Mississippi River West Side Tail Races and Spirit Island

Given several comments and questions about last Friday’s photos of the Mississippi River and the tail races from the west side mills, I’ll post several more photos that I was saving for an article specifically about Spirit Island. To my knowledge, Spirit Island was never considered as a potential park.

Once airplanes became more common and aerial photography developed, we were able to get better pictures of layouts of complex places like the milling district of Minneapolis and how the river was configured. The photo below from about 1925 shows the relationship of the tail races and the spit of land between the tail race channel and the main channel.

The configuration of mills, tail races, and falls in 1920s (Minneapolis Collection, Hennepin County Library)

The configuration of mills, tail races, and falls in 1920s. Note that there is no surface flow of water from above the falls into the tail race channel to the left of the Stone Arch Bridge. (Minneapolis Collection, Hennepin County Library)

The photo I posted Friday was shot, I believe, from the lower end of that land between channels, at the bottom of this photo, not Spirit Island.

This photoprint dated 1890 shows the relationship of Spirit Island with the land visible above. Spirit Island appears to be considerably further out into the main channel of the river.

Spirit Island, right, appears to be much further into the main channel of the river than the land separating the main river channel from the tail race channel at left.

Spirit Island, right, appears to be much further into the main channel of the river than the land separating the main channel from the tail race channel coming in from the left in this image. (Minnesota Historical Society)

These photos of Spirit Island show the changes in the island over thirty years.

Spirit Island 1899 (Minnesota Historical Society)

Spirit Island, 1899 (Minnesota Historical Society)

Spirit Island, 1920s (Charles Gibson, Minnesota Historical Society)

Spirit Island, 1920s (Charles Gibson, Minnesota Historical Society)

A second photo from the same date in 1899 as the one above, May 27, shows more clearly the makeshift bridge to Spirit Island and the people and horse teams on the island when the photo was taken.

Spirit Island, 1899. Note the people and horses that have apparently crossed on a bridge to the island. (Minnesota Historical Society)

Spirit Island, 1899. Note the people and horses that have apparently crossed on a bridge to the island. (Minnesota Historical Society)

The presence of the horse teams makes me think the limestone on the island was quarried, which led to the much lower profile of the island in the 1920s.

Spirit Island didn't change much from the 1920s to the 1950s. (Fairchild Aerial Surverys)

Spirit Island didn’t change much from the 1920s to the 1950s. (Fairchild Aerial Surveys)

Spirit Island appears not to have changed much from the 1920s to 1955 when this photo was taken by Fairchild Aerial Surveys. The lower lock at the bottom of the picture appears to be under construction, but the upper lock was not yet begun. The lower lock was completed in 1956.

The last photo also answers an earlier question about when the railroad trestles on the west side milling district were torn down: before 1955. They are not visible here. All tracks except the two crossing the Stone Arch Bridge appear to pass behind the mills.

David C. Smith   minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

© 2013 David C. Smith

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