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#TBT: Evolution of the Iconic Landscape at the Mississippi Headwaters.

July 14, 2016Patrick NunnallyThrowback ThursdayComments Off on #TBT: Evolution of the Iconic Landscape at the Mississippi Headwaters.

Vacations are in full swing across the country now, and Itasca State Park in Minnesota remains a destination for hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.  Undoubtedly, the most-visited part of the park is the Headwaters of the Mississippi River.  There is even a webcam!

If the webcam gives a sense of this place in 2016, then historic photographs illustrate the changes that have been made to this landscape over the years.

The “headwaters area” assumed its present form as part of efforts to celebrate the centennial of Henry Rowe Schoolcraft’s “discovery” of the source of the Mississippi in 1832.  As the 1932 centennial approached, the Depression-bound country was trying to find ways to jump-start travel and tourism.  Park leaders altered the land surfaces around where the river flowed out of Lake Itasca, making a “beach” and wading area more suitable for visitors.  Here is a 1940  photograph of the public at the headwaters.  Stepping-stones allow visitors to “walk across the Mississippi River,” while others gather on the beach.Itasca 1940

Image source Minnesota Historical Society.

This image, from a different angle and also dated 1940, shows the beach and stones, and clearly illustrates how the beach is raised above the water level.

headwaters c. 1940

Image source Minnesota Historical Society.

Earlier views, such as this one from 1925 showing the “first bridge across the Mississippi,” illustrate that the headwaters had formerly been a thicket of wetland vegetation, hardly conducive to visitors.  The bridge approach is built up above the wetland, and there does not appear to be an evident passage on the far side of the bridge.  perhaps it was just created to give the (relatively few, at this time) visitors a better view of the infant river.

headwaters bridge c 1925

Image source Minnesota Historical Society.

Itasca State Park was established in 1891, when logging companies still dominated economic activity in the immediate vicinity.  This image, dated 1900, shows largely second-growth pine across the lake.  The fellow bending over to drink from the Mississippi at its source had to “rough it” to get to the headwaters; 40 years later, as we have seen, the path would be far easier.

headwaters c 1900

Image source Minnesota Historical Society.

Itasca State Park remains one of the most-visited parks in Minnesota’s state park system.  Learn more, and plan a trip, by visiting the park’s web site managed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.


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