Key City Bike, a non-profit group of bicyclists, adopted an old and famous slogan to explain who they are and what they do.

The slogan, which has traveled a lot of miles, still shows some tread! The reasons Key City was the official slogan of Mankato for so many years is reflected in the values of the biking organization.

Key City defined the full-breadth of a community. It conveyed shared passions, shared goals, and community support mechanisms, such as skill sharing and extending a helping hand.

Members of Key City Bike have the opportunity to learn how to perform bike repair and adjustments. Bikes that have been neglected or abandoned can be donated, made road-worthy again, and sold at a reasonable price to people who may not have the money in the bank to purchase a brand new bike. The goal is to get members peddling.

Key City defined the full-breadth of a community. It conveyed shared passions, shared goals, and community support mechanisms, such as skill sharing and extending a helping hand.

Where did Key City come from?

Illustration compiled by Gary Pettis - A progression of logos using Mankato's nick name, Key City.
Illustration compiled by Gary Pettis – A progression of logos using Mankato’s nick name, Key City.

The catalyst, years ago, behind this old and famous slogan was Mankato’s identity crisis. The town was good at hustling and bustling. Industry, commercial enterprises, and business-growth defined who and what Mankato was.

As the population grew, so did the need to differentiate Mankato’s qualities and features from other communities in the state in as few words as possible.

The slogan apparently originated with Rev. Edgar Heermance of Mankato’s First Congregational Church in the early 1900s. He thought that when you looked at a map of the state, Mankato appeared to be placed in the same position as keyhole on a lock. He also made reference to the number of railroad lines branching out from the keyhole location.

“Key City,” said Emma, “is short and to the point.”

In March 1911, Mankato hosted the State Sunday School Convention giving the town the chance to make a lasting, positive, impression. Anybody who could lend a helping hand pitched in! Boys from the Mankato YMCA and descendants of the Grand Army of the Republic helped with the task list generated by the impending visit of more than 800 delegates.

The event motto was Mankato Key to Minnesota, and the event’s organizers made a point of plastering it and its accompanying hand-drawn artwork all over town including on participant name badges.

The tie between Mankato and a key was soon to became entrenched.

Emma Davis of Mankato held onto her 1911 convention name badge as a souvenir. In 1925, she submitted it as part of a town nick-naming contest sponsored by The Free Press. “Key City,” said Emma, “is short and to the point.”

The slogan grabbed the town’s attention and was well received all around. For her efforts, Emma won $25.00.

Simple, easily remembered and a great visual, Key City was used widely, spurring a long chain of creative graphic designs. The slogan mirrored the community’s personality, character and ambitions. Mankato, The Key City, The Key to Minnesota, demonstrating both what the town and even the state had to offer.

For more than four decades, city officials and business leaders plastered Key City all over print, displays, and SWAG.

Even today, after more than 105 years, Key City remains a synonym for Mankato. Several businesses like Key City Insurance and Key City Electric demonstrate the point.

When Key City fell on hard times

In the late 60s and early 70s, the city and some downtown businesses floated the idea of overhauling and revitalizing what was once the heart of Mankato’s retail, commercial and professional district. The effort was first called Key City Urban Renewal, but then became known as, Mankato Urban Renewal and eventually just Urban Renewal.

While construction equipment knocked down historic buildings, city leaders slowly abandoned the slogan and Key City went by the wayside.

New life for an old slogan

Which brings us back to Key City Bike doing what it does best — taking something neglected and abandoned and putting it back on the road and helping to explain what kind of community this is.

Recently, a group of cyclists from the group gathered underneath the Highway 169 bridge close to Sibley Park seeking shelter from the winter rain.

Which brings us back to Key City Bike doing what it does best — taking something neglected and abandoned and putting it back on the road and helping to explain what kind of community this is.

A break in the weather signaled it was time to bike over to see the Kiwanis Holiday Lights display and the group moved as one on the trail to the park. Many had Christmas lights coiled around their frames serving as the riders’ only source of light.

Later, single file, the group wheeled down Sibley Park’s tallest hill towards Mound Avenue with Christmas lights glowing on their bicycles. With over a million Christmas lights as the backdrop, a boy yelled out, “Wow, Mom! Look at all those bikes!”

Gary Pettis
Gary Pettis, writer, designer, and strategist is a long-time Mankato area resident. He is passionate about seeing the community thrive!