The name Minnesota Falls has appeared on our pages many times over the past couple of years.
Early on we reported on the proposal to remove the old dam that was built across the Minnesota River in 1905 and then we recorded the removal of the dam over this past year.
Before it was removed, we all wonder what the river would it look like when the dam was gone. Would there be a pronounced falls that had given the site its name? Would there be any evidence of any other water power structures at the site?
Xcel Energy had even placed ads in the newspaper asking to see any possible photos of the site before the dam had been built. There was no response. If any of our readers had any old photos of the site, there were no volunteers. I kept thinking that there just had to be photos. There are photographs taken at the missions near Upper Sioux Agency as early as 1858 and plenty of photos of Granite Falls in the 1880s. Why wouldn't there be photos of the Minnesota Falls area?
Minnesota Falls had been touted as the head of navigation by its boosters and the city that sprung up on the Yellow Medicine County side of the Minnesota River about three miles downstream from Granite Falls. The town had the county's first newspaper, The Minnesota Falls Sentinel, a nice variety of stores and other commercial establishments including a water-powered grist mill, a school, a Methodist church, a post office, two drug stores, a hotel, three blacksmith shops, a lumber yard, a furniture store, a meat market, a saloon, four general stores and a millinery shop.
With more than 180 residents, it was the largest city in Yellow Medicine County and remained so for more than a decade. At the time Granite Falls had 50 residents and Yellow Medicine City had even fewer.
There had to be a photo somewhere. We just hadn't seen it yet. That changed this winter when a photo of the city of Minnesota Falls was spotted on eBay by some members of the Granite Falls Historical Society. Teri Dinesen alerted me about the photo. When the on-line auction was done, Paul Benson held the winning bid.
He brought in a copy of the photo and we were finally able to look back, before the 1905 dam existed, to a time when the city of Minnesota Falls was in full bloom.
That photo is below. It is the only photo that most, if not all, of us have ever seen of the little town and the site before the old dam was built.
The photo looks like it was taken in the spring, after the snow had melted but before the trees had leafed out. The river is high, most likely due to the annual spring run-off created by melting snow.
Page 2 of 2 - There appear to be at least two dozen buildings visible. The large building near the center of the photo is the grist mill that the town founders Park Worden of Redwood Falls and former governor Horace Austin of St. Peter had built. There appears to be a raceway for water to power the mill and a small dam near the same place that the 1905 dam was later built by Olaus Lende and the Sorlien brothers.
A bridge spanning the river was built sometime after this photo was taken and the town seemed destined to continue growing.
That didn't last long, however. The city began to lose residents shortly after Granite Falls, in 1874, had outmaneuvered Minnesota Falls to capture the county seat from the much smaller Yellow Medicine City which was located near what is now Upper Sioux Agency State Park. More businesses and residents left Minnesota Falls after the Hastings and Dakota Railroad bypassed the town and built their tracks on the east side of the river into Granite Falls. Several houses from Minnesota Falls were moved to Granite Falls during the ensuing winters by skidding them onto the river ice and pulling them upstream three miles with horses.
The final blow to Minnesota Falls came with the devastating flood in April of 1881 when the river overran the town in a deluge that apparently was as large or larger than the 1997 flood.
After that, Minnesota Falls sat abandoned, its remaining buildings deteriorating and some even set afire by vandals. The town plat existed on county maps until 1901 when it was abandoned by a judicial decree.
Nothing of the old city remains today, but at least we now have a photo.