Early Mankato had loads of regulations

·4 min read

Oct. 24—You hear a lot of complaints from people about too many regulations or too picky of ordinances. There are plenty of rules and they're often tweaked or more added.

But it's not a modern phenomena. When people settle together conflicts arise and the rule-making begins.

I was cleaning up my study recently and came across an old book — "Charter and Ordinances City of Mankato" — from the 1880s.

At 260 pages, it shows the desire and need to regulate goes back a long time.

By 1880 Mankato was a sizeable city — the fourth largest in the state — with 5,500 people. The ordinances in this volume started in 1871 and went through 1881 and it's easy to see that every year or two the city leaders of the growing town found new issues to worry about.

In those days, there wasn't a lot of worry in general about what people dumped in the rivers — but the city council had a major concern about protecting their drinking water and waterworks plant.

An early ordinance banned any pollution of the Blue Earth or Minnesota rivers within the city limits and upstream of the waterworks plant. Even by today's standard they took a hard line.

Not only couldn't the good residents throw dead animals or manure in the rivers or discharge any pollutants into or on the banks of the rivers, but ..."nor shall any person bathe or swim in the water of said rivers ... lead or swim any horse, sheep, or or other animal into the waters or wash or clean any vehicle or thing in said water ... above the waterworks."

By 1871 the city was already passing building and public safety codes. With many homes and businesses built of wood, the constant threat of devastating fires was clearly on the founders' minds.

Fire wardens in each of the four city wards appeared to have significant authority to come in and, at least annually, do safety inspections of any stove, furnace of fire box. And the city required a six-inch separation between any stove pipe and wood on the wall or roof and required metal plates on the floor that extended six inches past all sides of any stove or furnace.

The early council also gave little leeway to property owners. If the council ordered a sidewalk be built, property owners were given just a couple of weeks to have the job lined up or the city would come in and build it and assess the cost of to their taxes. In the 1880s the city required all sidewalks to be cleared of snow, trash or dirt by at least 10 a.m. each day.

Bow windows in any building couldn't come out more than two feet where they faced a street or sidewalk.

At a time when hunting, trapping and home butchering were common, ordinances were soon put in place to require that any animal hide within the city be quickly tanned or salted and prevented from causing an odor. By 1874 the city banned the slaughter of any animal in the city, save for official butcher shops.

The original charter of the city gave the mayor a lot of power. That didn't change until 1952 when the city changed to a council/manager form of government.

Back then the mayor was chief executive officer and head of the police "and shall appoint police officers and watchmen. In case of a riot or other disturbance, he may provide as many special or temporary constables as he may deem necessary."

The mayor could also fire any police officer and could veto any ordinance, with the council able to override him with a two-thirds vote. He had power, but was paid just a $100 annual salary. Today that $100 would be worth less than $3,000, far less than modern council members and mayors of most communities make.

What they lacked in pay to civil servants, the council made up for in fines against residents. One ordinance notes that any person who hinders or obstructs the animal-pound keeper from taking an animal to the pound will be fined $5 to $25. A $25 fine then would be $672 today.

And anyone convicted of a crime was required to do hard labor in the local workhouse or hard labor making public improvements.

While there are many more ordinances and regulations today. As frustrating and costly they might be at times, most come for a good reason.

And not all restrictions get more restrictive over time.

The founding fathers were killjoys for the young and young at heart in the 1880s. "No person shall slide or course upon hand-sleds, skates, or in any other manner, in or upon any sidewalks, street, lane, alley or public ground in said city."

At least the kids today can take a sled for a wild ride down the Sibley Park hill.

Tim Krohn can be contacted at tkrohn@mankatofreepress.com or 507-344-6383.

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