The Church of St Peter was founded in 1840 by Father Lucien Galtier, a priest who was sent by the local Catholic Bishop to care for the settlers and Indian population. He was only 29 at the time, a newly ordained priest, and his territory extended all over Dakota County.
Located on the banks of the Minnesota River, the area was originally inhabited by the Dakota (Sioux) Indians. When settlers arrived in the early 1800’s, they called the place St Peter. It wasn’t until 1852 that the name was changed to Mendota, meaning “meeting of the waters”. If you look on a map, Mendota is located where the Minnesota River and Mississippi River merge together.
The church shown in the photo was constructed in 1853, to replace the log cabin that had been used for the previous ten years. It was constructed with local limestone and hand-cut split shingles, and cost $4,500 to build.
The steeple has had its own share of excitement over the years. The original was very short and had no bell, being blown down in the 1880’s. The next replacement was taller and had a bell this time, but it only lasted 65 years when a tornado came through and destroyed it. In 1953, the current tower was constructed to celebrate its 100 year anniversary.
You can imagine that a building this old would one day need to be restored. In the late 1970’s a major restoration operation was begun at a cost of over $200,000. The limestone was cleaned, the steeple repaired, trusses and framework replace, etc. Today the “Historic Church” is only used for special events and weekday masses.
The Church of St Peter is a great architectural example of early church construction. It should be as it is the oldest Catholic parish in the entire state of Minnesota!