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TBT: The Mississippi River Gorge as “natural”

There is a growing buzz about making the Mississippi River Gorge in Minneapolis more “natural.”  It’s certainly a fine idea to talk about and plan for restoration of some features and dynamics that the river had at this place in the past.  But we should not rely on a static concept of “nature,” in large part because “nature” simply isn’t static.  So “restoration” of any dynamic system like a river requires close attention to the complex question: Restoration to what condition?

With these ideas in mind, here are some images from the gorge, each of which shows it before the installation of the Ford dam.

Lake St. Bridge looking upstream c 1888

The Lake Street bridge is in the foreground of this image, which is oriented to look upstream.  The metadata for the image lists it as being taken around 1888, although the inscription on the right above the bridge says “1883-4.” The very shallow water conditions, illustrated by expansive mud flats, indicate the time of year is probably autumn.

Image source Minnesota Historical Society.

old Franklin Ave br and Meeker Is. 1900

If the metadata/caption for this 1900 photograph is correct, the orientation of the shot is downstream, with the Franklin Avenue Bridge in the foreground and Meeker Island in the middle distance.  The rapids around the island, however, appear to indicate the water is flowing toward the camera.  Any historically-minded river rats out there have a good read on this image and which way the river is flowing?

Image source Minnesota Historical Society.

parkway postcard 1910

The part of this postcard image that strikes me the most is the caption: “A view of the Mississippi River between the Twin Cities Minn.”  At the time this card was made, around 1910, the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul had not yet physically grown into one contiguous urban space.  The Mississippi River gorge served as a semi-wild “natural” space between the two urban industrial centers, each then at the height of its regional importance as milling and shipping centers.

Image source Minnesota Historical Society.

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  1. AmyJune 2, 2016 at 10:24 am

    Hi Pat (and others)! Is there any historical information out there about what the Mississippi River levels USED to be in the Gorge area before all the lock and dams were put in? I know a big reason for the lock and dams were to raise the water levels to make navigation easier for barge and other river traffic, and I’m guessing maybe to help control flooding to some extent as well.

    • Patrick NunnallyJune 2, 2016 at 11:00 amAuthor

      Good question, Amy! We’ll look into that for a future post. In the meantime, if others have knowledge on pre-dam water levels, let us know.

  2. Bob DeckJune 2, 2016 at 10:45 am

    that’s the old Lake Street Bridge looking upstream

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