10 Historic Facts About Minneapolis

Today's Minneapolis would not be what it is without the Minneapolis of yesterday (or maybe a little farther back than yesterday). Our active and diverse city was built from a unique history that few are familiar with. Join us on a stroll through memory lane as we remember some of the best little-known facts about Minneapolis.

1. Native Americans have been living along this part of the Mississippi riverfront for over 12,000 years.

Evidence of Native American occupancy has been found throughout Minneapolis with the oldest being found near the Washington Avenue Bridge and Boom Island Park that date back to roughly 10,000 B.C.E. In more recent times The Dakota have considered the area around St. Anthony Falls to be very sacred. Nicollet Island was a peaceful meeting place between the Dakota and Ojibwe, and downstream eight miles, where the Mississippi meets the Minnesota River, lies Bdote. The Dakota believe Bdote is the center of the world and where the Dakota people began.

2. Thanks to a European florist, you’re never further than 6 blocks from a park in Minneapolis.

Theodore Wirth acquired 3,500 acres of land for the Minneapolis Park System during his tenure as superintendent. Wirth started his career as a florist and landscaper in Zurich, London, and Paris before he moved to Connecticut where he started the first municipal rose garden in the country. Once Wirth was hired as Minneapolis Park Board superintendent in 1904, he began his promise of putting a park within six blocks of every city resident. He secured the land to establish parks such as the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway, Minnehaha Falls, Lyndale Park, five golf courses, and the Chain of Lakes. He also oversaw the creation of the Minneapolis-St Paul Airport. Today, his memory is alive and well at Theodore Wirth Regional Park where visitors can golf, ski, and fish, or even enjoy a game of disc golf, tennis, and soccer.

3. The first bridge to span the mighty Mississippi River was built right here in Minneapolis. 

The first Hennepin Avenue Bridge opened back in 1855 as a wooden suspension bridge that connected the west bank of the river to Nicollet Island. While it was not built to last, a bridge just on the other side of St. Anthony Falls was. The Stone Arch Bridge was completed in 1883 as a railroad bridge and is the second oldest continuously used bridge across the Mississippi River. 

4. Immigrant communities from across the globe now call Minnesota home

Some of the first immigrants to settle in Minneapolis were French Canadian, Nordic and Scandinavian Europeans. In more recent years, prominent Latinx, Southeast Asian and Somali communities have developed around the city, bringing with them new ideas and vibrant cultures. In the 90s a major Latino migration happened around the popular Lake Street area, where more affordable housing provided opportunities to set up a strong Latinx presence. Two Lake Street favorites, Mercado Central and Manny’s Tortas helped transform the area and attracted many more Latinx businesses and members of the community. Originally built as a Sears in the 1920s, the Midtown Global Market is the fruition of the surrounding neighborhood’s desire to have a place where the communal and entrepreneurial characteristics of the many immigrant communities in the area could flourish. Minneapolis is also home to a large group of Somali immigrants, particularly in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood, also known as “Little Mogadishu.” After many Somalis were displaced by the civil war in the early 90s the United State issued visas to the refugees. While many at first settled in other parts of the country they eventually landed in Minnesota because of a strong economy and plenty of job opportunities.

Visit the Somali-American Museum, the world’s first and only museum devoted to Somali culture.

5. Two waterfalls contributed to the city’s overflowing natural history alongside its urban development.

St. Anthony Falls, also known as Owámni, or “falling water,” in Dakota, is the heart and soul of the city. The waterfall provided energy for dozens of mills along the riverfront and is currently one of the most scenic spots along the river to enjoy a beautiful day. 9,000 years ago, when St. Anthony Falls was eroding its way upstream, the waterfall split when it reached Minnehaha Creek. Most of it continued up the Mississippi to its current location, but a part of it eroded up the creek and became the popular attraction known today as Minnehaha Falls. Minnehaha Regional Park offers amazing hiking trails and breathtaking views of Minnehaha Falls.

6. The Mill City Museum is the most explosive museum in the world. 

The Washburn Crosby Company operated a flour mill on the site back before it was turned into a museum in 2003, and in 1878, that mill exploded. Flour is very combustible, more so than gunpowder, so all it takes is a little spark or ember and BOOM. Once they rebuilt, the new mill was up and running through the 1960s when they ceased operations. The vacant mill once again was up in flames in 1991. Instead of demolishing the old mill to put out the fire, the fire department tried their best to save the building which resulted in the Mill City Museum’s signature mill ruin look. The museum took its name from one of the city’s nicknames, the “Mill City.” The first commercial flour mill opened in 1854, and by 1863, fifteen mills produced 1.25 million barrels of flour a year. By 1916, Minneapolis produced over 18 million barrels of flour a year. 

Delve into Minneapolis’ milling history at the Mill City Museum.

7. The flour in your pantry lead to one of the biggest rivalries in Minneapolis.

The Washburn Crosby Company Mill and the Pillsbury Company Mill were the two largest mills in the United States when they were built in the 1870s and 1880s. These two were huge rivals and signs of that rivalry can still be seen today. When you take a walk along the downtown riverfront, you’ll notice that the Pillsbury Mill, now artist lofts, is directly across the river from the Washburn Crosby Mill, now the Mill City Museum; they literally kept an eye on each other at all times. Another sign of this rivalry can be found on their flour bags. The Washburn Crosby Company, now known as General Mills, won a gold medal in a national competition. The competition was never held again, so they named their flour “Gold Medal Flour.” The Pillsbury’s wanted to show the world that their flour was just as good, if not better, so they slapped a blue ribbon on their flour bags and named it “Pillsbury’s Best Flour.”

8. The University of Minnesota opened its doors seven years before Minnesota even became a state. 

Established in 1851, the University’s first building was located in present-day Chute’s Square, just across the river from Downtown Minneapolis. As one of the first higher education schools to include females in their classrooms, the University attracted many people to the fledgling city. The University closed down during the Civil War and reopened in 1867 a mile south of the original campus with the financial help of John S. Pillsbury, a co-founder of the famous milling company and eighth Governor of Minnesota.

9. Grain Belt Beer has been a Minneapolis staple for over 125 years. 

Many small breweries were popping up along the riverfront as the city grew, because there was easy access to water and nearby caves made it possible to keep the beer chilled and fresh. In July of 1890, four breweries, including the Orth Brewing Company, the oldest in Hennepin County, teamed together to form the Minneapolis Brewing Company.  It wasn’t until Prohibition was repealed in 1933 when the company decided to change its name to Grain Belt after its most popular product. The beer is currently produced by the August Schell Brewing Company in New Ulm, Minnesota, but the original Grain Belt Brewery and Grain Belt sign are still hanging around in Minneapolis. This concept of building a nationally known brewery from the ground up has stayed in the Twin Cities with Surly and Summit continuing on the brewing legacy. Take a tour of Surly Brewing Company and head upstairs and enjoy a slice a pizza while you’re there. 

10. One of the trendiest neighborhoods in the Minneapolis was once a home to many old warehouses. 

The North Loop neighborhood got its name from a segment of the old streetcar system that once traveled from the Minnesota-Wisconsin border to Lake Minnetonka. The area was very industrial, so in order to service all of the companies and their employees, a loop around the warehouse district was created. In fact, many of these old warehouses are included in the Minneapolis Warehouse Historic District which is on the National Register of Historic Places. In the 1980s and 90s, the old warehouses were renovated for artists, with some containing over twenty studios. The popularity that the artists brought to the area caught the attention of developers and the warehouses were refurbished as condominiums and apartments. New developments such as Target Field, home of the Minnesota Twins, and the brand-new concert venue, The Filmore Minneapolis, are also doing their part in making the North Loop Neighborhood a very desirable place to live while keeping the history of the area alive.