The Sibley Historic Site is Minnesota’s oldest Euro-American settlement, home to famous and colorful residents. Four distinctive limestone buildings grace the Minnesota River bluff across from Historic Fort Snelling.
Valuable furs attracted traders to this strategic junction of the Mississippi and the Minnesota rivers. Henry Sibley built his home and a warehouse by 1837 with the aid of voyageurs and Indians. Faribault hired the same stone mason and built his own house in 1839. Both of these homes are now on the National Register of Historic Places.
These buildings mark the American Fur Company’s control over the region’s Dakota trade between 1825 and 1853, when Mendota was a major center of the region’s fur trade.
Buildings on the Sibley Historic Site
Sitting on the Minnesota River across from Fort Snelling, the Sibley Historic Site is Minnesota’s oldest Euro-American settlement. Valuable furs attracted early traders to this strategic junction of the Mississippi and the Minnesota rivers.
Four limestone buildings from this period – among Minnesota’s oldest– have been preserved at the Sibley Historic Site. These are among Minnesota’s oldest buildings. Both the Faribault House and the Sibley House are on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Sibley House
In 1836, Henry Hastings Sibley hired John Mueller, who with the aid of many voyageurs, trappers and Indians, built Sibley a home overlooking the Minnesota River. The house was made of limestone cut in large blocks from a nearby quarry. The laths were willows and rushes cut from the banks of the river, woven together with reeds and grasses. The insulation was mud and clay from the river bank mixed with straw. The larger timbers which were used for braces, joists, beams, floors and window sills, were all hand-hewn and joined together by wooden pegs. The roof was covered with clapboards split by hand.
The house was plain, but substantial, two and one-half stories high with a portico in front. It was expanded after Sibley’s marriage. In the new office, plans were made for the organization of Minnesota Territory. The first territorial court was held here at Mendota.
By the early 1900s the house was abandoned and became a lodging place of railroad transients who tore up the floors and staircases for firewood.
The St. Paul Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and Mrs. Lucy Shepard McCourt, and Archbishop John Ireland from St. Peter’s Parish worked together to secure the house in 1920. It was restored through the efforts of the DAR Chapters throughout the state and opened to the public on June 14, 1910.
In May of 1997, the Minnesota State Society of the DAR turned the ownership of the Sibley Historic Site to the state of Minnesota and the management to the Minnesota Historical Society.
To learn more:
The Faribault House
It is similar in construction to the Sibley House and was used not only as a home for Mr. Faribault but also as an Inn.
The front and back entrances both open onto a single wide hall with a staircase. Two large rooms, each with three windows, lie to either side of the central hall. The upper floor repeats the layout of the first. The third floor was used as a ballroom and community meeting place for the settlers. The basement, like Sibley’s had two cold storage rooms and a large kitchen where the cooking was done in old fashioned kettles hung on a crane in the fireplace.
After the death of his wife in 1847, Mr. Faribault moved to Faribault, Minnesota with his daughter. His grandson George Faribault conducted a hotel in the house.
Later the house was sold to Mr. James McGrownan who lived there from 1870 to 1889. In 1895, part of the house was rented to Mr. and Mrs. James Moffet, who served meals to the artists who came to sketch in the historic old town. Still later, Mr. Bernier purchased the house, using it as a warehouse for vegetables.
In 1934 the State Highway Department began the restoration of the Faribault House through a Public Works Administration project.
The home, partially restored in 1935, was turned over to the Minnesota Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) who completed the project. The house with the grounds attractively landscaped by the State Highway Department was opened to the public May 5, 1937.
The Dupuis House
In 1869, the house was sold to Tim Fee and remained in the Fee family until it was purchased by the Minnesota Daughters of the American Revolution in 1924.
In 1928, the house was remodeled for a tea house. A spacious verandah was built on the east side and a large glass-enclosed porch was added on the west side. Thousands of guests to the Sibley Tea house each season until it closed in the 1970s. It now houses the administrative offices and the gift shop for the Sibley Historic Site.
Other historic buildings still standing include an ice house, where the ice was packed underground using hay instead of sawdust. Originally the lowest level was ten feet deep. The upper story and a half were used as a commercial storeroom for the American Fur Company.
The one-story brick building at the rear of Sibley House was formerly the summer kitchen. It has been modernized into a comfortable four-room cottage for the caretaker of the property.
The small stone building at the rear of the summer kitchen was used as a smoke house and place to store ashes for use in making soap. During the Indian wars this building was used as a powder house.
Families of the Sibley Historic Site
Henry Sibley came to the junction of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers in 1834 as the regional manager of the American Fur Company. Sibley went on to become one of the most influential figures in Minnesota history. His career included working as the region’s most prominent fur trader; serving as a politician and territorial delegate to the U.S. Congress; election as the first governor of the state of Minnesota; and serving as a general during the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.
The site of Sibley’s Mendota home (and eventually those of Jean Baptiste Faribault and Hypolite Dupuis) became the state’s first designated historic site, with restoration undertaken by the Minnesota district of the Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.) in 1910.
Henry Hastings Sibley
One of the most prominent figures in Minnesota in the nineteenth century was the fur trader, frontier politician, military leader, and public citizen, Henry Hastings Sibley. Born February 20, 1811, in Detroit, Michigan, Sibley’s father Solomon Sibley was the territorial congressman from Michigan and later chief justice of the Supreme Court of Michigan Territory. His mother Sarah Whipple Sproat Sibley was the daughter of Ebenezer Sproat, a colonel in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War.
In 1834, Sibley became a partner in the American Fur Company. Sibley’s charge including control of the trade with the Dakota Indians, north of Lake Pepin and west to the headwaters of tributaries of the Missouri River, with headquarters at St. Peter’s (Mendota). He hunted with the Dakota and, like many fur traders, had a daughter with a Dakota woman.
Before Minnesota was admitted as a state on May 11, 1858, Minnesota voters elected Henry Hastings Sibley their first state governor. Alexander Ramsey succeeded him as state governor on January 2, 1860.
Learn more about Henry Hastings Sibley and his family:
Jean-Baptiste Faribault, one of the most interesting figures of early Minnesota history. He was born at Berthier, Canada in 1774 as the seventh son of Barthelmy Faribault.
The spirit of adventure led him to choose the life of a fur trader and in 1799, he entered the employ of the British fur company. He had charge of trading posts at Kankakee, near the present site of Chicago, Baton Rouge on the Des Moines River in Iowa, and in 1805, at Little Rapids on the St. Peter River near the present site of Carver. In 1809, he became an independent fur trader at Prairie du Chien.
While trading at Little Rapids in 1805, Faribault married Elizabeth Pelagie Kinnie Hanse, the widow of the superintendent of Indian affairs. As the daughter of a French voyageur and a Wahpeton Dakota mother, Pelagie was a member of that Dakota band. Pike Island was ceded by the Dakota to Mrs. Faribault and her descendants by the Treaty of 1821, but the gift was never recognized by the government.
Learn more about Jean-Baptiste Faribault and his family:
- MN Historical Society
- Pelagie Faribault: MNopedia entry by Margaret Vaughn
- Pelagie Faribault’s Island: MN History Magazine article by Catherine Denial
- “How the family of Pelagie Faribault came to own Pike Island” by Margaret Vaughan
- “Who Was Alexander Faribault?” from Carlton College’s History of Faribault
Hypolite Dupuis was born October 16, 1804 at LaPrairie de la Madeleine (near Montreal), Lower Canada, to Michael Dupuis and Marie Louise Denault.
About 1830, Hypolite Dupuis began to work for Joseph Renville at Lac Qui Parle. He moved to Mendota in 1840, to a small cabin on the Sibley property. Dupuis may have then begun to clerk for Henry Hastings Sibley. Hypolite apparently was a talented individual, and he spoke several languages fluently, including English, French and Patois.
Hypolite married Angelique Renville, the daughter of his employer on the upper Saint Peter’s river. Hypolite and Angelique had eight children and also raised a Metis orphan.
Dupuis built the brick house, in which the Sibley Historic Site offices are today, in 1854 for $3500. It is a two-story house made of Milwaukee brick. From this house he ran for a time a general store and grocery on the main floor. He also served as a Justice of the Peace and Dakota County’s first treasurer. He managed Sibley’s main store at Saint Peter’s presumably after Frederic B. Sibley, and helped Sibley liquidate his fur trade interests in 1853.
Learn more about Hypolite Dupuis and his family:
More Site History
As part of our mission, the Friends of the Sibley Historic Site have published three books that tell more about the families and the early history of the Sibley Historic Site. You can order any of these books from the Dakota County Historical Society website, or pick them up at the Dupuis house gift store on the Sibley History Site.
Historic Mendota Before 1863—A walk through time where the waters meet
Take a walk through time where the waters meet! This book offers refreshing insight into a significant time of historical development in Minnesota, and specifically in the Mendota community – which some consider the birthplace of the state.
You can order a copy of the book HERE through the Dakota County Historical Society, or at the Dupuis house gift store.
Dakota Child, Governer's Daughter: The Life of Helen Hastings Sibley
Bruce A. Kohn
This intriguing story covers the life of Sibley’s daughter by his Dakota wife. Helen was a daughter that Henry cared about and supported, but never acknowledged officially.
Helen Hasting Sibley began her life among her mother’s Dakota people, then came of age in her father’s society. Through the transitions in her life, Helen Sibley reflected profound changes in the life of her father, Henry Hastings Sibley – the fur trader who became the first territorial congressman from and first state governor of Minnesota – and in the lives of the Dakota who once lived across southern Minnesota.
You can order a copy HERE through the Dakota County Historical Society, or at the Dupuis house gift store.
Six Miles from St. Paul
This biography of Sarah Sibley was a 2009 Award of Merit Winner! As the wife of the first governor, you will learn about her relationships with family, friends and a rapidly homogenizing culture. She demonstrated deft skills in managing a demanding household and leading Minnesota’s very first historic preservation effort. You can order a copy of this book HERE through the Dakota County Historical Society, or at the Dupuis house gift store.
The Friends also have a limited edition poster, “A Celebration in Mendota” by David P. Geister, for sale at the Dupuis house gift store. Stop in or send us an email for details on availability.
You can make a difference by getting involved in continuing the preservation of the Sibley Historic Site. Schedule a tour, visit our gift shop, and/or make a donation.
We welcome new members and look forward to adding you to the Friends of the Sibley Historic Site. Please join us!