There’s a lot to like about Shakopee. We have a lively downtown with retail, restaurants, and other businesses. Southbridge offers additional stores, dining and entertainment opportunities, and more grocery shopping. We have several parks, a few lakes, more than 80 miles of trails, and are bordered by a major river.
We have everything needed for a city but also have active farms, giving us a taste of both urban and rural life. Our high school is state of the art. We have a hospital with an urgent care, cancer center, maternity ward, and other advance care to serve our community. An amusement park and racing track with a casino, when fully open, are tourist destinations. For major sporting events and concerts, we have fast and easy access to the Twin Cities. Everything necessary to enjoy life, find employment, and engage in activities is in town or a short commute away.
I was interested in hearing a perspective from someone who knows our city well to talk about what makes Shakopee unique, so I called the Shakopee Heritage Society. I got to talk with its president, David Schleper. He summed up our uniqueness in one word: people.
“For me personally, it’s the people,” Schleper told me. “I could talk about the architecture or the restaurants and things like that, and all of those things are great, but it’s the people and the people of the past who are so interesting.”
A prolific researcher, historian, and author, Schleper has written extensively about the people of Shakopee. His books, including the four he’s currently writing, cover the women, African-Americans, houses, and more from Shakopee’s early days.
There was an African-American who was enslaved who lived in Prairie des Français, later callled Shakopee and escaped from here.
“That is true, and there’s actually research on it,” Schleper said. “His name was Joseph Godfrey. He escaped around 1848 or so. Most people don’t know this.”
Shakopee was also home to Dan Eddings, born in Kentucky, was enslaved, and was freed during the Civil War He was one of 12 former slaves who came to Eden Prairie. Ten left, but two stayed here, and Eddings moved to Shakopee.
“He came here and lived here, and worked as a farm worker until he died in 1919 of cancer. He is buried at Valley Cemetery,” he said.
Schleper also talked about Jane Lamont Titus, who was born to a Dakota mother, Haŋyetu Kihnaye Wiŋ (Hush the Night), and a trader from Scotland. Jane spoke only Dakota when, at age 13, she moved in with Samuel and Cordelia Eggleston Pond in Prairieville (Shakopee). She learned English in her teens and helped found the Presbyterian church in Shakopee.
Before COVID-19, Schleper was giving regular presentations at the community center and the library. He has about 25 presentations that he uses featuring Shakopee’s history and people, including talking about the evolution of the city and its name — Shakopee is our city’s eighth name.
“Even the names have changed, and learning about that is very interesting,” Schleper said. He’s planning to start giving presentations again in September.
He says in 2020, people continue to make Shakopee a unique city. “The family stories from people who have grandparents who moved to Shakopee or were living in Shakopee are so interesting,” Schleper noted. “The stories of people who ended up moving here and living here are interesting too.”
Anyone who wants to learn about the city’s history and people should visit downtown businesses, he said. Even relatively new businesses, like the Shakopee Brewhall, have ties to the past. The Brewhall has bricks from Shakopee’s foundry, from around 1890, along with limestone and timbers from Shakopee’s brewery dating back to the early 1900s.
“The town is growing so much,” Schleper said. “If you want to learn about Shakopee, downtown is one of the most interesting places to go. What I like so much is the people who own these businesses and the people who work there are so interested in chatting about the past.”
No city is perfect, and I’m sure most of us would like to change or improve at least one thing about Shakopee. At the same time, our city has a lot to offer, we choose to live here for a reason, and we can be proud of our community. I know I am.