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History of Downtown Minneapolis, St. Paul

History of Downtown Minneapolis, St. Paul

One of the great aspects of life is history.

It teaches and shows us how we got to where we are today. From people and events to places, it brings to people what so many lack: perspective.

For those in the Twin Cities, when you walk around the downtowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul, have you ever wondered what the story is of the downtowns?

In terms of Minneapolis, the origin and growth of the city was spurred by the proximity of Fort Snelling, the first major military presence in the area, and its location to the Saint Anthony Falls. The falls provided power to the sawmills and flour mills.

Fort Snelling was established in 1819 at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers. As the page says, when land became available for settlement, two towns were founded on either side: St. Anthony on the east and Minneapolis on the west. The two town were merged in 1872. Eventually, flourmills became the dominant industry. That led to the development of railroads and banks, as well as the foundation of the Minneapolis Grain Exchange.

Minneapolis became a world leader of flour production, earning the name “Mill City.” As the city grew, the culture developed – namely the University of Minnesota and a park system designed by Theodore Wirth.

Downtown Minneapolis was the hub of business and financial activity. The Minneapolis City Hall was the tallest building in Minneapolis from its construction in 1888 until 1929, according the page. A municipal ordinance instituted in 1890 restricted buildings to a height of 100 feet later raised to 125. The construction of the First National – Soo Line Building in 1915 at a height of 252 feet raised concerns in the real estate industry. As the page says, that led to the 125-foot limit being reimposed.

The 27-story Rand Tower that was built in 1929 was the next challenger to the height limit. Then came the 32-story Forshay Tower that also was built in 1929. The Forshay Tower was the highest building in Minneapolis in 1971. The builder, Wilbur Forshay, wanted a tower that mimicked the Washington Monument. According to the page, Forshay wanted to stage an elaborate ceremony complete with a march that was composed by John Philip Souza. Six weeks later, Forshay lost his fortune in the Wall Street Crash and his check to Souza bounced. That led to Souza forbidding anyone to play the march until the debt was played.

Prior to the Market Crash, St. Paul flourished in financing and commerce. From brewers to cabinetmaker Bohn Manufacturing Company riding the wave of people using refrigerators and becoming Seeger Refrigerator Company. That was eventually bought by Whirlpool. In 1906, according to the page, the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company moved from Duluth to St. Paul. Later, it became 3M.

Grand buildings started to take rise. The Germania Bank Building (1889), the Manhattan Building (1889), the Merchants National Bank (1892) and the Pioneer and Endicott Buildings (1889-90). Then came blocks of Victorian storefronts with upper level apartments. Some of the ones that survived are the Schornstein Grocery and Saloon (1884), the Walsh Building (1888), the Rochat-Louise Sauerwein Block (1885-95) and the Otto W. Rohland Building (1891).

During the Great Depression, the buildings in both cities suffered from a lack of maintenance.

There has been work to bring back the magic to both, but some feel that hasn’t happened yet.

Of course, the talk of downtown doesn’t take into account the other aspects of both cities that are so historic. That would be the neighborhoods that are just as rich in history.

Still, there is an attempt to save the history and old buildings.

Just a simple walk around downtown and you get a glimpse of that history.

Now that you know the history of the downtown of both Minneapolis and St. Paul, spread the knowledge.

There is nothing quite the like knowing the history of where you live.