The list of businesses is impressive: Two drug stores, three general stores, a hardware store, two hotels, a millinery shop, a furniture store, two blacksmith shops, a saloon, a meat market, a hardware store, a lumber yard, a sawmill, a grist mill, a post office and even a newspaper. Add to that list a church and a school and it seems like the kind of community that most folks in western Minnesota would be pretty comfortable in.
These are the ingredients for a progressive and growing community. Most communities in this part of the state would consider themselves fortunate to have this number and variety of businesses.
That list is a solid foundation for a progressive community that is positioning itself for the future, a future that looks at transportation options for even more growth, for government services and a population influx. Add to that a great water supply, with the advantage of hydro-power and even a connection to a former state governor and you are looking at a town that, simply put, is bound to succeed.
That proud community, so full of options and promise saw quick growth and a bright future. Being the largest city in the county and with more amenities than any other community in the area, there is nothing to doubt that there are good times ahead.
Even with all these advantages, the future is something that can be hard to predict but the table was set for success.
The population growth in just 10 years put the town on the map. It was at 180 residents and growing.
Minnesota Falls, “The Head of Navigation” on the Minnesota River, located at the foot of three miles of rough rapids had it all, it seemed. The townspeople of nearby Granite Falls, only three miles upstream and with only 50 people in 1874, looked on with envy from across the river as the steamboat Osceola unloaded its cargo. Because of the falls and rapids created by those pronounced rock outcrops in the river, never would such a craft ply the waters upstream to Granite Falls. The future editor of the Granite Falls Tribune and several others looked on with envy and later wrote that they knew water transportation would never be a viable option for them.
There was the promise of railroads however, but Minnesota Falls seemed destined to have that advantage, too. The Hastings and Dakota (later the Milwaukee Road and now the Twin Cities and Western) was planning a line that would cross the river at Minnesota Falls.
Then fate played its hand.
Page 2 of 2 - The commissioners of the newly-formed Yellow Medicine County, had in 1872, selected the older settlement of Yellow Medicine City to be the permanent county seat, even though it had only 40 residents. Undaunted, the citizens of Minnesota Falls marched on and kept growing.
In 1874, The Minnesota Falls Sentinel, the county’s first newspaper, pushed for a change of location of the county seat. Granite Falls joined the fray and soon an election was held. Granite Falls was the choice of voters across this long county, a blow to Minnesota Falls.
That loss was compounded when the H&D decided on a route for their rail line that was slightly to the north of the original survey, staying on the east side of the river through the east side of Granite Falls. Riverboat shipping was no match for an all- season dependable railroad. Businesses were soon leaving Minnesota Falls and so were people. Several houses were moved to Granite Falls, skidded on river ice using teams of horses.
The little town, once so full of the future, with a line-up businesses that any town these days would love to have, soon folded. The final blow was the huge flood of 1881, by all accounts similar in size to the 1997 flood. The town, with its low-lying riverside location, was ravaged.
The city that had once been called Yellow Medicine County’s most important, was no more.
24 years later, in 1905, the promise of water power at Minnesota Falls once again attracted attention. A new dam was built, ironically, by water power advocates from Granite Falls.
We traveled along the river’s mud and sand flats to the site of Minnesota Falls last week. It is amazing to think that, for 10 years, there was once a busy little town just upstream from where that dam straddles the river. Minnesota Falls captured the imagination of people many years ago and it is still doing so.