The city of Carver has a long and rich history as one of the earliest communities in Carver County. Located on the Minnesota River, it was often the first place immigrants to Carver County visited. From there, they spread out to other towns and farms.
Norwegian immigrant Axel Jorgenson settled in the area that became Carver in the winter of 1851–1852. In 1854, Jorgenson sold his land to a group of town site investors from St. Paul, called the Carver Land Company. Minnesota Territorial Governor Alexander Ramsey was part of this group. He suggested the name "Carver" for the town site after Jonathan Carver, who first explored the area.
By 1855, the town of Carver was already growing. It had a tailor, a hotel, a boarding house, a building designer, a carpenter, a livery stable, a blacksmith, two shoemakers, and a general store. By 1857, thirty-five buildings existed in Carver. The area was a main stopping point in trade and immigrant travel along the Minnesota River. In 1877, Carver was incorporated as the Village of Carver. By the 1890s, Carver was one of the biggest settlements in the county.
Carver's future changed with the loss of river trade during railroad development. When railroads were built, they bypassed Carver, taking businesses with them. The Prohibition era (1920–1933) made this worse, as many saloons and hotels shut down. Carver became impoverished.
Widespread flooding in 1965 swamped parts of historic Carver. Simple lack of money, in previous years and during the flooding, protected historic structures from being torn down. There was no new building and growth. However, more was needed to stop future destruction of the historic town. On June 25, 1969 a non-profit corporation called Carver-on-the-Minnesota, Incorporated was created. Founders were Edith Herman, Anne Neils-Doerr, Mary Lee Dayton, and Helen McNulty. Still active in the twenty-first century, Carver-on-the-Minnesota's goal is to stop the decline of Carver, a historically important early river town. The group began by raising money to buy buildings in need of repair. This was the start of the Carver Historic District.
Carver-on-the-Minnesota created restoration plans and design guidelines for restorations in Historic Carver. They also serve as a source for historic building research. Their work led to even more buildings being saved. In 1980, the old town of Carver was chosen as one of the first historic districts in Minnesota, thanks in part to the work of this organization. On January 4, 1980, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Historic Carver contains eighty-seven buildings and four other structures of importance. National Register signs mark many district buildings. They vary from private homes and businesses to churches and public buildings. Buildings range in time from 1852-1925. Many of them have been returned to their original look and style.
In February 1989, the city of Carver created a Heritage Preservation Commission. Their goal was to help the City Council, Planning and Zoning Commission, and Parks Department with preservation work. Preservation work continues in the twenty-first century. On October 26, 2005, Carver received Certified Local Government status from the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office. Local Historic District residents can go to a Carver office for preservation rules and signs instead of the main state office in St. Paul. Carver was named a Preserve America Community by the White House in 2007. It was only the eighth so to be named in the state of Minnesota.
City of Carver, Carver History, Walking tour guide to Historic Carver. Carver Historic District: Dakota Uprising Sesquicentennial Update, 1862–2012.
Carver Historic District, National Register of Historic Places Nomination File (#80001960), State Historic Preservation Office, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul.
Minnesota National Register of Historic Places, State Historic Preservation Office. Minnesota National Register properties, Carver County- Carver Historic District.
National Register of Historic Places. Carver County, Historic Districts.
Preserve America. Preserve America Community: Carver, MN.
Von Walter, John. Email of information related to Carver-on-the-Minnesota to author, January 10, 2013.
The founding of Carver-on-the-Minnesota, Inc. in 1969 leads directly to increased preservation and restoration efforts in Historic Carver, and its eventual inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.