Archive for the ‘Mississippi River’ Category

100 Years Ago: Altered Electoral Map and Shorelines

What has changed in 100 years? A few times on this site, I have looked back 100 years at park history. I’ll expand my scope this year because of extraordinary political developments. Politics first, then parks.

The national electoral map flipped. The electoral map of the 1916 Presidential contest is astonishing. Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat, won a close re-election against Republican candidate Charles Hughes, a Supreme Court Justice. Compare red and blue states below to today. Nearly inverted. The Northeast, Upper Midwest and Far West — well, Oregon — voted alike. Republican. And lost.


The 1916 electoral map was nearly opposite of the 2016 electoral map in terms of  party preference. Unlike 2016, President Wilson won both the popular vote and the electoral vote, but his electoral-vote margin was smaller than Donald Trump’s. If the total of votes cast in 1916, fewer than 19 million, seems impossibly low even for the population at that time, keep in mind that only men could vote. (Source: Wikipedia)

While Minnesota’s electoral votes were cast for the Republican — although Hughes received only 392 more votes than Wilson out of nearly 400,000 cast — Minneapolis elected Thomas Van Lear as its mayor, the only Socialist to hold that office in city history. One hundred years later, Minneapolis politics are again dominated by left-of-center politicians.

The population of Minneapolis in 1916 and 2016 was about the same: now a little over 400,000, then a little under. Minneapolis population peaked in mid-500,000s in mid-1950s and dropped into mid-300,000s in late 20th Century. One hundred years ago, however, Minneapolis suburbs were very sparsely populated.

The world 100 years ago was a violent and unstable place. World War I was in its bloody, muddy depths, although the U.S. had not yet entered the war, and Russia was on the verge of revolution. Now people are killed indiscriminately by trucks, guns, and bombs. People worldwide debated then how to address the excesses of capitalists, oligarchs and despots unencumbered by morality. We still do.

One notable change? Many Americans campaigned in 1916 to put women in voting booths, in 2016 to put a woman in the Oval Office.

Continuing Park Growth: North and South

How about progress in parks? The Minneapolis park board added significantly to its playground holdings in 1916 and 1917 as public demand for facilities and fields for active recreation increased. In North Minneapolis, Glenwood (Theodore Wirth) Park was expanded and land for Folwell Park was acquired. In South Minneapolis, Nicollet (Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) Park and Chicago Avenue (Phelps) Park were purchased and land for Cedar Avenue Park was donated. In 1917, the first Longfellow Field was sold to Minneapolis Steel and steps were initiated to replace it at its present location.

One particular recreational activity was in park headlines in 1916 for the very first time. A nine-hole course was opened that year at Glenwood (Theodore Wirth) Park, the first public golf course in Minneapolis. Golf was free and greens weren’t green, they were made of sand. In less than ten years, the park board operated four 18-hole courses (Glenwood [Wirth], Columbia, Armour [Gross], and Meadowbrook) and was preparing to add a fifth at Lake Hiawatha.

The Grand Rounds were nearly completed conceptually, when first plans for St. Anthony Boulevard from Camden Bridge on the Mississippi River to the Ramsey County line on East Hennepin Avenue were presented in 1916. Park Superintendent Theodore Wirth also suggested that the banks of the Mississippi River above St. Anthony Falls might be made more attractive with shore parks and plantings, even if the railroads maintained ownership of the land. One hundred years later we’re still working on that, but have made some progress including the continuing purchase by the Park Board of riverfront lots as they have become available.These have been the only notable additions to park acreage in many years.

One important result of the increasing demand for playground space in Minneapolis one hundred years ago was the passage by the Minnesota legislature in 1917 of a bill that enabled the park board to increase property tax collections by 50%. In 2016, the Park Board and the City Council reached an important agreement on funding to maintain and improve neighborhood parks.

 Altered Shorelines

In a city blessed with water and public waterfronts, however, some of the most significant issues facing the Minneapolis park board in 1917 involved shorelines — beyond beautifying polluted river banks.

The most contentious issue was an extension of Lake Calhoun, a South Bay, south on Xerxes Avenue to 43rd Street. Residents of southwest Minneapolis wanted that marshy area either filled or dredged — dry land or lake. There was no parkway at that time around the west and south shore of Lake Calhoun from Lake Street and Dean Parkway to William Berry Parkway. As a part of plans to construct a parkway along that shoreline, the park board in 1916 approved extending Lake Calhoun and putting a drive around a new South Bay as well.


This drawing from a 1915 newspaper article shows the initial concept of a South Bay and outlines how it would be paid for. (Source: Minneapolis Sunday Tribune, June 20, 1915)

The challenge, of course was how to pay for it. The park board’s plan to assess property owners in the area for the expensive improvements was met with furiuos opposition and lawsuits. Many property owners thought that assessments they were already paying for acquisitions and improvements over the years at Lake Calhoun, Lake Harriet and William Berry Park were too heavy. The courts eventually decided in favor of the park board’s right to assess for those improvements, but by then estimated costs for the project had increased and become prohibitive and the South Bay scheme was abandoned.

Instead land for Linden Hills Park was acquired in 1919 and the surrounding wet land was drained into Lake Calhoun in the early 1920s. Dredged material from the lake was used to create a better-defined shoreline on the southwestern and northwestern shores of the lake in 1923 in preparation for the construction of the parkway.

Flowage Rights on the Mississippi River and a Canal to Brownie Lake

Minneapolis parks also lost land to water in 1916. The federal government claimed 27.6 acres of land in the Mississippi River gorge for flowage rights for the reservoir that would be created by a new dam to be built near Minnehaha Creek. Those acres, on the banks of the river and several islands in the river, would be submerged behind what became Lock and Dam No. 1 or the Ford Dam. In exchange for the land to be flooded, the park board did acquire some additional land on the bluffs overlooking the dam.

The other alteration in water courses was the dredging of a navigable channel between Cedar Lake and Brownie Lake, which completed the “linking of the lakes” that was begun with the connection of Lake of the Isles and Lake Calhoun in 1911. The land lost to the channel was negligible and probably balanced by a slight drop in water level in Brownie Lake. (A five-foot drop in Cedar Lake was caused by the opening of the Kenilworth Lagoon to Lake of the Isles in 1913.)

Another potential loss of water from Minneapolis parks may have occurred in 1917. William Washburn’s Fair Oaks estate at one time had a pond. I don’t know when that pond was filled. The estate became park board property upon the death of Mrs. Washburn in 1915. Perhaps in 1917 when the stables and greenhouses on the southwest corner of the property were demolished, the south end of the estate was graded and the pond was filled. Theodore Wirth’s suggestion for the park, presented in 1917, included an amphitheater in part of the park where the pond had once been.

The Dredge Report

The year 1917 marked the end of the most ambitious dredging project in Minneapolis parks — in fact the biggest single project ever undertaken by the park board until then, according to Theodore Wirth. The four-year project moved more than 2.5 million cubic yards of earth and reduced the lake from 300 shallow acres to 200 acres with a uniform depth of 15 feet.

That wasn’t the end of work at Lake Nokomis, however. The park surrounding the lake, especially the playing fields northwest of the lake couldn’t be graded for another five years, after the dredge fill had settled.

Dredging may again be an issue in 2017 if the Park Board succeeds in raising funds for a new park on the river in northeast Minneapolis. Dredges would carve a new island out of land where an old man-made island once existed next to the Plymouth Avenue Bridge. But that may be a long time off — and could go the way of South Bay.

Park Buzz

One other development in 1917 had more to do with standing water than was probably understood at the time. The Park Board joined with the Real Estate Board in a war on mosquitoes. However, after spending $100 on the project and realizing they would have to spend considerably more to achieve results, park commissioners terminated the project. It was not the first or last battle won by mosquitoes in Minneapolis.

As we look again at new calendars, it’s always worth taking a glance backward to see how we got here. For me, it is much easier to follow the course of events in Minneapolis park history than in American political history.

David C. Smith

Comments: I am not interested in comments of a partisan political nature here, so save those for your favorite political sites.


Mississippi River flood

Saturday afternoon I spent a bit more time looking at high water around the city. On that gorgeous afternoon, Minneapolis parks were heavily patronized, partly because of the beautiful day and partly because people were curious about the effects of our summer deluge.

The banks of the Mississippi River that I helped clean in April were under water again. Maybe when these flood waters subside, Friends of the Mississippi River should sponsor another trash pick up. Or we could each take a trash bag along when we go out for riverside hikes.

More evidence of high water on the big creek at the Ford Dam.

High water over the Ford Dam June 21, 2014. Late last summer at one time there was no water flowing over the dam and below the dam was mostly dry land. (David C. Smith)

High water over the Ford Dam, June 21, 2014. Late last summer, there was no water flowing over the dam and below the dam was mostly dry land. (David C. Smith)

Last summer you could walk from the locks to the island where the usbmerged trees are now. (David C. Smith, June 21, 2014)

Last summer you could walk from the locks to the island where the submerged trees are now. The Ford Dam is just to the left of this photo. (David C. Smith, June 21, 2014)

Both photos were taken from the bluff at Minnehaha Park and the Soldiers Home. Water levels in Minnehaha Creek had subsided little, if at all, from Thursday to Saturday. Water was still thundering over Minnehaha Falls.

David C. Smith

Did you know that H.W.S. Cleveland was a bad park namer?

The recent good news from park commissioner Scott Vreeland and the Minneapolis park board that part of the spectacular Mississippi River Gorge will be named after visionary landscape architect and preservationist Horace William Shaler Cleveland recalled for me a passage in a letter from Cleveland to William Watts Folwell. In that letter, Cleveland pondered names for a yet-to-be-acquired river gorge park. His effort at park naming wasn’t nearly as impressive as his “sermons” on preserving and protecting the river gorge in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

In a letter dated February 11, 1889, Cleveland discussed strategy for getting the Minnesota legislature to approve acquisition of the land around Minnehaha Falls on the Minneapolis side of the river and a mirror park on the St. Paul side of the river. He concluded his letter,

By the way, help me to find a name for that area — “Mississippi Park” or “River Park” are the first that suggest themselves — but are not satisfactory. “Giants Cradle” has occurred to me, the river being the infant giant lying in its bed, but I fear that would need interpretation.
— William Watts Folwell Family Papers, Minnesota Historical Society

The legislature did approve the acquisition of the land on the Minneapolis side of the river, including Minnehaha Falls, for a park, but did not provide money to purchase the land. That’s when several Minneapolis people, led by George Brackett and Henry Brown, loaned the city the money to buy the land. It would be another 13 years before the park board acquired the rest of the west side of the Mississippi River Gorge from Minnehaha Park to Franklin Avenue. By then, Horace Cleveland had died.

As for the name, I think Cleveland’s fears about “Giants Cradle” were well-justified! The entire river gorge park was formally named Mississippi Park for a long time. The name of Horace Cleveland strikes me as much more “satisfactory” for that land than anything he suggested.

Clean Up

I recently had a chance to take a very close look at part of the river gorge during the April 26 Earth Day cleanup sponsored by Friends of the Mississippi River (FMR). I scoured a small part of the river bank picking up an astonishing variety of trash. The most abundant type of trash surprised me: bits of styrofoam.

I was pleased to see such a large turnout of volunteers that the organizers ran out of garbage bags at the 36th St. site. If you can spare an hour sometime, volunteer at one of the cleanup sites organized by FMR (check for a calendar) or at your local park. If you’re like me, it will heighten your appreciation for our parks. I think the beauty and delicacy of the landscape tends to elicit a very protective response. It certainly did from Horace Cleveland, which I believe is the primary reason we still have that wild river gorge. As marvelous as it is, I couldn’t help but wonder what that river gorge might have looked like before it became a reservoir.

David C. Smith

© 2014 David C. Smith




Friday Photo: Forgotten Field on Nicollet Island

Funny that in all the debate a few years ago about the football “stadium” for DeLaSalle High School on Nicollet Island, I don’t recall seeing the photo below of the island in 1947. I discovered this photo in Borchert Library’s Minnesota Historical Aerial Photos Online that I wrote about last week.

Nicollet Island clearly had a baseball field adjacent to the high school long before the park board acquired much of the island.

Nicollet Island, 1947, with a baseball field in the middle. (John R. Borchert Map Library, University of Minnesota)

Detail of Nicollet Island, 1947, with a baseball field in the middle. For the full image go here, then click on the green push-pin north of Nicollet Island. (John R. Borchert Map Library, University of Minnesota)

I do recall great distress caused by the possibility of closing “historic” Grove Street across the center of the island in order to install the football field. But no one mentioned then that the eastern half of Grove Street that was to be closed had been historically (among other things) the left field fence of a baseball field. I had no idea. The things you learn from photos.

The photo demonstrates that some claims from both sides of the football field argument were wrong. Those who opposed the field in part for fear of losing a historic street were more than 60 years late to that argument. On the other hand, those who claimed that DeLaSalle, in its 100-year history, had never had a home athletic field were wrong, too. Maybe they didn’t have a football field to call home, although it looks as though one might have been squeezed in there in the ’40s, but they obviously did have a home baseball field at one time.

For the earliest plans for a park on Nicollet Island see previous posts on Horace Bushnell, the first person to suggest it, and the first ideas for parks upriver from St. Anthony Falls.

I don’t know who actually owned or maintained the field in the 1940s. Something to investigate. Some old “D” yearbooks must have more photos.

David C. Smith

© 2013 David C. Smith

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 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

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

© 2013 David C. Smith

Friday Photo: Before the Mills Were Ruins

Let’s go down to the river one more time. I have many favorite pictures of the riverfront when it was the economic engine of Minneapolis, but this is probably at the top of my list.

The west bank of the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis, just below St. Anthony Falls, in 1885. (Minnesota Historical Society)

The west bank of the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis, just below St. Anthony Falls, in 1885. (Minnesota Historical Society)

You can see just a dash of the still-new Stone Arch Bridge on the right margin of the photo. The channel here is all tail race — the water that ran out of the mills after generating power.

My favorite part of this photo though is the trestle and railroad tracks that ran between the mills and the river at essentially the level of city streets. Those tail races coming out of the mills are now a part of Mill Ruins Park. The trestle and tracks are gone, but I don’t know when they were torn down. Anybody?

Below are two shots (a 3-for-1 Friday Photo!, the biggest Friday Photo discount ever) of the tail races as they appeared probably in the 1950s.

Tail races, some of which are now visible in Mill Ruins Park. (MPRB)

Tail races, some of which are now visible in Mill Ruins Park. (MPRB)

A closer look at the trail races adn water returning tothe river after its work was done. (MPRB)

A closer look at the trail races and water returning to the river after its work was done. (MPRB)

Both photos are undated. They show the water coming out of the tail races. They give a much better sense of the management of water power. I’m not sure of the functions of structures and workers at this point in the water power process.

These structures were razed and covered when the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam was built in the 1960s.

For a marvelous 360-degree panorama of Mill Ruins Park and the adjacent lock and dam go here, courtesy of the National Park Service. Learn much more about the lock and dam — one of the biggest mistakes Minneapolis and the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers ever made — at the pages of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area.

Have a look around the park — if spring ever comes. The transformation is amazing — and thought-provoking.

David C. Smith

© Copyright 2013

Friday Photo: How A Stone Arch Was Made

The Stone Arch Bridge over the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis is becoming one of the iconic images of the city. Have you ever wondered how those arches were made? I have. So I found this photo of the bridge under construction. The deck of the bridge is maintained by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, so let’s call it a park. Day and night the bridge provides the best views of the city. A hike over the bridge between Mill Ruins and Father Hennepin Bluffs, in either direction, is a must for visitors and residents.

This stereoscope image shows the stone arches being built over forms in 1883. (Henry Farr, Minneapolis Historical Society)

This stereoscope image shows the stone arches being built over forms in 1883. (Henry Farr, Minnesota Historical Society)

The two-track railroad bridge was being built at the time the park board was created in 1883.

The Stone Arch Bridge deck being completed in 1883. (Burlington Northern, Minnesota Historical Society)

The Stone Arch Bridge being completed in 1883. (Burlington Northern, Minnesota Historical Society)

This is another favorite shot of the bridge as it neared completion

David C. Smith

Fear in the Hearts of Children: More from the Autobiography of Francis A. Gross

Last weekend I read Mni Sota Makoce: The Land of the Dakota and Our Way or the Highway: Inside the Minnehaha Free State. That followed a recent rereading of Folwell’s History of Minnesota, Volume I, and I also had read Spirit Car recently. They were part of my continuing research into the history of Minnehaha Falls. (More on that project soon.)

With the sad story of the disintegration of relations long ago between American Indians and whites fresh in mind, I recalled a passage in the unpublished autobiography of former park commissioner Francis Gross. (Background on Gross and his autobiography.) Gross was born in Minnesota in 1870 and lived near the intersection of Plymouth (13th) Avenue and Washington Avenue North in north Minneapolis from 1875 into his teen years. Among his memories of childhood on the north side was this:

“Until shortly after 1880, the shore lands of the Mississippi river were grandly beautiful. Other than a small sawmill at the bridge on Plymouth Avenue, there stood virgin timber of many varieties. For a few years after our coming to the northside, each spring many Indians, their squaws and papooses, would travel from the north on the river in canoes and locate their camp at about 14th Avenue North on the river flat there. The many Indians, young and old, their tepees, boiling pots, the furs and beaded leather goods and trinkets they had brought to trade or sell was an interesting sight. Each evening they would entertain their white visitors with war dances. Made their drums taut by the heat of the campfire, painted their faces in most hideous designs and wore their best and most beautifully patterned and beaded dress. As this time was not long after the most serious of the wars with Indians in this territory, fear of the Indian was in the heart of every child. It can therefore be easily guessed that the sight of these hideously painted, tomahawk-swinging savages, performing at night in the sinister-appearing light given by a few torches, was a scene as exciting as any small boy could wish for.” (Emphasis added.)

I wonder if that fear may have been heightened for Gross as a child because he grew up in a community of predominantly German immigrants. In another section of his hand-written autobiography he recalled:

“On the north side until after 1885, it was common to hear German spoken whenever people congregated. The early settlers of the north side were mostly of German birth…When German immigrants came to Minneapolis, very few spoke English, hence it was necessary that they were met on their arrival by an American. Often, my father would meet those immigrant German families with his grocery delivery wagon.”

The connection between the fear and the immigrants is that many of the settlers in the Minnesota River Valley — the violent epicenter of the 1862 U.S.-Dakota War — were also German immigrants. I suspect the violence of that war was painfully felt by many in the German community in Minneapolis, too. While that war was 13 years in the past by the time Gross’s family moved to north Minneapolis, local newspapers carried many stories in the later 1870s of continuing battles between American Indians and U.S. forces not far to the west, including lurid accounts of battles featuring such famous names as Custer, Sheridan, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.

I hadn’t planned to write here about this passage in Gross’s autobiography when I first read it, because it did not relate to parks or early land use in Minneapolis, nor do I believe it reflects on Gross whom I have always admired as a fair, just, and humane man. But I was drawn back to it in the convergence of my research.  Gross’s description had power and it had nothing to do with some anachronistic terms. Rather, the power comes from the poignant phrase: “fear of the Indian was in the heart of every child.”

It is not the object of the fear that impressed me — I can imagine as well fear of the White Man in the hearts of Indian children — but the sad realization that fear in the hearts of children can take lifetimes to conquer.

The greatest injustices, the greatest atrocities grow from fear of some monolithic, broadly-defined “Other” instilled young — a conviction reinforced last night as my daughter described watching the film Hotel Rwanda in her geography class.

The dangers of implanting fear in the hearts of children are as great today as ever. Let’s keep that seed from being planted and nourished in our children’s hearts.

David C. Smith

If you know of accounts or pictures of American Indian encampments along the Mississippi River in North Minneapolis in the 1870s-1880s, such as Gross described, I’d like to learn more.

© David C. Smith

A Railroad Town

To reinforce recent articles that addressed the dominance of railroads and mills along the Minneapolis riverfront, I find these photos from about 1920 fascinating. Both are from the photo collection of the Minnesota Historical Society, a fabulous resource for understanding how our city and state came to be. The collection includes other aerial photos by Paul W. Hamilton of Minneapolis and St. Paul from the same time. They’re worth a look.

The west bank of the Mississippi River in Minneapolis looking downriver from above St. Anthony Falls. Nicollet Island is far left, the Stone Arch Bridge upper left in about 1921 (Paul W. Hamilton, Minnesota Historical Society)

North Minneapolis at Plymouth and Washington looking east toward the Mississippi River and Plymouth Bridge in background. Railroads consumed a lot of land in about 1920 on the west bank. (Paul W. Hamilton, Minnesota Historical Society)

When you look at these pictures it’s obvious why the Civic Commission and the park board were interested in reclaiming the riverfront 100 years ago.

David C. Smith

The First River Plans: Long Before “Above the Falls” and “RiverFirst”

“I have been trying hard all Winter to save the river banks and have had some of the best men for backers, but Satan has beaten us.” H. W. S. Cleveland to Frederick Law Olmsted on efforts to have the banks of the Mississippi River in Minneapolis preserved as parkland, June 13, 1889 (Letter: Olmsted Papers, Library of Congress. Photo: H. W. S. Cleveland, undated, Ramsey County Historical Society)

Considerable time, effort and expense — $1.5 million spent or contractually committed to date — have been invested in the last two years to create “RiverFirst,” a new vision and plans for park development in Minneapolis along the Mississippi River above St. Anthony Falls. That’s in addition to the old vision and plans, which were actually called “Above the Falls” and haven’t been set aside either. If you’re confused, you’re not alone.

Efforts to “improve” the banks of the Mississippi River above the falls have a long and disappointing history. Despite the impression given since the riverfront design competition was announced in 2010, the river banks above the falls — the sinew of the early Minneapolis economy — have been given considerable attention at various times over the last 150 years. There’s much more

Low River Redux

The dry weather this year is evident on the Mississippi River at St. Anthony Falls. A couple weeks ago I posted an aerial photo of St. Anthony Falls when it was very dry in 1955. The water levels on the river appear to be similar now. Larry Dillehay sent this photo taken on the afternoon of October 2. The concrete apron at the Falls isn’t quite dry, but there’s not enough water flowing to make a ripple at the bottom. The horseshoe dam above the falls is now completely out of the water. What a gorgeous day — again.

St. Anthony Falls in a very dry year, as seen from the Stone Arch Bridge, October 2, 2012. (Photo: Larry Dillehay)

Horseshoe dam exposed, with Nicollet Island in background. From 3rd Avenue Bridge just upriver from St. Anthony Falls, October 2, 2012 (Photo: Larry Dillehay)

David C. Smith