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Sibley Historic Site: regional headquarters of the American Fur Company between 1836 and 1842

Established by fur trader and politician Henry Hastings Sibley, it sits on a bluff on the south side of the Minnesota river, just east of Historic Fort Snelling.

Sibley Historic Site, 1357 Sibley Memorial Highway, Mendota
Sibley Historic Site, 1357 Sibley Memorial Highway, Mendota.
Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

The Sibley Historic Site comprises three main buildings: the Sibley House, the Faribault House, and the Dupuis House. Additionally, there are four ancillary buildings: a brick summer kitchen/laundry (built ca. 1854), an ice house (ca. 1843), and an ash house (ca. 1840s) adjacent to the Sibley House; and a garage associated with the Dupuis House. Several buildings constructed in the mid-nineteenth century related to the American Fur Company, including a ferry house, chapel, and various warehouses, no longer exist on the site.

Fur traders began coming to Bdote (the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers) in the late 18th century. When they arrived, they did business with the Mdewakanton Dakota people who already lived and gathered there. Sibley moved there in 1834 as the regional manager for the American Fur Company’s Dakota trade and built his two-story stone house near the company’s trading post. In February 1836, he contracted stonemason John Muller to construct what is now known as the Sibley House out of local limestone, hand-hewn timber, mud, and grass. After Sibley married his wife, Sarah, in 1843 and their family grew, he expanded the house. A four-room addition was constructed in the late 1840s, and an office and porch addition were built in the 1850s.

The house was known as a center of hospitality where Sibley entertained and hosted traders, soldiers, and travelers. It was where first territorial governor Alexander Ramsey proclaimed the existence of Minnesota Territory, and where Sibley helped secure the passage of the act that officially organized the territory in March 1849.

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Two other homes joined the Sibley House over the years. French Canadian immigrant and fur trader Jean-Baptiste Faribault built his own house next to Sibley’s between 1839 and 1840. It is a two-story, side-gabled house with double chimneys on either side made of yellow limestone from local quarries. Like Sibley, Faribault contracted Muller to construct his house, which he wanted to look similar to Sibley’s own dwelling. He and his wife, Pelagie Ainse Faribault, moved into the house in 1840, and Faribault moved out after her death in 1847. In 1854, Sibley’s former private secretary, Hypolite Dupuis, built his house on the southeast side of the site. From 1853 to 1855, Dupuis served as Dakota County’s first treasurer before becoming president of the Board of Trustees for the town of Mendota in 1855.

The fur trade declined throughout the 1850s, and Sibley and his family moved from Mendota to St. Paul in December 1862. From 1868 until the early 1900s, various people and organizations used the site in various ways, including as a Catholic girls’ boarding school and as a summer art school. In 1868, the Sibleys sold their house and property to Bishop Thomas Grace of St. Paul. By the early 1900s, the site had been abandoned. The Minnesota State Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) acquired it from the Archdiocese of Minneapolis and St. Paul in 1910 and formed the Sibley House Association (SHA) with the intention of preserving the Sibley House and operating the property as a history museum. Upon its opening on June 14 that year, the Sibley Site became the first designated historic site in the state. In 1922, DAR restored the Dupuis House, and it restored the Faribault House in 1935.

After collecting artifacts concerning early Minnesota history and displaying them in the Sibley and Faribault Houses, the SHA began opening the site for public tours. It also opened the Sibley Tea House in the Dupuis House in 1928, which helped fund the site. The tea house closed in 1970, and the building evolved to become a visitors’ center, administrative offices, a museum store, and artifact storage areas.

In 1996, the DAR transferred ownership of the Sibley Site to the State of Minnesota to be operated by the Sibley House Association (SHA) in partnership with the Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS). MNHS became the sole manager in 2004. In 2016, Dakota County Historical Society began to oversee operations as a contracted MNHS partner, with MNHS continuing to provide maintenance, preservation, and collections care.

For more information on this topic, check out the original entry on MNopedia.