St. Anthony Falls is the cradle of a great Indigenous society, which thrived for hundreds of generations. The Dakota and other Native American communities sanctified the Falls as one of two sacred Indigenous sites on the Upper Mississippi.
Spirit Island was one of three islands that existed downstream of the Falls. It held great significance to the Dakota people, but white settlers quarried the island for limestone to provide building materials for many of the mills in the area. The narrow jetty south of the Upper Lock is all that remains of Spirit Island today.
Spirit Island, 1899
Following European settlement, St. Anthony Falls became the birthplace of Minneapolis and foundation for the region at large.
The Falls powered the massive sawmills that produced construction lumber used to build the city, as well as the first hydro-electric power station in the U.S. The Falls district was home to the world’s two largest flour companies for decades, and the first permanent crossing across the entire width of the Mississippi was built just above the Falls, on the current alignment of the Father Louis Hennepin Avenue Bridge.
St. Anthony Falls is the only major waterfall on the Mississippi River, which today thunders down a 49-foot drop on a concrete spillway at the toe of the iconic Stone Arch Bridge. The Federal Government owns the St. Anthony Falls Lock, which is operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). Congress suspended commercial navigation at the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock in 2015 in response to declining barge traffic and invasive species.
The Central & Upper Riverfront
The Falls Initiative is one of many transformative riverfront projects within the Twin Cities and across the state. Each project is valuable alone, but taken together they represent a much larger gesture that will place the Mississippi River firmly at the center of the Minnesota experience.
Upriver, city redevelopment projects are underway at Upper Harbor Terminal and the Grain Belt district. The Minneapolis Park Foundation’s signature RiverFirst projects are underway at 26th Avenue North, Halls Island, and Water Works Park. MNDOT is undertaking crucial work to care for the Stone Arch Bridge, which lands at the Falls and continues on as a walking and biking path through Water Works Park. The emergence in the last couple years of a new water taxi service, and the National Park Service’s Paddle Share kayak rental (now available at numerous sites between Coon Rapids Dam in the north, to Boom Island at the Central Riverfront) sparks the imagination about the future vibrancy of water trails and public docks on the Upper River.
A Jewel on the Great River Road
The Falls will be a destination feature of the 10-state Great River Road, a National Scenic Byway. It will draw visitors to discover our city, state, and region at an iconic downtown waterfront location with both cultural and scenic richness. The facility will be a gateway to the Mississippi National River Recreation Area, our river National Park.