University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

#TBT: The National Park Service Turns 100 Years Old

Today marks the centennial of the establishment of the National Park Service.  We congratulate all who are affiliated with NPS, particularly our partners at the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area.  People who want to read more about the Park Service, its history and its future will find information very readily available; there are hundreds of partners across the country and Google can lead you to most of the web traffic.

I would argue that our park, known as MISS in the vernacular of the NPS, really does represent the future of parks everywhere.  It’s in an urban location; most of the country’s population is urban and many are seeking outdoor experiences without having the money or time for a long trip to the big parks in the West.  Oriented around a river the way it is, our park can inherently speak to issues of systems and dynamics, and the interactions between human and biophysical landscapes.  In an era of rapidly-changing climate, these perspectives will be increasingly important.  A good “deep dive” into issues facing the system as a whole has been undertaken by the national journalism platform Environment and Energy, and can be accessed here.

But the point of Throwback Thursday is to take a historical look at things, so I want to turn now to a very significant feature of the Mississippi in the Twin Cities.  The Upper St. Anthony Lock was opened in 1965 to provide commercial navigation access above the falls.  In 2015, just a year ago, the lock closed permanently.  It is now being managed by the Park Service as the St. Anthony Falls Visitor Center, a development that clearly would not have happened without the strong presence and partnership role played by Park Service staff in this region.

So what did this lock and the associated support building look like in the past?

lower lock coffer dam 1953

This image, made in 1953, shows the coffer dam holding the river at bay while the lower St. Anthony Lock is under construction.  Site of the future Upper Lock is the left end of the Stone Arch Bridge, visible in the background.

coal storage at SAF 1954

This 1954 image shows coal storage along the river in the vicinity of St. Anthony Falls.  My point here is to illustrate the heavily industrial nature of this stretch of river, even well after the decline of flour milling.  I’m not precisely sure where this picture was taken, but it looks like Bohemian Flats on the west bank near the University.  Other thoughts are welcome!

coal barges upper lock 1976

This photo, made in 1976, shows the Upper St. Anthony lock in use, with barges moving coal.

SAF lock building 1976

This is the building that now serves as the St. Anthony Falls Visitor Center.  It looks a bit different now, but access is still from this parking lot, at the end of Portland Ave. below the piers of the Stone Arch Bridge.

Again, happy birthday to the National Park Service!  We’re very glad to be working with you on the sustainable, inclusive future of our river.

All photos courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.


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One Comment

  1. Liz Shaffer-WishnerAugust 25, 2016 at 3:40 pm

    Just a regular schmoe here, but wanted to pop in to say I love these posts and the historical photos!

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