A small group gathered at the Mill City Museum, 704 S. 2nd Street, where we were met by our guide, Fred. Fred hadn’t given a tour in 14 months and was very excited to lead a group again. His enthusiasm was contagious.
He began by reminding us that the riverfront we looked out on was once the gathering place for many Native American tribes including the Dakota, the Winnebago and the Iowa. “The first Europeans didn’t get here until 1680,” he said, when Father Louis Hennepin arrived. Hennepin was sent by French explorer Robert de La Salle, who was searching for a trade route to China and hoped the Mississippi River would provide the connection.
Fred pointed out that St. Anthony Falls, named by Hennepin for the patron saint of travelers, was farther downstream in Hennepin’s time than it is today. If not for the concrete apron placed over the falls by the United States Army Corps of Engineers in 1876, the only natural waterfall on the entire river would be nothing but rapids today, washed away at the rate of 3 feet per year.