Ekco Hollow was, by most accounts, the “hippie commune” of Mankato, located just south of Mankato along Doc Jones Road in the 1970s and 1980s.
In fact, Orville “Doc” Jones owned the house, and rented it out to young people who came to live there. Some remember the rent was $40 a month, others remember $70 a month, in total, split among everyone who lived there.
Some people remember seven or eight people living there at a time, others, like Claudia Cooper, who lived there in the early 1970s, remember more than 20 people living there at a time.
However, Cooper isn’t so quick to call Ekco Hollow a commune. She had lived in a township in Oregon, and she says Ekco Hollow had nothing to do with it. Although some called it a “commune”, those most familiar with the place called it a “party house”, which may explain the different memories.
Billy Steiner of Mankato, who never lived there but spent a lot of time there, recalls: “It was definitely not a ‘drug-free zone’.
Al Bjerke is another Mankatoan who didn’t live there, but knew of Ekco Hollow.
Steiner and Bjerke, members of the City Mouse Band at the time, say it was an after-hours gathering place for people who loved music.
Steiner says, “Back then bands played from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Next, we needed a place to go to keep playing music. Now we’re all older and we don’t play bars so late.
Neither Steiner nor Bjerke is quick to call themselves “hippies” during their days in Ekco Hollow. “Yes, my hair was longer back then,” Steiner recalls, “and yes, I was a liberal. But we all just slipped into the mainstream. I always had a bank account, for example.
Bjerke says that although the times were different in some ways, they are very similar to today. “It was just a bunch of people sharing a house, just like students do today. As musicians, we didn’t earn enough to live on our own.
Two other houses in Mankato joined Ekco Hollow as after-hours party houses, both recall. One was on State Street, the other on Mound Avenue, both in Mankato. The Mound Avenue house, affectionately called “Castle the Dump” by Steiner and Bjerke, has since been demolished. They were just places to go to play and listen to music, Steiner said.
But it was the Doc Jones Road house that had a reputation as a destination. “People were coming to get Ekco Hollow,” says Steiner. The house was next door to Doc Jones’ residence, and people would often come to its doorstep looking for a party or a place to spend the night. “Finally, Doc just put a sign on his mailbox that said ‘No Vacancies’ so he wouldn’t be bothered. He was a very open-minded person.”
For having actually spent a few years in Ekco Hollow, Cooper’s memories differ a bit from those of Steiner and Bjerke. Although she doesn’t consider the place a “commune,” she says it was unique at the time. “Everyone was passing through,” she says. “It was unique because girls and boys lived together, although there were always more girls than boys,” she says.
Everyone had a role to play, whether it was bringing wood for the fire, cleaning up or making sure there were provisions. Cooper was one of the people who usually cleaned the kitchen, she said. The other two were guys. The three thought that everyone should wash their own dishes, but that rarely happened. One day, she says, after washing the dishes in the whole house, they hid the lazy people’s dishes in the attic to teach them a lesson.
Cooper had a part-time job at the time and could buy groceries. “There were always people eating your bread,” she says.
There were always places people could sleep in Ekco Hollow, she said. The house was divided into tiny rooms, there were places under the stairs, and sometimes people just slept in the hay.
Although the winter cold froze the pipes, people stayed and planted a large garden in the summer. “And we always had puppies and kittens around,” she says.
Although neither Bjerke, Cooper nor Steiner were sure the place was called Ekco Hollow, according to a 1988 Mankato Free Press article about the “commune” being closed. One of the first inhabitants of the place worked for the company of cutlery Ekco, and thus baptized the house.
As for the house housing “hippies,” Bjerke says, “we were free-spirited, like-minded people who protested the war.”
Cooper added: “We were just kids, all different types of people. If there was a common goal, it was to party.