The Gellenbeck Stage Stop (1849-1880)

By David R. Schleper

The Gellenbeck Stage Stop, also known as the Four-Mile House, was located near Highway 101, at Stagecoach Road. It was called Four-Mile House because it was four miles from Shakopee.

Stagecoaches came from St. Paul and Fort Snelling via the Indian trails later called Old Shakopee Road. They crossed the Rivière Saint-Pierre (St. Peter’s River), which became the Minnesota River on June 19, 1852. The stagecoaches continued via the Bloomington Ferry. Then the stagecoaches head down to Shakopee. The stages were called “swift wagons” by the Dakota since they kept the speed to 15 miles per hour.

The stagecoach companies used riding coaches to open air wagons to winter sleighs. A wagon would be used instead of a coach over muddy spring roads, or a sleigh would be used in the winter. The stagecoach got its name from the fact that it traveled by stages, usually about ten miles, and then the coach changed horses providing the passengers with as quick a ride as possible. The stagecoaches opened the interior lands that were not accessible by the Minnesota River.

Amherst Willoughby, a former stagecoach driver from Chicago, and his partner Simon Powers, opened the first stagecoach company in Minnesota in the spring of 1849. Another company also started a stagecoach in 1851, but after a few seasons, they agreed to divide the routes, and Willoughby and Powers kept the lines to Shakopee. By 1854, the two dissolved their partnership, with Willoughby gaining control of the livery stables and Powers assuming control of the coaches. Powers continued to run passage lines to Shakopee.

The stagecoaches had to deal with the road’s poor condition. One traveler, Roy Johnson, called it “a succession of swamps, corduroy bridges, holes, and stumps.” Some people also complained about the mosquito problem. According to Manton Marble, “They are larger than the usual size, they are more painful, their attack more bold and determined, and their number like the atoms in the air.”

The stage stops, such as the Gellenbeck Stage Stop, became an important local gathering point. They often had taverns, and it served as a place to hear the latest news, and was often used for public meetings. It was also a place where the stagecoach left mail. In most places, the stage stops also included a family residence. The Gellenbeck Stage Stop was a popular place. Another stage stop was located in downtown Shakopee.

In 1936, at age 90, E. Judson Pond remembered the first time a stagecoach arrived in Shakopee. It arrived on Oct. 6, 1853, with four horses leading the way.

In 1861, Gellenbeck Stage Stop became part of history just north of the stop. In April 1861, Fort Sumter was fired upon, and the Civil War began. President Abraham Lincoln asked for 75,000 volunteers and the famous Minnesota First gathered north of the Gellenbeck Stage Stop. The men marched from this mustering point along the stage route to the vacated Fort Snelling.

Stagecoaches flourished until 1880, when railroads became the mode of travel. And as for the Gellenbeck Stage Stop? It later became the Stagecoach Museum from 1951 until 1981.

(Information from Bea Nordstrom, Scott County History Museum, and “How the West Was Lost” by Joseph Hart, City Pages, Oct. 9, 1996.)

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