Friday, October 3, 2008

Tales of Rivalry at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Border

Have you ever noticed those cement structures that poke up on the east side of the river, just north of the Lake St. Bridge? It’s the remnant of a long-fought battle between Minneapolis and St. Paul. No, it’s not some 19th century battalion, although it does traverse the border between the two cities. It’s all that remains of the first lock ever built on the Mississippi River.

The Meeker Island Lock and Dam was built in 1907 and dismantled in 1912. An ironic finale to a century-long quest to tame the Mississippi River Gorge for steamboat navigation.

By the mid-1800s, the City of St. Paul marked the head of navigation on the Mississippi River and Minneapolis was on its way to becoming the milling capitol of the world. But each City envied the others’ glory and hoped to reap its own share of it from the river. Minneapolis’ quest to move navigation upriver was finally realized with construction of the Meeker lock and dam and another low dam and lock at the site of the current Ford dam in St. Paul. But even as they were being built, St. Paul was pushing for one high dam that could generate hydropower, and would flood out the Meeker project as a result. In the meantime, the milling industry was winding down, and the rest is history.

Well actually it’s all history, and I and 50 other folks were lucky enough to get the complete tale last weekend during the Meeker Island Lock & Dam Ruins Interpretive Tour led by Dr. John Anfinson. John is a Historian for the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area – a unit of the National Park Service that runs through the Twin Cities. If you missed the Meeker tour, look for it again next Fall. John also gives a presentation about the Meeker story called “Rapids to Reservoirs,” with lots of great photos from the Minnesota Historical Society.

Of course it’s also a great time of year to explore the area on your own. The ruins can be accessed from East River Road at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Border. There is an old wagon road on the St. Paul side that was recently converted into a new trail, and there are iron steps that lead down from the Minneapolis side.

It’s also pretty cool to see the site from the water – sign up for FMR’s Gorge Fall Colors Paddle on October 11th and you can take it in riverside!

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