped to secure the city’s future. The Turners originated in Germany in the first half of the nineteenth century, promoted with the slogan, “Sound Mind, Sound Body.” Their clubs combined gymnastics with lectures and debates about the issues of the day. Following the Revolutions of 1848, substantial numbers of Germans emigrated to the United States. In their new land, Turners formed associations (Vereins) throughout the eastern, midwestern, and western states, making it the largest secular German American organization in the country in the nineteenth century. Following a series of attacks by nativist mobs in major cities such as Chicago, Cincinnati, and Louisville, a national convention of Turners authorized the formation of a colony on the frontier. Intending to begin a community that expressed Turner ideals, the Settlement Association joined the Chicago Germans who had struggled here due to a lack of capital. The Turners supplied that, as well as hundreds of colonizers from the east who arrived in 1856.[11]

As a representation of Turner ideals, the city plan reflected those values. The German Land Company hired Christian Prignitz to complete a new plan for New Ulm, filed in April 1858. This master plan for New Ulm expressed a grand vision of the city’s future. At the heart of the community stood blocks reserved for Turner Hall, the county courthouse, and a public school, representing the political, social, and educational center of the community. The westernmost avenues were named after American heroes George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Thomas Paine—the latter three noted for their freethinking philosophies. Members obtained the means to support themselves — in harmony with nature — through the distribution of four-acre garden lots located outside of the residential area. Historian Dennis Gimmestad wrote, “The founders’ goals created a community persona that sets New Ulm apart from the Minnesota towns founded by land speculators or railroad companies. . . . The New Ulm founders aspired to establish a town with a defined philosophical, economic, and social character.”[12]

 

The socialism has faded, but the logic of the well thought out grid remain.

Buesch Building 1890

Buesch Building 1890

Marktplatz Mall gateway, the mall is now out of receivership.

Marktplatz Mall gateway, the mall is now out of receivership.

A decorative navigational tree

A decorative navigational tree

Masonic Block Building. The quality of Masonry has declined in the past century.

Masonic Block Building. The quality of Masonry has declined in the past century.

The local jeweler sponsors an oversized timepiece.

The local jeweler sponsors an oversized timepiece.

Four cars can park in parallel on Center Street

Four cars can park in parallel on Center Street

Buenger Store 1892, 1902

Buenger Store 1892, 1902

Teutonic Architecture

Teutonic Architecture

New Ulm - 1870s: View of Minnesota Street circa 1871, looking north from Center Street

New Ulm – 1870s: View of Minnesota Street circa 1871, looking north from Center Street

The town is in the shadow of Hermann the German.

The town is in the shadow of Hermann the German.

New Ulm on fire in the Dakota Wars

New Ulm on fire in the Dakota War of 1862

Herberger's Department Store in New Ulm. Department stores are not only for shopping malls.

Herberger’s Department Store in New Ulm. Department stores are not only for shopping malls.

 


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6 Responses to Main Street – New Ulm, Minnesota

  1. Matthias Leyrer
    Matthias Leyrer July 20, 2015 at 8:16 am #

    I offered (still stands!) to put together a tour for anyone that wants it in the forum.

  2. Monte Castleman
    Monte Castleman July 20, 2015 at 9:53 am #

    Is it even allowed to call a town with a Wal-Mart an “Urbanist Utopia”? I guess it proves that Wal-Mart and traditional downtowns can co-exist, and that it’s not disaster to have Main Street not be the main thoroughfare through the area.

    But some notes on highways in the area:

    *Mn/DOT at one time was considering a US 14 bypass. This was permanently dropped as “inconsistent with local patterns” ie, most of the traffic on US 14 is going to and from New Ulm.

    *The town is one of the largest one in the state not connected by a high-speed expressway or freeway, so they’re very much pushing for the completion of US 14. At the same they view the Minnesota River as the firewall between urban and rural. The US 14 bridge project has been revised as follows:
    1) The new bridge will be built as two lanes, traffic now doesn’t require four lanes, nor is it projected to in the future. Mn/DOT was fine with this provided provisions were made for a twin structure should traffic require it in the future
    2) The interchange ramps at Front Street will be removed and replaced with a roundabout to accommodate a MUP over the new river bridge.
    3) The 7th Street 4-Lane Death Road segment will be road-dieted to 3 lanes
    4) The money saved by not building four lanes across the river will be diverted to an interchange at MN 15.

    *An interchange is being built at Nicollet, after the previous plan of a reduced conflict intersection was greeted with the usual mobs waving torches that these these often provoke. Previously an interchange was rejected as expensive, and a roundabout rejected as inconsistant with the goal of having a high-speed expressway.Sometimes NIMBYism works in reverse and actually improves a project.

  3. Matt Steele
    Matt Steele July 20, 2015 at 10:19 am #

    I think it’s time for me to post my photo tour of that deadmall.
    Though Herberger’s on main street also opens up back into that mall, so it’s sort of a department store in a mall.

    I can also vouch for Matthias as a good tour guide of the town. Let’s do a tour!

  4. David Markle
    David Markle July 20, 2015 at 10:36 am #

    In earlier years of the 20th Century the Mayor of New Ulm got summarily deposed from office when he had the temerity to opine that German-American boys shouldn’t be compelled to enter military combat against Germans. Details may be found in Carl Chrislock’s books on the Progessive Era in Minnesota and the notorious Committee on Public Safety (an agency more ruthless than Senator Joe McCarthy’s committee).

  5. Thomas Mercier July 20, 2015 at 10:40 am #

    Socialism may have faded to some extent, but you won’t find many other communities in MN with approved tax referendums targeted at providing recreational opportunities. http://www.knuj.net/2015/03/new-ulm-park-and-rec-discuss-renewal-of-sales-tax-option/