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RIVER LIFE

Mississippi River Key to Minnesota’s Recent History

September 11, 2013Patrick NunnallyFormer Featured PostsComments Off on Mississippi River Key to Minnesota’s Recent History

DSC_0862_trimmedA recent article in the online newspaper Minnpost.com highlights an often-overlooked era in Minnesota’s history when the Mississippi River was indeed the “front door” to the state.  The article, reprinted from the Minnesota Historical Society’s MNopedia project, describes how communities such as Red Wing and Winona thrived as shipment points for “King Wheat,” which dominated farming production in southeastern Minnesota.  The Mississippi River formed the primary link between Minnesota farming and markets across the country until the coming of the railroads in the 1870s.

After that era, the story is familiar to local historians and river buffs.  Minneapolis industrialists figured out how to harness the waterpower at St. Anthony Falls and the falls became the epicenter of flour production for the next several decades.  Eventually flour production tailed off, as did use of the Mississippi River as a primary transportation route.

This history is pertinent today, as communities up and down the Mississippi River reinvent their connections to the great river.  Up here in the Upper Midwest, the river will most likely never again have the transportation importance it once had, but urban waterfronts remain important parts of community development planning throughout the region.  The key question is: can cities redevelop their connection to the Mississippi River in new ways that are more responsive to the river’s status as central to an overtapped, and unstable water system?  Or will we continue to follow outdated development models, seeing the river as a constant and unquestioned asset, always there for us to do with as we wish?

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