The Development of Minnehaha Creek

The Development of Minnehaha Creek

We’re grateful to have another round of blog posts written by student volunteers through Wayzata High School’s Club Y.E.S. program. This week’s post is by Harshita Rai.

Minnesotans have treasured and enjoyed the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District’s water sources for decades. These water sources served as major transportation corridors as well as food and water sources for early settlements. In 1822, 17-year-old Joseph Renshaw Brown, set out from Minnehaha Falls, now part of Minnehaha Regional Park, in quest of the creek’s undiscovered western end. This was the first documented journey along the entire Minnehaha Creek. Brown successfully reached the creek’s source at Gray’s Bay by Lake Minnetonka. Following Brown’s voyage, the Minnehaha Creek area drew both Euro-American settlers and visitors. They traveled from Fort Snelling on a trail along the Minnehaha Creek to reach the chain of lakes. Joseph Brown claimed the land in Hennepin County where Minnehaha Creek reaches the Mississippi river. He built the first cabin along the creek. Over time, the creek was given several names such as, Brown’s Creek, Brown’s River, Joe Brown’s Creek, Cascade Creek, Little River, or Little Falls Creek. Minnehaha Falls was given the name “Minnehaha” by combining the Dakota words mni (water) and gaga (falling or curling). Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “Song of Hiawatha,” published in 1855, also helped popularize the name.

Several mills were built on the creek and by the mid-nineteenth century Minnehaha Creek had a thriving flour milling business. However, the milling industry along the creek came to an end in 1897. The development of the area included the construction of multiple bridges that cross Minnehaha Creek. Stone and concrete walls were built to bolster the creek’s banks throughout the Minnehaha Creek area. Along the creek between Lyndale and Portland Avenues, there are also granite and limestone walls. Four dams were built along Minnehaha Creek. These four dams were along Lyndale Avenue in the Washburn Park neighborhood, downstream of Lake Nokomis and downstream of Lake Hiawatha.

The popularity of housing in south Minneapolis resulted in the filling of wetlands, the straightening and ditching of Minnehaha Creek, and the conversion of greenspace to rooftops, pavement, and concrete. As a result of all of this growth, there was greater runoff into Minnehaha Creek, which resulted in increased floods and pollution. Flooding along Minnehaha Creek in the mid-1960s spurred citizens to organize a district to conserve water and natural resources throughout the watershed. The Minnehaha Creek Watershed District was formed the following year, in 1967. Minnehaha Creek is surrounded by beautiful wilderness and scenery. It is truly one of Minnesota’s most valued treasures.


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