Twin cities Environmental History


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The Twin Cities hold a key place in the environmental history of Minnesota and the larger nation as well. Both cities benefitted from auspicious locations. Developing at the nexus of rail and water transportation in the Upper Midwest, and alongside the intersections of three rivers and three major biomes, St. Paul emerged as a hub for trade and government at the head of navigation of the Mississippi River. A mere fourteen miles upstream, Minneapolis sprang to life around St. Anthony Falls and became known for milling grain and timber, two of the region’s key natural resources.

Together, the cities’ markets and manufacturers played a significant role in the nineteenth-century environmental transformations of the Upper Midwest. They helped speed the transformation of prairies and forests into settled agricultural land, for example, furnishing settlers with everything they needed to get their farms up and running. They also acted as the great entrepot for the region’s natural wealth, taking in a steady flow of fur, hides, timber, and grain, and converting it to sellable products for national markets.

In addition to providing outstanding examples of how urban growth has helped transform ecosystems both local and distant, the Twin Cities offer compelling examples of how society has drawn upon nature to initiate and sustain urban growth, as well as how social values have guided urbanites as they have built and rearranged the world around them.

Get Started With Secondary Sources

  • Black smoke from chimney The Fur Trade in the Upper Mississippi Valley, 1630-1850, by Rhoda R. Gilman.
    Wisconsin Magazine of History. Vol. 58, no. 1 (1974): pp. 2-18.
    MHS call number: F576 .W8 v.58:1
  • The Waterfall That Built a City: The Falls of St. Anthony in Minneapolis, by Lucile M. Kane.
    St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1966, 1987.
    MHS call number: F613.M6 K3 1987
  • Mill City: A Visual History of the Minneapolis Mill District, ed. Shannon M. Pennefeather.
    St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2003.
    MHS call number: F613.M68 N654 2003
  • From Emission to Pollution: Smoke in the Twin Cities, by Yaffa Epstein.
    In Minnesota History. Vol. 62, no. 6 (2011): pp. 228-239.
    MHS call number: Reading Room F601.5 .M66 v. 62:6.
  • City of Parks: The Story of Minneapolis Parks, by David C. Smith.
    Minneapolis: Foundation for Minneapolis Parks, 2008.
    MHS call number: SB482.M62 M676 2008
  • Discover Nature in the Twin Cities: A Guide to Environmental Learning Centers in the Metro Area, by Alan Singer.
    Minneapolis: Nodin Press, 1985.
    MHS call number: QH76.5.M6 S56 1985
  • Changing the Face of Our City: How the People of Saint Paul Are Reinventing Their Riverfront.
    St. Paul: St. Paul Riverfront Corporation, 1996.
    MHS call number: F613.S68 C435 1996


Primary Resources

  • Louis Robert and Family Papers, undated and 1849-1889, 1900-1971.
    Original, photocopied, and microfilmed business records and other papers (1849-1889) relating to Minnesota pioneer Louis Robert, a St. Paul-based fur trader and merchant, steamboat line owner, landowner, real estate developer, and politician; photocopies of writings (undated) on Minnesota pioneer days by Robert’s daughter Jeannette Robert Lamprey; photocopies of genealogical and biographical materials (undated and 1915-1959) on the Robert and related families; and a small amount of twentieth century correspondence (1900-1971). Papers relating to Robert’s Indian trade, steamboat, and real estate ventures comprise account and credit books for Dakota Indian bands and individuals who traded and purchased supplies at his St. Paul store and other trading posts; legal documents, correspondence, and other papers regarding a claim (1885) filed by Robert’s heirs against the U.S. government for recovery of debts owed him by the Dakota Indians, including those incurred for destruction of property during the Dakota Conflict of 1862; steamboat passenger and freight records; and records documenting the purchase and sale of lands in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Missouri. The writings of Jeannette Robert Lamprey, who signed many of them as Wenonah (the Dakota name for first-born daughter), include reminiscences, stories, and historical and biographical sketches about native peoples, settlers, and events in Minnesota, especially in St. Paul, during the territorial period and early years of statehood.
    MHS call number: See the green ALPHA Manuscripts Notebooks--filed under Robert, Louis--for a detailed list of boxes and locator numbers (there are 2 microfilm reels and 1 box of materials).
  • St. Anthony Falls Water Power Company, Corporate Records, 1882-1890.
    Incorporated in 1856 under the laws of the state of Minnesota, the company purposed to develop waterpower on the east riverbank of St. Anthony Falls (Minn.) while the Minneapolis Mill Company developed the west riverbank. Records consist of a cashbook (1882-1890) from a waterpower development company in Minneapolis.
    MHS call number: See the green Great Northern Railway Manuscripts Notebooks--filed in the Branch Line notebooks under the heading: St. Anthony Falls Water Power Company--for a detailed summary sheet and container list (there is 1 volume of materials).
  • Dorilus Morrison and Family Papers, 1706-1913.
    Letters, deeds, leases, financial records, clippings, genealogical data, and other papers of Morrison, a Minneapolis businessman, mayor (1867), and state senator (1864-1865); of his wife, Harriet K. Whitmore; and of other family members. They document Morrison’s activities in Minneapolis, including his Minnesota land purchases (1854), incorporation of the Minneapolis Mill Company (1856), subsequent water power leases, pine land acquisitions and logging (1860s), the Minneapolis Harvester Works (1860s), Minneapolis real estate (1870s), his cotton and flouring mills at the Falls of St. Anthony in Minneapolis (1870s), the Upper Mississippi Navigation Company, the Consolidated Elevator Company in Duluth, and his political activities. Letters and legal and financial papers (1706-1844) also provide data on the Morrison and Whitmore families in Maine. Papers of his son Clinton detail Clinton’s gifts (1900s-1910s) to the city of Minneapolis.
    MHS call numbers: A/.M878d, OVERSIZE A/+M878d, Res. A/.M878d; See the green Manuscript Notebooks for detailed lists of boxes and locator numbers (there are 4 boxes; 4 oversize items; 10 items and 1 volume in Reserve).
  • Mississippi and Rum River Boom Company, Company Records, 1868-1920.
    Logbooks (1885-1920) and stock certificate book (1868-1889) of this firm organized to manage the movement of logs from the upper Mississippi River to the Falls of St. Anthony. This firm was a Weyerhaeuser affiliate.
    MHS call number: P459; see the green Manuscripts Notebooks in the Library for a detailed list of materials (there are 7 volumes in 1 box).
  • Harold S. Langland Papers, 1914-1984.
    Correspondence, engineering appraisals, essays, printed matter, and clippings documenting the career of a Minneapolis appraisal engineer. The engineering files document his appraisals for the Minneapolis Gas Light Company, hydroelectric facilities on the upper Mississippi, street railroad companies in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and the Denver Tramway Company. Other files concern his work on the Mayor’s Advisory Board on Natural and Artificial Gas (Minneapolis), the Citizens Public Utility Advisory Committee, the Minneapolis Community Chest’s Bureau of Research, and the Minnesota State Planning Board. There are also supporting files for a projected book advocating technocracy.
    MHS call number: See the green ALPHA Manuscripts Notebooks--filed under Langland, Harold Severin--for a detailed list of boxes and locator numbers (there is 1 box of materials).
  • The Story of Planning St. Paul from the Beginnings to 1953.
    A bound, typed manuscript on the development and implementation of the concept of city planning in St. Paul from its beginnings to 1953 by George Herbert Herrold, an engineer and director of city planning for the City Planning Board of St. Paul, ca. 1920-1953. The manuscript is accompanied by photographs and other items compiled and annotated by Herrold to illustrate the text of his manuscript. Much of the manuscript is devoted to describing the commissions, boards, councils, and committees that were established to plan the growth of St. Paul, and the individuals who worked with these groups on various projects. Government agencies and other organizations described include the Capitol Grounds, State Office Building, and State War Memorial commissions; City Planning Board of Saint Paul; United Improvement and United Civic councils; and the Central Business Development and Improvement Coordinating committees. Some of the individuals and groups discussed, along with their plans and projects, are Horace William Shaler Cleveland, city planning survey; Cass Gilbert, capitol approaches; Ell Torrance, war memorial; John Nolen, central business district; A. B. Stickney, parks, parkways, and recreation areas; and Raymond Loewy Associates, downtown area improvement. Topics addressed in the manuscript include St. Paul’s geologic formation, early settlers, first platting, transportation facilities, ethnic and racial groups, and politics. There is also data on proposed highway systems through the city, rerouting and renumbering of city streets, and traffic control; housing codes; zoning procedures; public housing projects; and recreational facilities.
    MHS call number: P2667; see the green Manuscripts Notebooks in the Library for a detailed list of boxes (there is 1 box, containing 1 volume and 2 folders).
  • Adolph F. Meyer Papers, 1901-1971.
    The collection documents Meyer’s work as a consultant for corporations, state and local governments, and others in connection with various water-related projects, including the design and construction of sewer systems, hydroelectric and irrigation projects, drainage ditches, and dams and reservoirs; the regulation of lakes and rivers; and various mining and railroad projects. There is considerable information about floods and their effects. Correspondents and organizations represented in the papers include railroad companies, Nebraska power and reclamation districts, the Minnesota and Ontario Paper Company, the Minnesota Department of Conservation’s Division of Waters, the Minnesota Resources Commission, Pickands Mather & Co., the Meyer Governor Co., and Douglas W. Barr.
    MHS call number: See the green ALPHA Manuscripts Notebooks--filed under Meyer, Adolph F. (Adolph Frederick)--for a detailed list of boxes and locator numbers (there are 33 boxes of materials), or use an electronic version of the inventory.
  • Steve J. Gadler Papers, 1956-1985.
    Correspondence and subject files on environmental issues, along with a few unrelated personal files, documenting the work of a community activist, member of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (1967-1982), and environmentalist with special interests in the field of water pollution and nuclear power.
    MHS call number: See the green ALPHA Manuscripts Notebooks--filed under Gadler, Steve J.--for a detailed list of boxes and locator numbers (there are 4 boxes of materials).
  • Metropolitan Parks and Open Space Commission. Metropolitan Park Reserve Board Files, 1969-1971.
    The Metropolitan Park Reserve Board was established to assist the Metropolitan Council with activities related to parks and open spaces in the metropolitan area [Laws 1969 c1124]. The files contain minutes; agenda materials, including memos and reports on park and open space policies; correspondence; legislative files that include drafts and analyses of the board’s original enabling law (1969), proposed legislation to establish it permanently and define more clearly its relation to other metropolitan parks and recreation bodies, and reports on board activities and policies; and related materials.
    MHS call number: See the red MHS State Archives Notebooks--filed under Metropolitan Council: Metropolitan Parks and Open Space Commission--for a detailed list of boxes and locator numbers (there is 1 full and 1 partial box of materials).
  • Bruce F. Vento Scrapbooks, 1976-1990.
    Scrapbook volumes and loose scrapbook pages compiled by a U.S. representative (Democratic) from St. Paul (Minn.) first elected in 1976. The scrapbooks contain mostly clippings of articles, editorials, columns, campaign advertisements, and publicity items that appeared in the major St. Paul and Minneapolis daily newspapers, Ramsey County suburban newspapers, St. Paul neighborhood newspapers, and various organizational publications. There are also photocopies of transcripts of radio and television news programs, wire services news stories, and press releases. The clippings and other materials document Vento’s congressional activities, election campaigns, and other aspects of his political career; the social, economic, and political issues in which he was particularly interested, including foreign policy, economic and taxation policies, the environment (especially the preservation of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area), and health, education, and other human services; his efforts in promoting federal policies that benefitted Minnesota and, especially, Ramsey County and St. Paul; and his relations with various constituents, including organized labor, ethnic and religious communities, and neighborhood, environmental, and women’s organizations.
    MHS call number: M590; see the green Manuscripts Notebooks in the Library for a detailed list of reel contents (there are 4 microfilm reels).
  • Metropolitan Council of the Twin Cities Area
    • Natural Resources Program Files, 1968-1986.
      Minutes, correspondence, grant files, agendas, legal documents, memos, planning documents, reports, and subject files documenting the council’s environmental planning/natural resources program, particularly in such areas as watershed, water quality, and lake overflow management; combined sewer overflow; air pollution; waste treatment; Housing and Urban Development (HUD) certification; emission density zoning; regional park open space; environmental education; CAB (Champlain, Anoka, Brooklyn Park) Interceptor; and relations with metropolitan area counties and watershed districts, the Metropolitan Waste Control Commission, the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), the Pollution Control Agency, and the Upper Mississippi River Basin Commission. Includes records of the Water Quality Management (208) Advisory Committee, Lake Overflow Technical Advisory Committee (LOTAC), Metropolitan Sewer Board, Surface Water/Chapter 509 Plan Content Guidelines Task Force, and Emission Density Zoning (EDZ) Task Force.
      MHS call number: See the red MHS State Archives Notebooks--filed under Metropolitan Council--for a detailed list of boxes and locator numbers (there are 7 boxes of materials), or use an electronic version of the inventory.
    • Published Records and Reports, 1967-2001.
      Reports, newsletters, and miscellaneous print and near-print items of or about the Metropolitan Council. The records cover all aspects of the council’s duties and activities, including census and populations statistics, growth and development, finances, housing, health care, programs for the developmentally disabled and aged, solid waste, sewerage projects and problems, transportation and light rail, water management, crime, and manufacturing and retail business.
      MHS call number: See the red MHS State Archives Notebooks--filed under Metropolitan Council--for a detailed list of boxes and locator numbers (there are 5 boxes of materials).
    • Solid Waste Disposal Program Records, 1966-1985.
      Minutes, agenda items, correspondence, memoranda, and related materials documenting the council’s solid waste disposal program, particularly in such areas as solid and hazardous waste management, public education, legal issues, resource recovery, refuse disposal, waste management policy, and grants for landfill abatement and compost. Includes records of the Solid Waste Disposal Advisory Committee, Solid Waste Review Task Force, Solid and Hazardous Waste Management Advisory Committee, and Solid Waste Public Education Committee.
      MHS call number: See the red MHS State Archives Notebooks--filed under Metropolitan Council--for a detailed list of boxes and locator numbers (there is 1 box of materials).

Visual Resources and 3D Objects

Excursion steamers at the Jackson Street levee, St. Paul.Falls of St. Anthony, high water Falls of St. Anthony and sawmill. Pillsbury A Mill looking across St. Anthony Falls Pavilion at Lake Harriet, Minneapolis Lagoon area, Loring Park, Minneapolis Earth Day BrochureHudson Bay Company and Northwest Companies soliciting trade with the IndiansGarbage dump on Bayless, St. Paul. Earth Day rally, University of Minnesota


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