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Granite Falls Advocate Tribune
  • River Ramblings... Steamboat time

  • That’s not just any old steamboat pictured below this column. As far as we can tell, it is the steamboat Osceola docking at the boat landing at the foot of Walnut Street in the small but bustling city of Minnesota Falls sometime around 1873 or 1874. This photo popped up on the Facebook page that CURE maintains la...
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  •     That’s not just any old steamboat pictured below this column. As far as we can tell, it is the steamboat Osceola docking at the boat landing at the foot of Walnut Street in the small but bustling city of Minnesota Falls sometime around 1873 or 1874.
        This photo popped up on the Facebook page that CURE maintains last week and it stopped me in my tracks.
        Until last winter, we had never seen a photo of  the former city of Minnesota Falls. or for that matter, the Osceola. Then out of the blue, a stereo-optic photo of that little village popped up on eBay and was purchased by an intrepid local collector who was kind enough to make a high quality copy for us. We ran that photo in our May 19, 2013 issue.
        Although that photo was a bit fuzzy and the town was somewhat in the distance, it was a bird’s eye view of the town and answered some questions but also brought many more questions forward.  It had been taken from the bluff at the top of the valley from the Chippewa County side of the river looking down on the river and the town facing toward the northwest.
        The photo was taken during high water and shows trees without leaves meaning that it must have been taken in the spring, sometime before mid May. It was taken by a photographer F.A. Taylor from St. Paul.
        Based on the town’s development at that time, I figured that the photo was taken around 1873 or 1874. before or right at the time that Granite Falls became the county seat. Shortly after, Minnesota Falls began to lose businesses and population. After the Hastings and Dakota Railroad didn’t cross the river into Minnesota Falls and was instead built on the Chippewa County side into the east side of Granite, the once burgeoning town began to fade,  even losing buildings to Granite Falls. The large devastating flood of April 1881 wiped out nearly everything that remained of Minnesota Falls.
        So what about this steamboat photo?
        Well, it too was apparently taken by F.A. Taylor and looks to be taken during high water before the trees have leafed out.
        Carl and Amy Narvestad’s History of Yellow Medicine County recounts that the Osceola made its first voyage up to what was touted as “the head of Navigation” at Minnesota Falls in May of 1873. They also say that it returned a year later and then again in some future years.         It was said to be the most prominent boat that traversed this far upstream and was 120 feet in length, which judging by the people on board, it seems   to be. It would almost certainly be able to navigate the normally shallow Minnesota River only when the river was running high in the spring.
    Page 2 of 3 -     Could this photo have been taken at nearly the same time as the earlier one that we published last May? That seems likely. How many different trips would a photographer from St. Paul be able to make to this frontier back in 1873 or 1874, especially before there were any railroads or roads? I’m guessing that the two photos  are taken during his same trip out here.
        This photo is taken from the Yellow Medicine County side of the river, from a elevated vantage point at the downstream end of the city of Minnesota Falls. That is likely near the location of the prominent  grist mill owned by former Governor Horace Austin and his partner Park Worden. There are weeds and brush in the lower left foreground of the photo which seems to tell us that the photographer would have been standing on the rock outcrop next to the mill to get this photo angle of the big boat.
        In the photo, the boat has landed at a rocky point that juts out into the river. Interestingly, the map of Minnesota Falls in the Narvestad’s book shows two Minnesota Falls streets that run  to the river. There is a steamboat landing noted at what was then called Cedar Street, near the middle of the town’s plat along the river. Further downstream, that map also shows what is called Walnut Street meeting the river where a point of land juts into the water, slightly upstream from the grist mill. This photo makes it look like the boat landing is at Walnut Street and the boat landing noted upstream at Cedar Street may be incorrect.
        Noteworthy in the photo is the small dam in the distance that Austin and Worden had built in the early 1870s. It  was destroyed in the 1881 flood. The half dozen or so men on the boat provide a good comparison of size when trying to figure the length of the flat bottom boat.
        There is a log cribbing structure in the river behind the boat and I’m not sure what purpose it serves but it appears on the other photo, too. There is also a man standing on a rock outcrop in the river, behind the boat. That same outcrop appears in the other Taylor photo as well.
        Although it is a bit fuzzy, it’s plain to see that there are several buildings in the distance on the Chippewa County side of the river. It seems likely that the distant buildings visible between the boat’s smokestacks could be the Waller farmsite where Robin and Karen Spaude now live, along Pete’s Point Road. The small road running up the hill behind those buildings is somewhat visible today but the bare bluffs in the photo are now full of trees and look quite different.
    Page 3 of 3 -     It is fascinating to look back to a time when there were many big plans being made and many of them failing. The arrival of a good sized steamboat was said to be a source of pride and wonderment for those early settlers at Minnesota Falls.             James Putnam, many years later, wrote about watching the Osceola arrive and unload. He and other townsfolk from Granite went down to Minnesota Falls and looked on with wonder and envy at their rival town’s good fortune of having steamboat service.
        Some of us are still looking at that steamboat in wonder. 
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