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Geography of the Twin Cities. Development of the Twin Cities Physical Settings & Historical Images. David A. Lanegran Geography Department Macalester College. Part I: The Physical Setting of the Twin Cities.

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geography of the twin cities

Geography of the Twin Cities

Development of theTwin Cities

Physical Settings & Historical Images

David A. LanegranGeography DepartmentMacalester College

part i the physical setting of the twin cities
Part I: The Physical Setting of the Twin Cities

The geography of any city comes from the physical setting of the land. This influences both the size and shape of the city, as well as the type of activities in which residents can engage. Unlike any other major metropolis, the Twin Cities are home to many lakes, which have become a vital element in both the development and culture of the the area. These lakes were carved-out from the melting glaciers that once covered Minnesota (in the Pleistocene Epoch, 20,000 to 12,000 years ago).


Glaciation Buried River ValleyFigure 1: Pre- and interglacial river valleys around the Twin CitiesPre- and interglacial river valleys in the Minneapolis-St. Paul areas, identified from water-well records. The lakes located over the valleys represent buried masses of glacial ice relatively free of rock debris which, when melted, formed depressions that filled with water. The modern Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers are shown as dotted lines. (Modified from Wright, 1972.) Source: Minnesota's Geological Survey Educational Series 7, p. 4

part ii historical images kaposia village
Part II: Historical Images Kaposia Village

"Dakota Encampment" Captain S. Eastman, U.S. Army Del. Watercolor drawing, circa 1851-1857

This scene could be of the Kaposia Village, but there are no landmarks to help us fix its location. Eastman was stationed at Fort Snelling, so one can be confident this was painted in the Twin Cities area.


Map of the Military Reserve Embracing Fort Snelling. 1839 (National Archives)

In the late autumn of 1839, Major Joseph Plympton, commander of Fort Snelling, ordered a survey of the military reserve that was to set in motion the settlement pattern of what is now Minneapolis.

Thirty-four years earlier, Lieutenant Zebulon Pike came to Minnesota to purchase a site for a fort that would enable the Americans to control the fur trade. He purchased land at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota for sixty gallons of liquor, a $2000 case, and a promise of $2000 to be paid at some future time. Only a small part of the land would be needed for a fortress, but military

planners wanted to control the approaches to the fort and have enough land to provide a ready supply of firewood and building timber for the fort. In addition, some land was needed for crops. Pike drove a hard bargain, and the army got control of the Falls of St. Anthony, most of what is now south Minneapolis, and a large section of St. Paul. Until 1835, all the rest of the land in the territory belonged to the Native Indians, and the whites could not lay legal claim to it. As a result, most European Americans coming to the area to trade were squatters on the military reserve or married into and lived with Dakota families. Many American Indians also lived on the reserve to be close to the agent and the traders.


The early commanders of the fort, concerned about construction and defense, paid little attention the exact limits of their jurisdiction. Once the process of removing Indian title to the land began, however, it became necessary to survey the army's territory. The inter-tribal hostilities of the late 1830s may have influenced the decision to survey the fort, as well.

The survey of Fort Snelling illustrates the major physical and cultural features of the lake district as they were viewed in that unsettled time between the removal of the Native Americans and the development of the city. The alignment of the major river courses and lake basins is correct although the map makers seems to have underestimated the size of Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet. Looking first at the east side of Lake Calhoun, we see the site of the abandoned Eatonville, labeled "old Indian Village." We know the village was abandoned when this map was made because occupied villages are labeled with the local chief's name, such as Black Dog's Village on the Minnesota (then called St. Peter's) River.


Almost all of what we now call South Minneapolis was a prairie when this map was made. To the south of the lake district were several areas of mixed prairie and oak groves, known as oak openings, and further east on the banks of the Mississippi gorge was a large stand of sugar maple tress that were regularly tapped by the military for maple syrup. A few of the place names have been changed. Cedar Lake was then called Leavenworth in honor of the first commander of the fort, and the large moraine known today as Lowry Hill had been give the lurid title of "the Devil's Back Bone."


Fort Snelling

Close-up map of the Military Reserve embracing Fort Snelling, 1839 (National Archives)

As might be expected, Eatonville was connected by major trails to the mills located near St. Anthony Falls, down to the Indian agency and fort. The road from the village to what is now downtown Minneapolis follows almost a straight-line route and in no time converges with the route of modern Hennepin Avenue. Both trails to the east paralleled a sizable ravine which lies between modern Thirty-sixth and Thirty-eighth Avenues South, passing well south of the marshy Powderhorn Lake. Clearly the solders at the fort were greatly impressed by the two hills near the lakes, but they did not name the heavily wooded one located to the southeast of Lake Harriet, now called Washburn Park.

These maps provide the best view of the pre-agricultural frontier in the region. The Andreas Atlas of 1874 illustrates the first phases of urbanization.


Cloudman's Village

The noted American artist George Catlin painted this scene in either 1835 or 1836. The original is in the Smithsonian Institution.

The agent and friend of the Native Americans, Laurence Taliaferro, founded Eatonville, or Cloudman's Village, on the eastern shore of Lake Calhoun. Taliaferro believed the days of hunting, trade and tribal warfare were over and wished to convert the Dakota to European Agriculture. In 1828, he sponsored a village called Eatonville in honor of John H. Eaton, then Secretary of War. The settlement was known to the Dakota as Kay-h yah-ta Otanwa (village whose houses have roofs). This plan was made possible by Cloudman.


A Dakota from the Minnesota valley villages, Cloudman was an exceptional individual. Not only was he a pacifist, but he also advocated the idea that his people should live in farming villages. He was scorned by many Dakota who wished to continue their traditional ways. He gathered a few families, and with Taliaferro's help, established a settlement on the edge of Dakota Territory, within easy access to the fort. Taliaferro equipped the group and hired Philander Prescott as a government farmer. Philander Prescott was the first government farmer at Eatonville. In those days, the government hired farmers to teach agriculture to the Native Americans. Although the Dakota and other people in the area had long practiced agriculture, the government farmers were assigned the task of mechanization and converting the subsistence practices to a more commercial pattern. After a slow start, bumper crops were harvested and more families applied for the settlement than could be accommodated. By 1831, about 300 people lived in the village and Taliaferro appointed Cloundman Chief of the Lake Calhoun tribe. They began to engage in trade and were joined by two missionaries, Gideon and Samuel Pond. Cloudman's village prospered until 1838-39.


In April of 1838, an Ojibwe named Hole-in-the-Day killed thirteen Dakota at Lac Qui Parle. Hole-in-the-Day came to Fort Snelling in July, and two members of the Calhoun band attempted to ambush him. They succeeded in killing his companion, but Hole-in-the-Day escaped. In retaliation, Cloudman's son-in-law was killed near Lake Harriet. Thus the Dakota-Ojibwe feud flared into open warfare and several bloody skirmishes occurred along the frontier between the two groups, from the St. Croix to the Rum River. Nintey-five Ojibwe and seventeen Dakota were killed. For a month following their triumph, the Dakota celebrated at Lake Calhoun with scalp dances. Because the Calhoun village was vulnerable to attack, the Dakota abandoned it and moved in with groups in the Minnesota Valley to wait for better times. Better times never returned. When Taliaferro resigned as Indian Agent, the commander of Fort Major Plympton was named acting Agent and would not allow any Indian settlements on the government reserve. Thus the great agricultural experiment was ended, and the course of events that ended with the catastrophic removal of the Dakotas from Minnesota was set in motion. This history of the Twin Cities would have been quite different if Eatonville had continued to develop as an agricultural settlement.


Farmers and speculators purchased all the land in the Lake District during the years before the Civil War. Developers opened the northern and eastern section of the district for middle class residents during the late 1860s, but as the this map indicates, more of the land in the area was divided into large parcels owned by farmers and speculators. Many of the city's most famous early settlers engaged in land speculation in the district. John Green farmed land near the hill formerly called the Devil's Backbone. The large place to the west of Green's was owned by J.C. Goodrich, who was apparently a speculator. Thomas Lowery, founder of the Twin Cities' Streetcar system, owned land directly on the Devil's Backbone - later to be called Lowry Hill - along with his father-in-law C.G. Goodrich. The land fronting on Hennepin Avenue was divided into small parcels, but the large block fronting on the published east side of Lake of Isles was owned by C. G. Goodrich in partnership with another. The southeastern shore of Lake of the Isles was owned by R.P. Russell, a New Englander who came west to seek his fortune in 1839. An active merchant and politician, Russell dabbled in many financial matters including lumber, milling, land developing, and farming.

Portion of Map of Hennepin County from Andreas Illustrated Atlas of Minnesota. 1874


The primary path of development in the city during the period was in the vicinity of the Washburns' estates south of Franklin and west of Portland Avenue. This growth pattern influenced other developers to plat "out lots" or suburban tracts beyond the city limits. Most of the area on Lyndale between Franklin and Lake was divided into lots at this time, and developers were established between Hennepin and Lyndale just north of the Lake. However, this subdivision was well beyond the zone of active residential building. Most of the land in the district was owned by Colonel William S. King. His Lyndale Farm was the largest solely-owned property in the history of Minneapolis. The west side of Lake Calhoun was owned by Louis Menage, so it is easy to see why he was willing to buy up King's debt and foreclose on the farm. We can also see the Cedar Lake station on the railroad, which brought tourists to the resort hotels on the lake. The Lakewood cemetery is also indicated on the map, but was not yet established. Actually, planning had just begun on the cemetery when this map was published.


St. Paul in Minnesota watercolor, 1851 Johnann Baptist Engler, Oberosterreichisches Landes Museum, Linz, Austria, reproduced by Ramsey County Historical Society.

Old St. Paul

This view of the Capital of Minnesota Territory shows the rambling river town. The focus is on the present site of the River Centre and upper landing in St. Paul. We can see the significance of the steep slopes for the transportation system. The Gold Rush and various financial panics caused the early city to experience wide changes in size and prosperity.