Mediterranean immigrants started to arrive in the Mid-West after the 1880s. The largest Mediterranean area ethnic group that came to Blue Earth County was the Lebanese, sometimes in older news media referred to as Syrians.
The first Lebanese immigrants to the Mankato area came about 1890. These people seem to have come from the cities of Zahle and Ferzol in the Bekaa Valley. When they first came to the area, immigrants usually sought out a low-rent area and lived close together. The Lebanese families were first located on North Front Street in and around the old Nicollet Hotel. The 1910 Polk City Directory listed ten Lebanese families including Izen, Abraham, Farho, Kouri, Bouklal, George, Ramy, Shama, and Abdo.
Naiff Abdo was one of the first Lebanese in Mankato. Arriving around 1892, he lived first on North 4th Street and ran a small store from his home. When he learned that several houses in Tinkomville were vacant, he bought a house from James Tinkom at 127 James Avenue. He moved his store to the new house. Naiff and his second wife Fadwa operated Abdo’s Store at this location until Naiff’s death in 1956. Fadwa continued to run the store until 1980 when failing health forced her to close the store. This store faithfully served the neighborhood for almost 70 years and is well remembered by Mankato natives.
Representing the “next generation” of Lebanese immigrants who settled in Mankato was Yousef Mahkoul, who later changed his name to Joseph Mocol. On arrival, the Mocols took up residence in Tinkomville. In April 1917, Joseph purchased the three corner lots of North Broad and Lafayette Streets. The Mocols took over the existing building and turned it into a grocery and confection store. Later, Joseph Mocol expanded to include a dry goods store.
Today, many of Mankato’s Lebanese residents are direct descendants of the first arrivals of the late 19th century. Others like Shalhoub, Hulwi, Bolu and Ferris have since immigrated, some marrying descendants of the original Lebanese residents.
By Win Grundmeier, edited by Heather Harren in 2013.
Note: The full article originally appeared in the Winter 2005 issue of the Blue Earth County Historian, the Blue Earth County Historical Society’s quarterly newsletter. To read the full article, visit the History Center at 424 Warren Street, Mankato.