University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

#TBT: 1997 “Someone Should Do Something With the Mississippi River”

May 4, 2017Patrick NunnallyFeatured, Throwback ThursdayComments Off on #TBT: 1997 “Someone Should Do Something With the Mississippi River”

I hope you will forgive a slightly self-indulgent post this time: the trajectory of project and program work that has become River Life began 20 years ago this month, in May, 1997.

In the late 1990s, I was working at a number of jobs, including a stint as historic preservation staff with the St. Paul District office of the Corps of Engineers (where my boss was John Anfinson, now superintendent of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area unit of the National Park System).  I taught English part time at the University of St. Thomas, located in St. Paul, MN, with part of its campus facing the river.  My good friend Rob Foy in the English Department and I were talking with the coordinator for UST’s then-new Environmental Studies Program, Steve Hoffman, when someone suggested “we should do something with the Mississippi River, since it’s just right there, next to campus.”

The campus of the University of St. Thomas lies just to the right of this image of the Mississippi River Gorge. The ravine coming into the river near the center of the image is the former route of the creek that fed Shadow Falls in the 19th century.

Foy and Hoffman both had full time faculty jobs, so I took the opportunity to take the lead in figuring out what that “something” should be and how we would go about it.  In the next 18 months, between May 1997 and October 1998, the University of St. Thomas Environmental Studies Program led or collaborated on the following:

  • a nature writing contest which attracted a couple of dozen entries. The winners were published in a small chapbook. This was “before the internet” so I don’t think there’s a copy of this collection online;
  • a afternoon “Visit with Gary Snyder” program where the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet (Turtle Island, 1975) met and talked with UST students for an afternoon;
  • a Mississippi River cleanup during Earth Day 1998, a tradition which, I was glad to see last month, is continuing;
  • a symposium “River of Dreams: the Humanities and the Upper Mississippi River,” which was held in fall 1998.

This monument to World War I soldiers marks the end of Summit Avenue at the Mississippi River in St. Paul. The campus of the University of St. Thomas is adjacent to this section of park.

By that point, I had moved most of my work to the University of Minnesota, but I think it’s fair to say that the main programmatic and scholarly questions that still animate River Life were initiated during this series of events.  The 1998 symposium, in particular, set a model for our subsequent work, with each session featuring humanities scholars and writers in dialogue with scientists and people whose knowledge of the river came from their community or agency work.

Twenty years is a long time.  I hope the work continues at least another two decades, although it’s unlikely that I will be the one carrying it forward in 2037.  Anyone out there up for an interesting and enjoyable challenge?

“Provocations” issue of Open Rivers journal now online

May 2, 2017Patrick NunnallyFeaturedComments Off on “Provocations” issue of Open Rivers journal now online

Open Rivers Issue 6 “Provocations” is now posted and available!  Find it at

The world of higher education is notoriously siloed. Colleges and universities are divided into departments by discipline, which often contain particular subdisciplines. Crossing these lines is difficult and sometimes perilous. But the study of rivers and water necessarily crosses disciplines. Scientific study can tell us a lot about water, but not what the meaning of our local river is.

Aerial view of University of Minnesota East and West Bank campuses and the Mississippi River. Photographer Patrick O’Leary. Image via University of Minnesota.

This issue of Open Rivers explores higher education programs that contribute to new understandings of rivers. We include perspectives from sciences and engineering, as Barbara Heitkamp’s review of the work at the St. Anthony Falls Laboratory demonstrates, and as Nicholas R. Jordan and his colleagues show in their discussion of research on Seven Mile Creek.

There is a lot more happening on campuses across the country though. This issue of Open Rivers is distinguished by two articles that we solicited from colleagues at other universities. Bethany Wiggin, the founding director of the Penn Program in the Environmental Humanities, offers a rich description of the kinds of programming, engagement, and exploration that come from a deep encounter with a diverse river stretch like the Lower Schuylkill River in Philadelphia. Across the continent, the Los Angeles River is the subject of Tyler Huxtable’s exploration of how a river can be part of the emerging image of even such an “unnatural” city as Los Angeles. Huxtable is part of the staff at UCLA’s Laboratory for Environmental Narrative Strategies (LENS).

We ask universities to undertake specific roles in our society. One of these is to push inquiries into difficult subjects, asking hard, inconvenient questions that other organizations aren’t necessarily tasked with looking into. Kirsten Delegard and Kevin Ehrman-Solberg take up this challenge with their research into the historical and spatial distribution of racially restrictive covenants in Minneapolis. Their findings, that there seems to be a strong historical correlation between restrictive covenants and park lands associated with water bodies in Minneapolis, is sobering news for people committed to a more inclusive future for our water landscapes.

Sara Axtell speaks directly to the sometimes uneasy alliance between community needs and university perspectives in her reflection on bringing disconnected practices together. Universities have responsibilities to their communities, responsibilities which can be hard to understand, much less fulfill.

Speaking of communities, universities are often the location of artistic or other enriching experiences for community members as well as the campus. Phyllis Messenger’s review of the theatrical production, One River, in Duluth describes just one aspect of a year-long community-engaged series of programs that gathered dozens of diverse perspectives on the St. Louis River.

Of course, the most visible embodiment of a college or university is its student body. Joe Underhill offers a rich, evocative reflection on a semester-long trip down the Mississippi with a group of students from Augsburg College. Kristen Anderson took a more traditional route to broadening her education: study abroad. Anderson’s year in Germany nevertheless broadened her understanding considerably of how communities interact with water.

Issue 6 is broadly diverse, yet quite focused. We think all of the pieces contained here offer a distinctive, provocative, perspective that pushes our thinking forward on issues of place, community, and water. Look for more like this in the months to come. Happy reading!

Open Rivers Issue 5 Now Available: Networks and Collaboration

February 14, 2017Patrick NunnallyFeatured, Program & AnnouncementsComments Off on Open Rivers Issue 5 Now Available: Networks and Collaboration

When I got fully engaged with Mississippi River work, in the mid-90s, there was a lot of talk about public-private partnerships. That has ebbed and flowed and morphed over the years, but the idea of partnership has remained. Pretty much anyone in any sector—public, nonprofit, or corporate—understands that work beyond a small one-time project rarely happens through just one entity.

The features in this issue celebrate partnership and collaboration. Taken separately or together, this issue’s articles focus on community work as opposed to scholarship. They will, we hope, show community folks the work of others that they can learn from. We hope also that campus people can see the range of community partners and what they do, and see possibilities for expanding their engagement in particular ways they hadn’t thought of. These articles illustrate a range of ways to engage in collaboration; if you know of a great collaboration that is not mentioned here, let us know and maybe we can get that case written up for a future issue.

Our Minneapolis campus is almost completely within the boundaries of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, a unit of the National Park System that is known as a “partnership park.” The feature by Superintendent John Anfinson (A U of M graduate, by the way) examines a number of the formal partnerships that enable the park to do the work that makes it successful. Our River Life program, as well as any number of individual researchers and instructors, has worked with park staff on a variety of projects over the years; we will have to figure out how all of that work can be rolled into a more formal agreement. That agreement would be a significant asset for the University and we trust it would be valuable for the park as well.

The work of the Healing Place Collaborative shares a geography with the local national park unit, but operates quite differently. The series of interviews offered here reflect the decentralized nature of the Collaborative’s work, and the myriad ways that significant work is taking place by partners either individually or in various combinations, but all working under the aegis of “healing,” “place,” and “water.” The Collaborative’s November meeting perhaps exemplified the mutual strength members give each other; “How We Are Caring,” a collection of reflections from that meeting, is included as a sidebar to the multiple voices in the article authored by Martin Case.

Diagram of the Healing Place Collaborative members’ working relationships.

The river in our community is, of course, connected to the broader Mississippi River and, through the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico. Two additional features in this issue trace collaborative efforts that work toward the overall health of these waters. Kelly McGinnis articulates a number of the key principles underlying the collaborations among 50+ organizations of the Mississippi River Network. America’s Wetland Foundation, as described in the article by Valsin Marmillion, works differently, by convening groups that don’t normally work together into efforts that find innovative responses to seemingly intractable solutions.

Collaborations among multiple partners can achieve great things, but there will always be a need for good, old-fashioned river advocacy. John Helland describes the general perspectives offered by some of the most prominent national river advocacy groups; nearly all of them can be followed through social media if any in particular pique your interest. On the subject of national perspectives on rivers, Joanne Richardson reviews the current touring exhibit, “Water/Ways,” which is anchored by the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street show on the importance of water in our lives.

Our final three columns bring us back to the campus of the University of Minnesota and its vicinity. Laura Matson offers an examination of the treaty provisions that underlie much of the conflict over the Dakota Access Pipeline and its crossing of the Missouri River near the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s reservation. The conflicts over water and the pipeline itself are fairly well known, but the treaty provisions are not.  Hilary Holmes describes for us a quite different geography, Bridal Veil Falls, which formerly fell untrammeled into the Mississippi River near Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis. Finally, Monica McKay gives us hope for the continuation of partnerships like those covered in this issue. Her account of various programs in the University of Minnesota’s Center for Community-Engaged Learning indicates that collaboration can, perhaps, be taught.

It is appropriate in these times that we write intentionally about “hope” and teaching early career people about patterns of collaboration.  As I discuss more fully here these are challenging times for people committed to issues of water, sustainability, place, and equity.  I welcome your comments.

That is indeed a hopeful lesson for us all. Happy reading, everyone!

Follow this link for Open Rivers, Issue Five : Networks and Collaboration.

River Life: Place, Water, Community

Download a PDF of this blog post here (4 MB)

Over the past few months, River Life has found its focus shifting a bit. Since 2005, we have worked to raise the visibility of the Mississippi River, particularly on the campus of the University of Minnesota, which is bisected by the river in Minneapolis. We have written about the river, essentially, as a physical spatial phenomenon, raising and exploring issues arising from its “materiality” as our scholarly colleagues put it. People, programs, projects; if they were about the Mississippi, we included them.

More recently, we have found ourselves concentrating on matters affecting the river’s future, particularly how that future can be driven by more sustainable and inclusive planning. Examples that our community partners could learn from are all over the country; our role is to bring those to light and make them available to our collaborators, who are too busy doing their primary jobs to have time for this kind of broad-field research. We want to contribute perspectives and news that our partners haven’t got time or space for.

Our program hasn’t got resource management responsibilities, nor are we charged with public programming. Instead, we work with people in organizations such as the National Park ServiceMinneapolis Park and Recreation Board, the Minnesota Humanities Center, and Minnesota Historical Society, who do have statutory responsibilities for public space and public programs. Together with community-based partners such as Works Progress, the Healing Place Collaborative, and the Mississippi River Network, we provide new ideas, access to innovative insights, and perspectives that are grounded in the immediate and also reach forward into the possible. We want our readers and participants to come away from our work thinking “I had not thought of that before. Will have to consider that more.”

Our job got a lot harder Friday.

Unless you have just returned from Mars or some place, you know that the United States has a new President, one who seemingly is focused on undoing much of the work of the previous Administration. Together with our community partners and campus collaborators, we work on matters of water, place, and community, with an emphasis on efforts that increase inclusion, equity, and sustainability. The inauguration marks a clear change for all of us, particularly our federal colleagues. We will have to address this change, respond to it, but make our comments as little about partisanship and individual people as possible. Here are our thoughts, offered as a series of comments, each of which merits further research and elaboration, beyond the limits of this one post.

We are concerned by the new administration’s celebration of the private sphere over the public, seemingly in all areas of our society. The infrastructures of water—everything from drinking water pipes to inland waterway navigation structures, to sewer systems and everything else we have engineered to move water—is aging rapidly and nearing the end of its functional life in many respects. The new administration touts plans for infrastructure investment; we must be vigilant that these plans do not rely on private investment only, and the handing over of control and pricing of water to the highest private sector bidder. Privatization of urban water systems is still relatively rare in this country; further moves in this direction are to be viewed with caution.

The administration’s potential to erode the public sphere of our society shows itself also in immediate threats to programs such as the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts. These programs in particular, which don’t cost much as federal programs go, provide an essential function of “jump starting” new ideas and innovations, the fruits of which come to light in succeeding years and decades.

As our friends at the Penn Environmental Humanities Lab have demonstrated so dramatically, the new administration poses a direct threat to the importance of science in the public sphere. “Data rescue” operations are vital, but the ongoing de-emphasis of science in agencies such as the EPA, NOAA, and the National Park Service poses a broad-based threat to our ability to combat climate change, develop responses to water pollution, or devise innovative ways to increase agricultural yields.

Our work at River Life is grounded in a conviction that public space has to be public for all, and that the right of all of the people to peaceably assemble and address their grievances (to use Constitution-era language for “gather and protest”) is fundamental. Many of our iconic public spaces, in the Twin Cities and beyond, are associated with water; think of the Mississippi Riverfront and the pathways around the various lakes and creeks in the cities. Now imagine those spaces privatized, sold to the highest bidder and restricted to public use, or on days when the public can use them, seeing restricted uses. The new “park” around the Vikings stadium in Minneapolis already points in this direction, of “privatized public space.” We fear that more of this is coming.  We are further concerned that discussions about the importance of the river, or parks, lakes and creeks, just involve the “usual suspects,” namely, generally affluent, readily self-identified “environmentalists.”  Public spaces are often fraught for communities of color and Indigenous people, and the “meaning” of water has many dimensions that go beyond our usual reckoning.  These concepts must be part of our ongoing considerations.

Our work on questions at the nexus of place, water, and community means we will continue to attend to issues and matters that may not appear directly to be associated with the Mississippi River. The river, though, is a system that reflects our human systems in many ways, some of which are less evident than others. We know that the Mississippi is a “river of history,” and a “river of nature.” Shall it be seen as a “river of money”? A “river of colonization”? Other people have addressed these complexities; we need to find them and learn from their experiences.

Mississippi River, looking downstream from St. Paul, Minnesota. Image circa 1870’s.
Image from the collections of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Finally, the recent administrative changes at both the federal and state levels (Minnesota’s legislature saw partisan rearrangements as a result of November’s election as well) emphasize our roles and responsibilities as a public educational institution. To put matters simply: our “.edu” digital environment imposes on us the responsibility to “get it right,” to produce and share knowledge that is reliable and verifiable. Knowledge, we all know, is becoming increasingly contested. We owe our partners, and ourselves, our best efforts to share knowledge that solves problems, addresses community needs, and shapes the future that we envision.

Network diagram of the Healing Place Collaborative, courtesy of Mona Smith.

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.

“Building Inclusive and Sustainable Relationships with the Mississippi River”

A persistent challenge to our River Life program have been the questions: what exactly do you folks DO?  What questions do you ask? What impact do you have?

To some extent, the persistence of these questions is a good thing.  At universities, we get to explore complex matters, and go where the shifts in conversations take us.  By contrast, our partners off campus are limited by their organization’s mission, or by funding, or by expectations of the public.  They can move around a little bit, but the Minnesota Historical Society ought to keep dealing with Minnesota’s past, and the National Park Service really needs to be focused on qualities that make this stretch of the river unique, and bringing those qualities to the public nationally as well as here at home.

Our job, on the other hand, is to think differently than our partners.  Not having responsibility for public programs, or for stewardship of public lands, we can tend to our main businesses, which are educating the public, particularly young people, and developing new knowledge.  In both of these areas–education and research–River Life takes very seriously our charge to conduct our work in collaboration with partners from off campus, as well as forging interdisciplinary relationships on campus.

So what is our area of study?  We look at how we–the university, our partners, our communities–can build more inclusive and sustainable relationships with the Mississippi River.  Our focus is necessarily somewhat parochial; our partners, after all, are responsible for lands and waters here, in the Twin Cities metro area.  Furthermore, the Twin Cities region is a great “laboratory” to understand the development and function of complex urban water systems.

But our focus necessarily has to widen out to include the watershed of our “home river,” and a consideration of the river and its communities as they live downstream, absorbing what we have done to the river here. Moreover, we learn a lot about conditions and circumstances and possibilities here by understanding conditions, circumstances, and possibilities elsewhere, across the country and around the world.

Sounds simple: building sustainable and inclusive relationships with the Mississippi River.  But I have a feeling this work will keep us busy for a while.

Fort Snelling and Hidden Falls Park from Two Rivers Overlook.

Fort Snelling and Hidden Falls Park from Two Rivers Overlook.

#TBT: Summer Reading about Rivers

May 26, 2016Patrick NunnallyFeatured, Throwback ThursdayComments Off on #TBT: Summer Reading about Rivers

Well, “Throwback Thursday” doesn’t mean we have to go very far back, right?  In the spirit of (hoped for) summer reading time, I offer the Introduction to Issue 2 of Open Rivers: Rethinking the Mississippi, which went live last month:

We commonly think of rivers as, for the most part, staying where they belong, in the river bed, occasionally coming out into the floodplain under fairly predictable conditions conducive to high water that we call “floods.”

The writing in this issue of Open Rivers belies this notion of predictability, to a large degree. In disparate ways our authors write as if rivers should be understood as fundamentally restless, existing under conditions that are dramatically changing. The terms we use to describe these changes matter a great deal; is a flood a “disturbance” or part of the river’s inherent dynamic? Christopher Morris asks us to reflect on this distinction. More pointedly, Richard M. Mizelle Jr. reminds us that periods of high water are commonly understood to be shaped by a combination of “natural” and “intentional” factors; what is consistent is that the people suffering the worst impacts are communities of color and the poor.

Much of the work in this issue of Open Rivers is derived from the spring 2015 symposium, “The Once and Future River: Imagining the Mississippi in an Era of Climate Change,” which was funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation through a John E. Sawyer Seminar grant. The essays by Patrick Hamilton and Lark Weller, plus Phyllis Mauch Messenger’s interview with meteorologist Paul Huttner all speak directly to the impacts a changing climate may have on rivers. If rivers have an inherent (and cultural) instability, and are manifestly affected by a changing climate, then how can we “know” the rivers in our landscape?

Other writers represented here have answers, to one degree or another. Kirk MacKinnon Morrow offers us a pathway to learn about the Mississippi by listening to the Dakota, the people who have lived in this place for the longest time. Kate Brauman suggests that “big data” can help us understand worldwide water issues, but only to a degree. Simi Kang recommends learning from one of the preeminent historical geographers in the country. And Len Kne reminds us that mapping is always a valuable way to understand what’s around us.

If you have noted a great deal of equivocation in this introduction, that is because equivocation may be an apt rhetorical stance for addressing a changeable subject such as rivers. Our knowledge must, to a large degree, be understood as contingent rather than definitive. Toward that end, we expect that the writing and images offered here will be the first word in provocative discourses, rather than the last word that settles things “once and for all.”

Happy reading!

and Happy Summer!


Summer Plans and Some (Slight) Changes in the Works

Around universities, summers can be pretty slow.  Faculty and students are mostly away, recharging their batteries between school year urgencies.  The relatively few people around for summer school seem to be working at a slower pace.  It’s a good time for reflection and getting “brain work” done.

One of our big tasks this summer is to plan the reconfiguration of the River Life web site, so it can become a better gateway between the world of the river (and rivers/urban water systems more broadly) and the world of the campus.  Be patient, since we probably won’t have the revamp finished until November.  When we do get it done, though, we expect it will better reflect the lively dynamics of both river corridor and campus.

In the meantime, just let us know if there’s anything in particular you’d like for us to include!


A Sip of Science–The St Anthony Lock Has Closed, So How Is the River Doing?

May 9, 2016Patrick NunnallyEvents, Featured, Former Featured Posts, Program & AnnouncementsComments Off on A Sip of Science–The St Anthony Lock Has Closed, So How Is the River Doing?

This Wednesday May 11, A Sip of Science will feature a University of Minnesota graduate student reporting on a nearly-complete “literature review” and baseline assessment of the Mississippi River in Minneapolis.  We know the Corps of Engineers will not be dredging the former navigation channel, but how will the river’s water quality, aquatic ecology, and sediment systems respond?  We have to know where we are now to understand future changes, so the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources awarded a grant to the Minneapolis Riverfront Partnership to examine existing data on this stretch of the Mississippi and conduct very limited new studies.

Come to the Aster Cafe at 5:30 on Wednesday to hear Jane Mazack, a Ph.D. candidate in Water Resource Science at the U of M, report on the study.

More details below:

The lock is closed: what are the keys to river health?

Jane Mazack, PhD Candidate in Water Resources Science, University of Minnesota

Wednesday, May 11th, 2016  5:30p.m.  
Aster Cafe125 SE Main Street, St. Anthony Main, Minneapolis
No cover, Please RSVP!


A SIP OF SCIENCE bridges the gap between science and culture in a setting that bridges the gap between brain and belly.  Food, beer, and learning are on the menu in a happy hour forum that puts science in context through storytelling.

May 11th Event –

The Mississippi River has long been managed for navigation and transportation purposes. Last June, the St. Anthony Falls lock was closed to navigation and channel dredging was halted. These management actions are expected to change the physical, chemical, and biological condition of the river between the Coon Rapids and Ford Dams. Join us as Jane Mazack describes a current collaborative study between the Minneapolis Riverfront Partnership, Mississippi Watershed Management Organization, the University of Minnesota’s St. Anthony Falls Lab, and River Life program that investigates the keys to evaluating the impacts of the lock closure.


The talk takes place during happy hour at the Aster Cafe || Food and Drink Available for Purchase


Jane Mazack is a PhD candidate in Water Resources Science at the University of Minnesota. She has a B.S. in Environmental Science from Calvin College in Michigan and a M.S. in Water Resources from the University of Minnesota. Her primary research interest is in aquatic ecology, and her dissertation research focuses on the winter dynamics of invertebrates in southeastern Minnesota trout streams.


A SIP OF SCIENCE is a science happy hour sponsored by the National Center for Earth-surface Dynamics (NCED). It is a chance to hear about new and exciting research over beer, in a cool bar.  Come talk with the experts about their efforts to address some of the Earth’s most pressing problems. NCED’s A SIP OF SCIENCE brings the wonder of science to happy hour.

Interested in hearing about Sip of Science events?  Join our mailing list.

#TBT St. Paul and Pool 2: Dynamic Land and Water

January 21, 2016Patrick NunnallyFeatured, River MeaningComments Off on #TBT St. Paul and Pool 2: Dynamic Land and Water

cattle on the flats 1925

Grazing on the West Side Flats. This herd of cattle is standing more or less where Holman Field airport is now located. Lily Lake was filled in early in the 20th century to create the land for the airport.
Image from the collections of the Minnesota Historical Society.

flood Upper Landing

Boating on Upper Levee during a flood. The Upper Levee neighborhood near the present Science Museum of Minnesota location flooded regularly during the first half of the 20th century. Residents of the community, nearly all of whom were Italian immigrants, moved out after the flood of 1952. Many went to the Railroad Island/Payne Avenue neighborhood on the east side of St. Paul, while others started businesses such as Mancini’s Char House and Cossetta’s Grocery and Deli on nearby West Seventh Street.
Image from the collections of the Minnesota Historical Society.

St. Paul bluff cutback for rr

Cutting away the bluff to make way for railroads. The center of downtown St. Paul, between the Science Museum and the Union Depot, is located on a high bluff overlooking the Mississippi. This photograph, probably from the 1870s or 1880s, shows the developing railroad beds below the bluff, where present Shepherd Road and current rail lines still run. The bluff appears to have been cut back through the soft St. Peter sandstone to make more room for the transportation network.
Image from the collections of the Minnesota Historical Society.

St. Paul under construction

Filling the Mississippi shoreland to make room for new development. This image, looking upstream from the Upper Landing area toward Fort Snelling, illustrates how watery margins of the Mississippi were filled in to create more land for transportation and settlement. The photograph probably dates to the 1870s.
Image from the collections of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Contact Us!
Send us a note at to make suggestions for other places we should look, media to track, and stories to tell!
River Life in Video
Come Along for a Water Walk with Kare11 and River Life, and see Gifts at Work: The Mississippi River by the University of Minnesota Foundation
Open Rivers: Rethinking the Mississippi
A joint project of River Life, the Institute for Advanced Study, and the University of Minnesota Libraries, Open Rivers is an interdisciplinary online journal that recognizes the Mississippi River as a space for timely and critical conversations about people, community, water, and place.