Minneapolis vs. St. Paul: Blame it on the Mississippi

Those of us who grew up in the Twin Cities know that there exists a certain rivalry between our two major cities. Have you ever wondered why that is? It’s not simply that people like one or the other; there is actually historical basis for this rivalry, and all of it stems from the geology of the Mississippi River.

Let’s travel back about 12,000 years: Minnesota was mostly covered in a mile-thick sheet of retreating glacial ice. As it melted more and more water collected, which eventually created a lake larger than all the Great Lakes combined and covering much of northern Minnesota and a big chunk of Canada. This lake was called Glacial Lake Agassiz. Eventually the lake broke through its banks, and water ripped through Minnesota carving what is now the Minnesota/Mississippi River Valley.

While Lake Agassiz drained down this river, a huge waterfall (perhaps even bigger than Niagara Falls) developed approximately where downtown St. Paul is now located. Over time, this waterfall ate away more and more of the riverbed and traveled farther and farther up river, to where it now resides as St. Anthony Falls. As it eroded away, big huge chunks of rocks fell into the river bed. These rocks made it difficult for large boats to travel farther up the Mississippi than downtown St. Paul. This is what we would call the Head of Navigation; the place on the river where easy navigation stops. Because it was a natural area for boats to land, people began to settle there, and eventually this spot became St. Paul. Railroads were built coming to and from St. Paul to help goods coming up river in barges continue their journey.

People didn’t stop settling in St. Paul, however; they expanded along the river. Around St. Anthony Falls, people saw the waterfall as a potential power source. Businesses (the timber, and later the flour, industries) came in to take advantage of the falls. They saw that they could log trees up north and let the logs travel by river all the way down to St. Anthony Falls, right to timber mills where they could be cut. The saws used to cut the logs into boards could be powered for free using the energy of the falls.

So where did the rivalry come from? Industries in Minneapolis wanted to be able to process their products and send them right down the river to their final destinations, but the shallow, rocky river made that impossible. Instead, they had to send products by train to St. Paul where they could be sent down river; and St. Paul made a nice profit with this arrangement. St. Paul didn’t want to lose that profit and therefore didn’t want to help Minneapolis become the Head of Navigation by helping to pay for a restructure of the river. Because of this Minneapolis was not particularly happy with St. Paul. On the flip side, St. Paul wasn’t too happy with Minneapolis either: power from the falls would have helped St. Paul’s economy greatly, but Minneapolis didn’t want to divert any power away to St. Paul.

Even though much of these economic factors are now gone, a rivalry still exists, and it all started with the geology of the river. If you are interested in finding out more about the Mississippi’s history and heritage, join us at North Mississippi Park for Riverfest and Heritage Day. The event will be Saturday September 12, 1-4:30 p.m. There will be historical games, bald eagles, tree climbing and more. Check out threeriversparks.org/events/M/mississippi-riverfest-and-heritage-day–.aspx for details.

Join us for the following nature programs. Reservations required, call 763-559-6700. Mississippi Riverfest and Heritage Day, Saturday, Sept. 12, 1-4:30 p.m., all ages, $5/person. The Kindness of Trees, Saturday, Sept. 19, 10 a.m.-noon., all ages, $5/person. River Walk, Saturday, Sept. 5, 9-10 a.m., all ages, free, no registration required. Big River, Small Fry: Nature for Curious Kids, Thursday, Sept. 10, 9 a.m.-noon., ages birth-5 with an adult, $5/person, ages 1 and under free. River Rocks, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 10-11:30 a.m., ages 3-5 with an adult, $5/person.

Free Family Fundays: Come by on Sunday afternoons anytime between 1-3 p.m. for a free family program: Stories along the River on Sept. 6, Junior Ranger Badge on Sept. 13, River Sand Castles on Sept. 20, and Heading South on Sept. 27. Reservations not required. Call 763-694-7693 for info or visit Threeriversparks.org.