Posts Tagged ‘Henry Snelling’

Minnehaha Falls – yet another of those iconic sites in the Twin Cities. And easily accessible by bike, thanks to some forward-thinking park planners in the late-nineteenth century. Perhaps not impressive as the more famous waterfalls like Niagara or Yellowstone, but a genuinely tranquil spot for us city-dwellers, especially if you take the time to descend into the glen and stroll along the path by Minnehaha Creek.

The Falls are ever-changing. Last October, the first time I visited the Falls, they were running quite impressively, the water roiling in the pool below before flowing down the creek.

The Falls in October 2010.

Last week when I visited, things looked a lot different.

By October 2011, the Falls was just a pale memory of its spring incarnation.

The flow of the creek is now totally dependent on snow and rainfall again – and it’s been dry for a while now – but for many years a system of pumps kept the water rushing over the Falls (including water drawn from the Mississippi). Back in August of 1964 drastic steps had to be taken to ensure a good flow during a severe drought: in honor of a visit by President Lyndon Johnson, fire hydrants upstream from the Falls were opened, thus ensuring that the President could view a cascade rather than a feeble trickle.

The photo on this interpretive panel at the park shows President Johnson and Hubert Humphrey enjoying Minnehaha Falls in 1964.

The image of the falls has been recorded innumerable times from early on in Minnesota history, e.g. this lithograph by Henry Lewis from 1854 and this Benjamin Franklin Upton photograph including Dakota men looking down on the falls (Minnesota Historical Society collection).

But these images don’t capture the Fall’s environs or what it was like to visit or play at the falls in the days before Minnesota was even a territory. Charlotte Clark Van Cleve spent a few of her childhood years in the early 1820s at Fort Snelling and as an adult, she waxed nostalgic about visiting the falls as a child:

But the most charming of all our recreations was a ride to “Little Falls” [apparently as compared to St. Anthony Falls, the “Big Falls”] now “Minnehaha.” The picture in my mind of this gem of beauty, makes the sheet of water wider and more circular than it is now, I know it was fresher and newer, and there was no saloon there then, no fence, no tables and benches, cut up and disfigured with names and nonsense, no noisy railroad, no hotel, it was just our dear pure “Little Falls” with its graceful ferns, its bright flowers, its bird music and its lovely water-fall. And while we children rambled on the banks, and gathered pretty fragrant things fresh from their Maker’s hand, listening the while to sweet sounds in the air, and to the joyous liquid music of the laughing water, there may have been some love-making going on in the cozy nooks and corners on the hill side or under the green trees, for in later years, I have now and then come upon groups of two, scattered here and there in those same places, who looked like lovers, which recalled to my mind vividly what I had seen there long ago.

A young couple has found its way up under the overhang near the Falls themselves. October 2011.

That enchanting spot, so dainty in its loveliness, is hallowed by a thousand tender associations and it seems more than cruel to allow its desecration by unholy surroundings and various forms of vice. Standing beside it now, and remembering it in its purity, just as God made it, my eyes are full of unshed tears, and its mellifluous ceaseless song seems pleading to be saved from the vandalism which threatens to destroy all its sweet influences and make it common and unclean. But as I, alone, of all who saw it in those days long gone by, stand mourning by its side, there dawns in my heart the hope that the half formed purpose now talked of, for making it the centre of a park for the delight of the two cities between which it stands, may be perfected, thus saving it from destruction and making this bright jewel in its setting of green, the very queen of all the many attractions of this part of our State. Surely no spot in ours or any other State offers such beauty or so many inducements for such a purpose, and coming generations will forever bless the men who shall carry it out, thus preserving our lovely Minnehaha and the charming surroundings for their own delight and the enjoyment of those who shall come after them.

(From ‘Three Score Years and Ten’ Life-Long Memories of Fort Snelling, Minnesota, and Other Parts of the West by Charlotte Ouisconsin Van Cleve, 1888, available as an EBook #20232 through Gutenberg EBooks.)

Henry Snelling, son of Colonel Josiah Snelling, also recorded his memories of growing up at Fort Snelling in the 1820s. In his Memoirs of a Life from my notebook and journal, with additions and reflections, he gushed (sorry, couldn’t resist) about Minnehaha Falls, writing:

Two miles north of the fort is the celebrated cascade Minnehaha (Laughing water); and a most lovely and beautiful gift of God it was at that time, a very paradise of nature. How the hand of man has improved (?) it I know not, for I have never visited it since my boyhood days. Here I have wandered down and along the grassy and forest covered slopes of the cool and placid stream gathering the beautiful flowers that adorned the velvet robe of loveliest green that covered our mother earth or sat beneath the musical sounds of the Laughing water as it fell into the crystal-like basin at my feet …

The bike path along Minnehaha Parkway allows bikers to enjoy the creek at several places along the way to Minnehaha Park from Lake Harriet.

How often I have gone to that beautiful creation of God to take the beautiful fish of the stream, that sporting in the sunlight near the surface flashed their golden and silver rays into my eyes as they chased each other in gleeful pastime, or gently approached the shore into the cooling shadow of the trees, and I could not do it. No sooner seated within the magic circle of those laughing water and I was lulled into forgetfulness of all else save present happenings; so serene and blissful that to bring death into the scene seemed sacrilege. Birds were all around me caroling their sweetest notes, the waters danced before me, the wind murmured among the leaves above me with aeolian sweetness, and the flowers around me sent a delicious fragrance to my nostrils. How could death enter this value of exquisite delight, surely here, if no where else, God is manifest in His works.

(Unfortunately, Henry suffered from the common misconception that Minnehaha meant ‘laughing water,’ when in fact it means ‘waterfall’ or ‘rapid water’ in Dakota.)

However charming the Falls may be for us today, how much more magical they must have been in those days, before the picnic tables and benches, before the necessity of restoring the native prairie along the hillside. But the area still inspires visitors. Following down the creek from the Falls I encountered a family that was clearly as entranced by the place as Henry and Charlotte were in their time.

A group of kids with adults enjoyed a beautiful fall afternoon building these whimsical, and possibly Arctic-inspired, statues in the creek below the Falls.

But rather than fishing, these children were leaving their own whimsical mark on the creek with their stone sculptures – reminiscent of Arctic inuksuk – guarding a section of the creek.

The children - and perhaps others before them - left behind several of these stone statues in Minnehaha Creek below the Falls.


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