Union’s History

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Just north of present day St. Peter is the historic site of Traverse Des Sioux. In the early 1800′s this site served as a trading post where the Dakota or Sioux Indians came to sell their furs. In 1843, Rev. Stephen Riggs and other Presbyterian missionaries established a mission post at Traverse Des Sioux. The mission operated until 1851, when the Indians signed a treaty giving up their land in southern Minnesota. Then, as white settlers flooded in, the village began to grow and on November 5, 1853, the Rev. Moses N. Adams organized “The First Free Presbyterian Church of Traverse Des Sioux” with 12 members. They used the old mission chapel for a worship hall until in 1858, when they built a new stone church for $5,000. Being a new and remarkable structure for its time, people came from miles around to worship there. Membership was open to whites, Indians, and mixed bloods, and by 1862 there were 62 members.

A mile and a half south of Traverse Des Sioux, the small town of St. Peter was steadily growing. In the fall of 1856, Rev. Aaron H. Kerr came up from Iowa and preached during the winter of 1856-1857 in the Winslow hotel. In the spring, his family arrived and he then held services in their home, and later, in a store.

On October 25, 1857, Rev. Kerr organized “The First Presbyterian Church of St. Peter” with 12 members. By 1859, a stone building, 26′ x 63′ was completed, at a cost of $6,000. The first level was a dry goods store with the worship hall above. Donations were received and by 1860, the church was debt free.

Turmoil struck the two communities in 1862. The men were leaving to go to the Civil War and then, in August of that year, during the Indian Uprising, refugees flooded into St. Peter. Many of the residents of Traverse Des Sioux left their homes to live in St. Peter.

On July 25, 1869, the two congregations voted to join together and become “Union Presbyterian Church of St. Peter.”The combined membership was 99, and it was decided that the place of worship would be St. Peter. The following year a lot was acquired and in 1871, the present stone structure was built at a cost of $15,000, and the bell from Traverse Des Sioux was installed in the belfry.

During the 1940′s the men of the church excavated the basement by hand and the large Congregation Room and Kitchen were finished. The windows are the original stained glass. The original pews were replaced with new pews in 1955. The large room behind the sanctuary was remodeled in 1974 and named “The Traverse Des Sioux Room.” In 1983, a new Hendrickson Pipe Organ was installed.

The only major change to the exterior of the building was the addition of the Christian Education wing in 1961. The church is presently listed on the National Register of Historical Places.

 

Research done by
Herb Poncin
Church Historian