Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society
Jonathan had a city center with offices, stores, and restaurants.
The 1960s and 1970s were a time of rapid suburban growth. City planners were frustrated by the growing pollution, traffic, urban sprawl. One solution to these problems was the “new town” movement. Designed as planned communities, these “towns” were intended to control population growth in a systematic way. The community of Jonathan, located within the existing city of Chaska, was built according to this concept.
The idea of a “new town,” designed to meet the needs of the people living there, has been around for centuries in military and trade towns. The idea did not really catch hold until an Englishman named Sir Ebenezer Howard suggested “garden cities” within the area of London in 1898. “New towns” were planned in Finland, England, Scotland, and the United States.
One of the first “new towns” to be built in the United States was Jonathan. It was the dream of former Minnesota state Senator Henry T. McKnight, who was known for supporting bills and acts that protected natural resources. On April 29, 1966, McKnight joined with other individuals to form the Ace Development Corporation. Ace grew into the Jonathan Development Corporation in 1967, taking its name from Jonathan Carver, the eighteenth century explorer. This self-contained town was built on 8,000 acres of woods, lakes, and farmlands within Chaska city limits. Hazeltine Golf Course and the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum border it.
Designed as a town within a town, Jonathan was meant to be built over a period of twenty years. Designers set out to regulate the growth of population, industry, housing, and recreation. Long-term planning allowed the city to save time in future construction. It also helped protect the surrounding natural environment while allowing residents to be closer to it. Initial development plans left one-fifth of the land open for future development.
Though it was within Chaska city limits, Jonathan was more than just a neighborhood. Designed to grow into a series of five villages, each with schools, churches, recreation areas, and more, Jonathan was unique. This “town” had a city center with offices, stores, and restaurants. Housing was offered as apartments, town homes, or houses. Jonathan fell under the jurisdiction of both the city of Chaska and the Jonathan Development Corporation.
By October 1967, most of the land had been acquired. Community plans were made public, and construction began that same year. In October 1970, Jonathan became the first large-scale development to gain federal aid under Title IV of the New Communities Act, part of the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1968. This act provided a loan guarantee for up to $21 million, allowing developers and builders to speed up construction.
Jonathan did not become the town it was expected to be. A recession and loss of interest in planned communities in the early 1970s slowed growth. With the death of Henry McKnight in 1972, the driving force behind planning and development was lost. Rezoning removed industrial and commercial shopping areas, leaving behind only homes. When the corporation ran short of funds, partially due to federal housing funding cutbacks in 1976, it halted development. In 2016, Jonathan remains within Chaska’s jurisdiction but is governed by both that city and by the Jonathan Association. No longer considered a “town” within a town, Jonathan is unique, and remains true to McKnight’s dream of creating a community with more parks, wooded areas, ponds, and walking paths than most neighborhoods, keeping it closer to the natural world.
For more information on this topic, check out the original entry on MNopedia.