More Spirit Island

Since posting a few Spirit Island photos, I pulled two more from the website of the Minnesota Historical Society. For any research on Minnesota history, the MHS collection is always a great place to start.

Just to be clear, Spirit Island no longer exists. It was destroyed completely when the Upper St. Anthony Lock and Dam was built in the early 1960s.

The destruction of Spirit Island. (MInnesota Historical Society)

The destruction of Spirit Island. (Minnesota Historical Society)

In the photo above, it appears that the limestone cap on Spirit Island has been shattered, but not removed. The bridge in the background is the 10th St. Bridge. The land in the foreground is that land between the west side tail races and the main channel of the river. This is a puzzling photo because it doesn’t appear as if the limestone has been quarried or cut. It appears to have collapsed. Was the limestone undercut by a flood, instead of man? If it had been done intentionally, why was the limestone left?

Frank O’Brien, a Minneapolis newspaperman, claims that it was done by man. In an article in the Minneapolis Tribune, January 7, 1900, he relates that within the memory of pioneers still living then, Spirit Island had extended all the way to St. Anthony Falls. His article was illustrated by a photo of St. Anthony Falls from the 1860s by A. H. Beal, whom he described as a “pioneer photographer..now of Los Angeles, Cal.”

O’Brien notes that the photo was taken from Spirit Island,

“That beauty spot of nature which has so recently disappeared by the uncompromising hand of man, to make room for the (paddle) wheels of progress.”

The destruction of Spirit Island downstream from St. Anthony Falls. (Minnesota Historical Society)

The last limestone being removed from Spirit Island. (Minnesota Historical Society)

This photo leaves no doubt. The limestone is being removed. Someone went to the trouble of putting a track out to the island, instead of what appear to be planks in the photos I posted earlier today. I can’t tell from this photo if that track ran to the west bank or the spit of land between the tail race and the river.

The Minnesota Historical Society lists the dates of the two photos as “ca. 1895.” However, because two of the photos posted earlier had the precise date of May 27, 1899 and Spirit Island appeared to be intact in those photos, I  would place the date of the first photo above at 1899 or later.

The second photo appeared in the Minneapolis Tribune, May 6, 1900 and was attributed to the “Tribune Staff Photographer.” The caption reads:

“Cutting away Spirit Island, one of the landmarks in the vicinity of the Falls, to make room for improvements.”

The newspaper does not make clear what “improvements” were anticipated. And note that the photo appeared four months after Frank O’Brien claimed that the island had recently “disappeared.” Obviously, there is more to the story.

David C. Smith

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2 comments so far

  1. Dan Lapham on

    Interesting subject. The island had been higher than I realized.There is a photo from the Richard Ferrell collection showing the bridge to spirit coming from the “spit” area between the river and tail race waters.

    • David C. Smith on

      Thanks, Dan, good find. I believe this is the picture you are referring too. It is dated ca. 1900 by the Minnesota Historical Society. The Richard Ferrell Collection is a marvelous collection of photographs at the Minnesota Historical Society that chronicles the development of flour milling, in Minneapolis and elsewhere.


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