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The
Minnesota
Archaeologist
Vol. 48, No. 1-2                                1989

ARCHAEOLOGY OF THE
CENTRAL MINNEAPOLIS RIVERFRONT

PART 1: HISTORICAL OVERVIEW AND ARCHAEOLOGICAL POTENTIALS

Scott F. Anfinson
Minnesota Historical Society

© 1989 Minnesota Archaeological Society



TABLE OF CONTENTS


Preface
Table of Contents
Introduction
Sources
Historical Background
Archaeological Site Inventory

- Bassett's Creek
- Gateway
- West Side Mill District
- Gasworks Bluff
- Brewery Flats
- Milwaukee Road
- Boom Island
- Hennepin-Central
- Nicollet Island
- East Side Mill District
- Interbank

Historical Figures and Photographs  (big thumbnails)   (medium)   (small)
References Cited
Chronology Chart


Archaeological Site Inventory
Gateway

When the west side was first settled in the 1850s, attention was focused on two areas: the land adjacent to the Falls for its industrial potential and the land opposite Nicollet Island for its accessibility due to the relatively narrow Mississippi channel. Nicollet Island was used as a "stepping stone" to provide the easiest access across the river from St. Anthony, hence this area became the "gateway" to Minneapolis and points west (Figure 14).

When the east side was first settled by Euroamericans, travel to the west side was difficult. The river was forded on the limestone ledge at the head of the rapids at the southern end of Nicollet Island or small boats crossed at the north end of Nicollet Island where the current was less swift. In 1847, Franklin Steele established a ferry at the site of the Hennepin Avenue bridge. The ferry was a flat boat pulled to either side with a cable. The first private dwelling built on the west side, the John Stevens house, was erected for the ferry keeper. Stevens eventually claimed the adjacent land and gradually gave away many lots to needy new settlers and sold other parts for commercial development. When Stevens moved in 1857, most of his homestead was covered with buildings.

As the city on the west side started to rapidly grow, a bridge across the river was one of the first priorities. In 1854 a wooden-towered suspension bridge built at Hennepin Avenue (Figure 15) became the first permanent structure open to general traffic to span the Mississippi River. (A railroad bridge was built at Davenport, Iowa at about the same time.)

By the mid-1870s, the wooden-towered suspension bridge had become inadequate to carry the heavy interbank travel so a new stone-towered suspension bridge was built in 1876 (Figure 15). This structure also quickly became inadequate and from 1888 to 1891 a steel-arch bridge was built to replace it. The steel arch bridge lasted a century and has just been replaced by a concrete-towered suspension bridge.

The Gateway became the commercial heart of the new city with a small residential district surrounding it. The intersection of Hennepin and Nicollet Avenues was known as Bridge Square and contained the city market, city hall, and numerous small businesses. As the commercial district shifted southwest in the 1880s, railroads took over the Gateway waterfront. In 1885 the Union Depot was finished just south of the suspension bridge. By 1890 the lower terrace of the Gateway was covered with railroad tracks.

In 1913 the Great Northern Depot on the north side of Hennepin Avenue replaced the Union Depot. At about the same time, a small triangular park called Gateway Park was established on the site of the first city hall at the intersection of Hennepin and Nicollet Avenues. The park's Greek Revival building was torn down in the mid-1950's at the start of the Gateway Renewal Project. In 1978 the Great Northern Depot was torn down and most of the tracks along the river were removed, leaving a flat, empty, terrace.

The Gateway Area defined in this report extends from the foot of 1st Avenue North to 3rd Avenue South (Figure 14). The West River Parkway now occupies the riveredge in the Gateway, with the Minneapolis Post Office south of Hennepin Avenue and abandoned railroad flats north.

    GW-1. A. Lee Sash and Door (1857-1865)

The 1857 Talcott Map shows three buildings near the river bank just north of the Hennepin Avenue suspension bridge (Figure 16). The legend on the map indicates the largest building was built in 1857. This structure is the building nearest the river and has an L-shape. It appears to be 100 feet long and 50 feet wide. Two small buildings (50 feet x 25 feet) are just west of the large building. Photographic research indicates no buildings in this vicinity by 1865. The closest listing that could be found for this location in the 1859-60 City Directory is A. Lee Sash and Door. The Reeve map from 1874 shows Saunders and Harrison Mammoth Coal Depot at about this same location.

Artifactual and foundational remains of the site may have been largely destroyed by the Great Northern Depot construction in 1913, although a deeply buried artifact scatter was encountered along the old riverbank. The site is currently undeveloped land just north of Hennepin Avenue.

References: Talcott (1857); City Directory (1859-60); Reeve (1874); Tordoff (1984).

    GW-2. Great Northern Depot (1913-1978)

In 1913 the Great Northern Depot was finished on the north side of Hennepin Avenue replacing the nearby 30-year old Union Depot. The new depot was designed by C.F. Frost, a noted depot architect, and was built of brick and reinforced concrete. Only the western and eastern walls extended to ground level with most of the depot being supported by concrete columns interspersed among the railroad tracks which ran beneath the depot. An elevated, trucking gallery connected the depot and the power plant 700 feet north. An extensive train shed (300 feet x 400 feet) covered most of the tracks on the north side of the depot.

The depot was torn down in 1978 after passenger service was moved to the Amtrak depot in St. Paul. Remains of the Great Northern Depot trainshed were found during archaeological excavations in 1983 and 1985 (Tordoff 1984; Tordoff and Clouse 1985). Most of the Great Northern Depot site currently is in undeveloped land just west of the West River Parkway.

References: Sanborn (1912/23); Western Architect (1914:6-12); Kane and Ominsky (1983:267); Droege (1916:99-103); Tordoff (1984).

    GW-3. John Stevens House Site (1850 - 1872)

In 1850 John Stevens moved into his newly built house becoming the first permanent resident on the west side. The house was a small two-story, frame structure located on the lower terrace just south of Hennepin Avenue (Figure 16). Stevens moved to Glencoe in 1857, but retained ownership of the house renting it to Simon Snyder.

Stevens moved back into the house in 1862, but soon after the Civil War it was sold to Robert Glen. Glen sold the house to John O'Brien in 1872 who moved it to 1st Avenue S. between 1st and 2nd Streets. It was moved again about 1880 to 16th Avenue S. and then in 1896 it was moved to Minnehaha Park. In 1982 it was moved to a new location in Minnehaha Park and the original configuration of the small addition was restored.

The original site of the Stevens house was archaeologically examined in 1983. Bedrock was found near the surface covered with railroad fill. Any foundational remains of the house were probably destroyed by the Union Depot construction in the early 1880s. The site today is between the Hennepin Avenue bridge and the new post office addition. Some of the artifactual scatter associated with the site may remain under or near the West River Parkway.

References: Bromley (1890:12-13, 162-263); Atwater (1893:33,38,40); Warner et al. (1881:371-372); Hudson (1908:31-32,39); Shutter (1923:91); Stevens (1890:28-31,382); Greater Minneapolis (January 1958); Tordoff (1984).

    GW-4. Union Depot (1885-1914)

In 1885 James J. Hill completed the Union Depot to handle freight and passenger service in Minneapolis for the St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Manitoba Railroad. The passenger depot was a two story brick building along the western edge of the building complex fronting on High Street. In the middle was a large train shed built on iron piers above the tracks which passed beneath.

Along the eastern edge of the complex was a narrow brick freight depot with a boiler house at the south end. The depot complex dominated the entire river bank just south of Hennepin Avenue. It was approximately 300 feet long and 200 feet wide. In 1913 the new Great Northern Depot was built on the north side of Hennepin Avenue and the Union Depot was torn down.

Extensive remains of the Union Depot were found by archaeological testing in 1983. Parts of the site were disturbed by the recent West River Parkway, Hennepin Avenue bridge, and post office construction. Most of the site is still intact.

References: Hudson (1907:470); Sanborn (1885, 1885/90, 1912); Rascher (1892); Minneapolis Tribune (11/23/1883); Tordoff (1984).

    GW-5. American Railway Express Depot (1914-1978)

Built as the freight depot in conjunction with the Great Northern Passenger Depot, this depot was in the same location as the Union Depot which was torn down when the Great Northern Depot was completed in 1913. Like the Great Northern Depot, the American Railway Express Depot straddled the tracks on concrete piers. A triple-bayed train shed stood just east of the depot. One of the chief purposes of the depot was mail shipment. It was torn down in 1978.

This site was not archaeologically tested during the riverfront archaeology of the 1980s. Much of the site remains undisturbed between the Hennepin Avenue bridge and the new post office addition.

References: Sanborn (1912/23).

    GW-6. Gateway Residential Complex (ca. 1862-1883)

After John Stevens sold his house on the riverfront in the early 1860s, the lower terrace south of the Stevens house was divided into small lots and became known as Brown and Jackson's Addition. Small frame dwellings rapidly appeared south of the Stevens house extending to the foot of 2nd Avenue S. One large, multi-storied frame structure at the south end appears on 1870s photographs and is identified on a ca. 1880 map as a livery stable (Figure 17). The residents of this area were forced to move by 1883 due to railroad expansion.

Archaeological testing in 1983 and 1986 documented a rich artifactual deposit deeply buried along the river between Hennepin Avenue and 3rd Avenue. This deposit yielded artifacts dating to the 1860s and 1870s. Much of the deposit has been destroyed by the post office addition in 1989 or buried beneath the West River Parkway.

References: Cook (1872); Diagram of the Business Center of Minneapolis (ca. 1880); Tordoff (1988); Tordoff and Clouse (1987).


 
Vol. 48, No. 1-2  © 1989 The Minnesota Archaeological Society

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