NORTH MANKATO — To celebrate more than 120 years as a city, North Mankato is starting a large-scale historic recognition program to highlight the people, places and things that make the area special.

City staff will kick off the program Tuesday with guided bus tours of the city’s historic locales, as well as a Nicollet County Historical Society-produced display inside the Gerlach building in lower North Mankato.

The tours and displays are part of an effort to celebrate North Mankato’s past, educate residents about their history and gather more stories and historic items.

“The goal is to continue this program each and every year,” City Clerk April Van Genderen said last month. “We’re working on providing opportunities for residents to share their stories but also to learn about others’ stories.”

Van Genderen, who joked to North Mankato City Council members she “finally get(s) to use (her) degree,” will head up the recognition program and will supervise the tours on Tuesday.

Residents can go on a walking tour of the city, where they will visit 10 historic sites in lower North Mankato, starting at 2 p.m. A double-decker bus will be on hand for guided tours at 4, 5 and 6 p.m. starting at North Mankato City Hall if weather permits. The tours are free and open to the public.

The city plans to use the Gerlach building (also known as the Brandt building) at 443 Belgrade Avenue to display at least one exhibit a year concerning an aspect of local history. In addition, North Mankato officials plan to recognize important homes, buildings and important locations through signage.

The city will also build a website with an interactive map of the area’s history, along with applications for historic recognition and forms to submit stories about North Mankato. Van Genderen said staff will promote the website and historical photos on social media as another way to raise public interest.

“It’s fun to watch and to see what people say about those pictures,” she said. “You get a lot of people commenting back and saying, ‘Oh, I went to school there, I remember my first day getting dropped off.’ Just bringing back some of those memories for people is a wonderful way to help people begin to think about connecting more with the history of North Mankato.”

North Mankato is already working with property owners to recognize five historic homes in the city with plaques and signage. City staff have already put up signs at the Gerlach building, which used to be city hall and was at one time an annex for the city’s school, as well as in Wheeler Park to recognize the former brickyard there.

If there’s enough public interest, the city may consider more than just recognizing its history. Mayor Mark Dehen said last month the city may host public forums to gauge whether the public is interested in historic preservation efforts, which several residents have long advocated for.

Tom Hagen, a North Mankato resident who has researched local history and acts as a resource for the Nicollet County Historical Society, said the city’s efforts are a good start but won’t be enough to prevent some of North Mankato’s historic sites from being damaged in the future.

“Recognition is not preservation,” he said.

City officials say they plan to work with the Nicollet County Historic Society on future displays as well offer more opportunities for people to share local history. Staff will be on hand at the Gerlach building on Tuesday and Sunday to record oral histories, which will be shared on the city’s upcoming historical website.

“We’ll let the process develop,” Dehen said last month. “We’ll try to have people submit their stories and maybe we can capture them at future events as well.”

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