Main Street – St. Peter, Minnesota

St. Peter, Minnesota is the county seat of Nicollet County, and home to over 11,000 people. While a bit less than twice the size of Glencoe, more than twice the size of Le Sueur and five times as large as Gaylord, that understates its significance.

This clock in St. Peter is accurate as many 4 times per day.

This clock in St. Peter is accurate as many as 4 times per day.

Unlike Le Sueur, Highway 169, which north of town is essentially a freeway, remains Main Street in St. Peter, which makes this one of the busiest Main Streets in Minnesota. Most of that is through traffic, but buildings grow up along roads with the hope the free advertising of road presence attracts some through travelers to divert, and leads to more mind share among those who don’t stop this time, but might in the future. The cost of this is more delay to through travelers who do not stop.

Great efforts have been made in recent years (thanks to the Stimulus bill) to maintain the walkability of this street while ensuring traffic is not delayed too much. Unlike most other Main Streets, there is actually some private economic development activity to construct infill buildings. West of the road, where most of the population lies, is doing much better than the east side.

St. Peter Thrift Store (east side of Highway 169)

St. Peter Thrift Store (east side of Highway 169)

Just based on the logic of the situation, one assumes there is a plan to construct a St. Peter bypass on Highway 169. Actually checking, there is a US 169 Corridor Coalition, which is pushing this (it is endorsed by the City). The status of this is “fictional highways” on one road forum, so nowhere near ready, and given the recent work on Highway 169 through the town itself, probably farther into the future. But as with every line on the map, no “no” is permanent.

St. Peter Armory, For Lease

St. Peter Armory, For Lease

It is the home to Gustavus Adolphus College, atop the hills with a nice view over the Minnesota River Valley. It is farther from Main Street than similar colleges in Northfield, and so doesn’t have quite the level of interaction urbanists might want.

Godfather's Pizza made small town America, and Herman Cain.

Godfather’s Pizza made small town America, and Herman Cain.

Aesthetically, while it is not quite there with Faribault or Owatonna, it is getting close.

I will quote wikipedia on might-have-beens [note [citation needed]]:

In 1857, an attempt was made to move the Territory of Minnesota’s capital from St. Paul to St. Peter. Gov. Gorman owned the land on which the bill’s sponsors wanted to build the new capitol building, and at one point had been heard saying, “If the capitol remains in Saint Paul, the territory is worth millions, and I have nothing.” At the time, St. Peter – a city in the central region of the territory – was seen as more accessible to the far-flung territorial legislators than St. Paul, which was in the extreme eastern portion of the territory, on the east bank of the Mississippi River. A bill was passed in both houses of the Territorial Legislature and was awaiting Governor Gorman’s signature. The chairman of the Territorial Council’s Enrolled Bills Committee, Joseph J. Rolette of Pembina, took the bill and hid in a St. Paul hotel, drinking and playing cards with some friends as the City Police looked fruitlessly for him, until the end of the legislative session, too late for the bill to be signed.[citation needed]Rolette came into the chamber just as the session ended. One might say that the bill was an attempt to “rob Paul to pay Peter.” Today, St. Paul is the second largest city in the state (second only to neighboring Minneapolis), while St. Peter is a relatively small rural town.


Nicollet Hotel - St. Peter

Nicollet Hotel – St. Peter

So of the state’s most important early institutions: Stillwater got the prison, Minneapolis got the University, St. Paul got the capital, and St. Peter got the Asylum.

Main Street - St. Peter (looking west)

Main Street – St. Peter (looking west)



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10 thoughts on “Main Street – St. Peter, Minnesota

    1. aexx

      It’s either 30 or 35 mph.

      I’ve always been impressed with St. Peter’s downtown, relatively speaking. It has a decent amount of commercial density and the area really does appear to be walkable, or at least as walkable as any road can be that is also a major highway.

  1. Monte Castleman

    Here’s a diagram of the proposed bypass. Presumably if it were built Minnesota Ave. would be reconfigured to reduce it to three lanes with parking, wider sidewalks, or cycletracks. But right now the priorities are building an interchange at MN 41 and the area around the US 14 interchange. Since the new bypass is so far ahead they had to rebuild Minnesota Ave before it crumbled.

    Both of these have been somewhat downscaled, the original proposal was to shift the MN 41 interchange south at $45 Million to accommodate the new freeway bridge, but recognizing that likely won’t happen for decades (I recall there’s funding in the next 20 years to preserve ROW but that is all), the new plan is something a lot less expensive at the existing location that will likely need to be scrapped when and if the new freeway is built. In Mankato they’re looking at an option that would leave one of the traffic signals on US 169, at least in the short term, due to funding and local access issues.

    1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

      Presumably, yes. Though 371 has been bypassed around Brainerd for over a decade, and MnDOT is planning to rebuild the old highway (South 6th Street) as an undivided 5-lane stroad with sidewalks right against the curb, for 10k AADT. So we have empirical evidence that MnDOT maintains anti-city design practices.

      1. Adam FroehligAdam Froehlig

        There’s a bit of a difference. Usually when MnDOT builds a bypass, it turns back the old roadway to the city (Willmar for example) or county (Little Falls as an example). In a theoretical St. Peter case, it would most likely go to the city. Brainerd is the exception, in that MnDOT retained the old road as a state highway. The only other exceptions I can think of offhand are East Grand Forks and Bemidji.

  2. David MarkleDavid Markle

    The drive through St. Peter on its main street/US 169 is not much of a slow-down. With its ttractive old commercial buildings and houses I think it makes a pleasant break from highway speed, and I wonder about the long-term effects a bypass might bring. As Bill Lindeke says, it’s not hard for pedestrians to cross the street in the central commercial area which has modern semaphores.

    Too bad so many nice trees were destroyed by high winds.

    1. Monte Castleman

      Even with the bypass the highway would still go by the highway oriented development on either end of town so you wouldn’t see the gasoline stations abandoned and rebuilt father out. The bypass would only be the core downtown area, where most through traffic presumably has no intention of stopping. It would cut downtown off from the river, but my observation is there isn’t much connection there in the first place. All the parties involved seem to want the bypass, but getting it done isn’t a priority right now.

  3. Joe

    During his service in the Minnesota Territorial Council of 1857 a bill passed that would move the capitol of Minnesota from St. Paul to St. Peter. Joe Rolette, the chair of the Enrolled Bills Committee at the time, took the bill after it had passed both bodies and went into hiding with it. His efforts prevented the change from occurring.

  4. Adam FroehligAdam Froehlig

    A “bypass” version I’ve seen in the past had a similar alignment to the coalition’s map, but was at-grade instead of with interchanges. It was also tied to a levee project along the river. I have also heard of bypass ideas that would cross to the east side of the river to avoid downtown, but at this point I wouldn’t put much stock in ANY bypass proposal unless it’s directly tied to a river levee.

    Speed limit in the downtown core is 30. Outside downtown but within the city is 35.

    Regarding David’s comment, in the past I’d heard some concerns about heavy trucks on 169 causing vibrations damaging the historic buildings in and near downtown, and that was one thing driving the bypass talk (pun intended) at the time.

    Many of the trees were destroyed in the 1998 tornado. There was another tornado in 2006 (which I actually chased…was home on leave at the time) that went just south of town.

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