Minnehaha Creek Has a Long, Winding History
A number of construction projects have altered how the waterway flows.
Over the years, the Minnehaha Creek has gone through many changes as local residents have built dams and other structures, but through it all, the waterway has been a vital part of local life.
The earliest reports on the creek date back to 1822, when two 17-year old boys—William J. Snelling, the son of Col. Josiah Snelling of Fort Snelling fame, and Joseph Renshaw Brown, a drummer boy from Maryland—followed the creek up to Lake Minnetonka, according to the St. Louis Park Historical Society.
Snelling apparently couldn't take the mosquitoes and headed back, but Brown and two soldiers from the fort made it all the way, past Indian settlements, up to Gray's Bay and Big Island, where they encountered a Chippewa village. This is thought to be the first time that white men traveled through the area that was to become St. Louis Park—or at least left a record of doing so.
As more settlers came to the area, mills began to spring up. Nearby mills include Schussler’s Mill, which was built in 1874 and located off of Excelsior Boulevard near what is now the Hopkins/St. Louis Park border. Also nearby was the Waterville Mill, located at West 50th Street and Browndale Avenue in present-day Edina.
The era of the Minnehaha Creek mills didn’t last long, however. The Grays Bay Dam on Lake Minnetonka was built in 1895, which drastically lowered the water level in the area and shut down mill production. A refurbished dam was built in 1979 and is still used today to control the creek’s water level.
In 1949, the creek was dredged—the first of several dredgings that would follow in the next several decades. All of this was done to straighten Minnehaha Creek as more and more development sprouted up along the banks. However, straightening the creek has disrupted its natural flow and made it more susceptible to pollution, making it an “impaired” waterway today.
To address that, a project is slated to get underway this winter that will restore some of the creek’s natural curves. This “re-meandering” process will occur between Louisiana Avenue and St. Louis Park’s western border with Hopkins.
If you want to see the Minnehaha Creek up close and personal, a canoe trip may be your best best. See the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District's website for more.