History of Minneapolis
It is believed that the first people to inhabit the area we now call Twin Cities were the Dakota Indians. Their legacy can still be seen today with the burial mounds in the area and in the names of various landmarks such as Lake Minnetonka and Minnehaha Falls.
The first white man to discover the beauty of the area was most likely Father Louis Hennepin, a French missionary. He encountered and named St Anthony Falls in 1680, which is the only significant waterfall on the Mississippi River. Namesakes of this early explorer are evident in the locally named spots such as Hennepin County (which includes Minneapolis) and Hennepin Avenue (a major downtown road).
America acquired land west of the Mississippi through the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Soon after, the US government established it first presence in the area we now call Minnesota in 1819 by constructing Fort Snelling where the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers meet. Soon thereafter, those at Fort Snelling took advantage of the waterpower of St Anthony Falls by constructing a sawmill in 1821 and a flour mill in 1823.
Although the land surrounding Fort Snelling was not available for private ownership, over 150 squatters had unofficially settled near the area by the 1830's. Seeing this as an entrepreneurial opportunity, Fort Snelling's commander convinced the US government to allow him to re-draw the fort boundaries and open up the remaining land for private ownership. Just prior to the land officially opening up for sale and settlement, another keen businessman, Franklin Steele, staked a pre-emptive claim on the east bank. This move in effect beat out Fort Snelling's commander of the choicest plots of land. Steele remained a powerful force for many years in the development of both Minneapolis and St. Anthony.
The Minnesota Territory was created in 1849, and Minnesota officially became a state in 1858. Both the town of St Anthony and the younger town of Minneapolis shared the resources of St Anthony Falls. This waterpower fueled the thriving industries of sawmills, grist (grain) mills, and flour mills for many years.
Early transportation between these two developing settlements was primative at best. Many traveled across the river by rope-drawn ferry or walked across the ice in the winter. Some brave souls found their way across on floating log beams that often filled the channel.
Franklin Steele, again capitalizing on opportunity, built a short bridge in 1853 spanning the east channel. Steele later formed a company to build a suspension bridge from the west bank to Nicollet Island. The bridge was opened in 1855 with much pride and celebration. With the connection of the shorter 1853 bridge to the new suspension bridge, this was the first permanent bridge to connect both sides of the Mississippi River. This bridge between the two cities created a practical and symbolic link, and the cities merged in 1872 under the name of Minneapolis.
Today, Minneapolis has more bridges across the Mississippi River than any other river community. A variety of architectural styles and materials are represented in both modern and historic bridges in the area. Varying beauty can be seen in the area's stone arches, concrete arches, steel trusses, and suspension bridges.