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Carver County

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Standard map of Carver County, Minnesota. St. Paul : Minnesota Map Publishing Co., 1913.

Map of Carver County, 1913. Map by the Minnesota Map Publishing Company.

Carver County, founded in 1855, is home to the Minnesota and Crow Rivers, along with 125 lakes. Located southwest of the Twin Cities, it is part of the seven-county metro area.

The area named Carver County has been home to Native Americans, Euro-American settler-colonists, and many others throughout its long history. Many thousands of years ago, Minnesota was covered by glaciers, and indigenous people hunted mammoths and giant bison. As the ice melted, the people changed how they hunted and lived. They made their own tools from bone or rock. This process is called flint knapping. Most hunted with spears or bows and arrows. Trade with neighboring groups was important, but it also stretched across the country. Archaeologists found a cowry shell, an object found in the Pacific Ocean, in a Carver County archaeology site in Camden Township.

Over time, Minnesota became a forest, of oak, elm, maple and cottonwood trees. The "Big Woods" covered much of Minnesota and Wisconsin. This forest provided good hunting grounds for the Native Americans in the area, who were mainly Dakota. The Dakota traveled with the seasons. They followed deer and elk herds; gathered fruits, nuts, and berries; and had a lasting impact on Carver County. Dakota place names, such as Waconia (fountain or spring) and Chanhassen (tree of sweet sap) identify important areas.

Some of the first European explorers in the area that became Carver County were French. They created strong relationships with the Dakota, learning their knowledge and skills. Massachusetts-born Jonathan Carver lived with a local band over a period of months, learning Dakota culture and writing about what he learned.

Dakota and Ojibwe people saw value in items the French brought with them, such as axes, guns, and glass beads. These items were not commonly available and gave them practical advantages. They brought early explorers and later French traders into their kinship system to create better on-going trade relations. The French traders married Dakota women and learned their language and traditions, becoming part of a pre-existing trade network.

From the late 1600s through the 1840s, growing numbers of Europeans came into Minnesota to trade fur. In Carver County, there were two companies in the fur trade: the North West Fur Trading Company, which was British, and the American Fur Company. The North West Fur Company was founded in 1779, and there is archaeological evidence of a fur trading post in Carver County. The post was south of where the city of Carver sits, along the Minnesota River, at a Dakota village called Inyan Ceyaka Otunwe. It was operated from 1804-1808, and again in the 1830s, by Jean-Baptiste Faribault. It was run with help from his wife, Pelagie, and their sons Alexander and Oliver. In the twenty-first century, a historic marker is near the site, but no structures remain.

The British controlled the fur trade in the late 1700s; Americans took over in the early 1800s. The Dakota (as well as the Ojibwe) tried to create the same family bonds they had with the French. However, the British and the Americans did not understand the importance of kinship ties to the Dakota, and Indian-White relations declined. The fur trade period ended in 1851 with the signing of two important treaties.

The Treaty of Traverse de Sioux was signed July 23, 1851, and the Treaty of Mendota signed in August 1851, with the Sisseton and Wahpeton bands (Traverse de Sioux) and Wahpekute and Mdewakanton bands (Mendota) of Dakota. These treaties opened what is now Carver County to white immigration. Many whites had settled the land prior to the treaties, illegally. These illegal settler-colonists are sometimes known as "Sooners", and many of them were forced to give up their land. They either moved back east again or made their homes on different land, legally.

Carver County became an official county on March 3, 1855, named for early explorer, Jonathan Carver, as is the city of Carver. It is divided into ten townships: Hollywood, Watertown, Camden, Waconia, Laketown, Young America, Benton, Dahlgren, Hancock, and San Francisco. San Francisco was the first county seat until government official moved it to Chaska in 1856 where it remains despite battles to move the county seat to other locations.

By 1857, five school districts were organized: Carver, Chaska, Benton, Chanhassen, and Groveland. The very first school was located in Chanhassen, where the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum sits. The teacher was Susan Hazeltine. Lake Susan and Hazeltine Golf course are named after her.

The earliest white settler-colonists were from the eastern United States. By the 1860s, however, most new settler-colonists were immigrants from Germany, Ireland, or Sweden. This immigrant population brought their home country traditions, including names for their new towns. The Germans brought names like Hamburg, Gotha, and Cologne, and the Swedes, Swede Lake and East Union.

Most settler-colonists wanted to own land and became farmers, but Chaska also had a booming brick industry, known for its distinctive yellow brick. The thickness of the Big Woods made it difficult for early settler-colonists to clear the land for farming, but they carried on, using cut trees for houses, firewood, and tools. The desire to clear the land led to a booming logging industry in the 1850s-1870s. In the early twenty-first century, much of the county's land is still farmland. Most people, though, hold other types of work, with many making the drive to the Twin Cities and surrounding communities for work.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, a Board of Commissioners, each taking one of five districts, governs Carver County. These Commissioners guide the directives, resolutions, ordinances, and policies for all of Carver County, implemented by the County Administrator's office. The County Administrator's department also guides and supports all other county divisions, such as Social Services and Public Health and Environment.

The county sits among Wright County (north), Hennepin County (northeast), Scott County (southeast), Sibley County (southwest) and McLeod County (west). Carver County has a total area of approximately 376 square miles, of which around ninety-five percent (357 square miles) is land, and about five percent (nineteen square miles) is water. The land of Carver County consists of plains, gently rolling to steep hills, wetlands, streams, and lakes, with steep bluffs along the Minnesota River Valley. The county is home to many parks, protected wetlands, and nature preserves, among them: Seminary Fen, Baylor Regional Park, and Carver Park Reserve.

While small, Carver County has been one of the fastest growing counties in Minnesota since about 1980. Carver County has a large urban/rural, or city/country, divide. The eastern cities of Chaska and Chanhassen combine for over half of the county's population. Waconia and Victoria follow these cities closely. The other eleven towns have populations less than half this size.

Though the county is ninety-four percent white in the early twenty-first century, numbers of residents of other ethnicities are growing. Chaska in particular has seen major growth of its Hispanic population. This growing racial and ethnic diversity is very visible in the public schools. Throughout Carver County, a growing percentage of students speak a language other than English at home.

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Armstrong, Susan. "The Fur Trade in Carver County." Carver County Historical Society.

Brown, Leanne. " A Very Brief History of Carver County." Carver County Historical Society.

Brown, Leanne and Larry Hutchings. "This Day in History. . .Ten Thousand Years Ago." Carver County Historical Society.

Petersen-Biorn, Wendy. "Yellowstone Trail: Remembering the 'Good Road.' "Chaska Herald, September 2, 2012.

Ridge, Alice A., and John William. Introducing the Yellowstone Trail: A Good Road from Plymouth Rock to Puget Sound, 1912-1930. Altoona, WI: Yellowstone Trail, 2000.

Warner, George E., and Charles M. Foote. History of the Minnesota Valley: Carver County. Reprint. Carver County Historical Society, 1986. Originally published in George E. Warner and Charles M. Foote, History of the Minnesota Valley, Minneapolis: North Star Publishing, 1882.

Carver County. About.

Carver County. Board of Commissioners.

Carver County. Carver County 2030 Comprehensive Plan.

Treaties Matter. Relations: Dakota & Ojibwe Treaties.

Department of Natural Resources. Lake Finder: Carver County.

Minnesota Indian Affairs Council.

"Why Treaties Matter exhibit." Minnesota Humanities Center.

Related Images

Standard map of Carver County, Minnesota. St. Paul : Minnesota Map Publishing Co., 1913.
Standard map of Carver County, Minnesota. St. Paul : Minnesota Map Publishing Co., 1913.
Woods, one-half mile southeast of Norwood
Woods, one-half mile southeast of Norwood
Aerial view, Carver
Aerial view, Carver
Aerial View, Chanhassen
Aerial View, Chanhassen
Aerial View, Waconia
Aerial View, Waconia
Aerial View, Chaska
Aerial View, Chaska

Turning Point

Carver County is established on March 3, 1855.


late 1600's

Fur trade between Native Americans and the French begins in what is later known as Carver County.


Jean-Baptiste Faribault runs Little Rapids Fur trade post. He and his family return to it in the 1830s.


The signing of treaties occurs at Traverse de Sioux and Mendota in July and August. These treaties officially open up the land that becomes known as Carver County to white settlement.

March 3, 1855

Carver County is officially established, with San Francisco named as the county seat.


First official road in Carver County, in Dahlgren.


Chaska becomes the county seat.


The brick industry in Chaska begins, lasting for over one hundred years.


The logging industry starts to slow in Carver County.


The Yellowstone Trail, the first "good road" connecting the east and west coasts of the United States, is designated and improved in Carver County. In 1926, it would become parts of Hwys. 5 and 212 through the county.