Minneapolis was both rival and partner to St. Paul. Only 12 miles away and also located on the Mississippi River, St. Paul was settled first, at the head of navigation on the Mississippi. Minneapolis grew up soon thereafter around the waterpower of the falls. Together the cities became a hub for land routes that fanned out north and west, to Lake Superior, Canada and the western plains.
Even though logs and lumber were floated on the river, wheat and flour moved by rail. In the years after the Civil War, steel rails were built along existing land routes. The network of railroads brought tons of grain to the mills beside the falls, and carried flour, lumber and industrial products to the markets of the world. Mill owners built the "Soo," or "Miller's Line," which carried flour from Minneapolis to the east via Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., challenging the discriminatory rated charged by Chicago-owned railroads.
Nearly a dozen railroad companies moved freight and passengers through Minneapolis at the height of the rail era. Trains crossed the Mississippi on the Stone Arch Bridge, arriving and leaving Minneapolis through its first Union Depot. James J. Hill, developer and railroad entrepreneur, built both bridge and depot at the invitation of the Minneapolis millers. The Milwaukee Road Depot served other railroad lines.
Immigrants, workers and goods crowded onto the trains that coursed into the Union Depot at Bridge Square in the heart of the city. Minneapolis began to see itself, like St. Louis, as a "Gateway to the West." The name was soon applied to the whole district. By the 20th century, jobs for farm laborers and lumberjacks had become scarce. The area became rundown and dirty, crowded with people without work.