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Frequently Asked Questions About the History of the City of Minneapolis

Buildings Entertainment and Sports
Business and Industry Geography and Natural History
Churches and Cemeteries Government
Early History and Lore Miscellaneous
Education Neighborhoods


When was the first skyscraper erected in Minneapolis?
In 1885 the eight-story Temple Court building was erected as the first skyscraper in the city.

Minneapolis Tribune, October 23, 1927

Where is the first house to have been built in Minneapolis?
915 NE 2nd St. may have been the oldest house in Minneapolis, but it was torn down in 1963 to make way for the construction of an apartment building.  Fanny Mosseau was born in the house in 1841.  The Godfrey House at University and Central Ave. SE, built in 1849, is the oldest standing house in the City of Minneapolis.  It was built by miller, postmaster, and millwright Ard Godfrey.

Minneapolis Star, May 17, 1963

What is the tallest building in Minneapolis?
The IDS (Investors’ Diversified Services), which opened in February 1972, is the tallest building in Minneapolis.  The building is 775 feet tall and 57 stories high.  The 51st floor is an observation floor and is 717 feet above ground.  Visibility within a 35-mile radius is possible from this floor.  The top six stories are used for mechanical purposes and are not open to the public.  The building sits between 7th and 6th streets in Minneapolis and architects were Philip Johnson & John Burgee of New York City and Edward F. Baker Associates of Minneapolis.

How tall are some of the other taller buildings in the city?
The Foshay Tower is 32 stories high and 447 feet, 3 inches tall.  To the top of the antenna is about 600 feet.  The N.S. Bell Tel. Co. building is 26 stories (30 average-size stories) and 350 feet above ground.  Rand Tower is 27 stories high and 310 feet tall.  25 of these floors are rentable, and elevators go to the 25th floor.

What year was the first skyway in use in Minneapolis?
The city’s first skyway was opened in August 1962.  It joined the Northstar Center with the Northwest National Bank Building.  The Northwestern National Bank building burned down on Thanksgiving Day, 1982.  A second skyway opened in June 1963 connecting the Northstar Center to the Roanoke Building across 7th St.

Minneapolis Star-Tribune, December 18, 1995

What was the first private residence to be air conditioned?
Charles G. Gates home on Lake of the Isles was built with air conditioning in 1914.  It was built between 1911 and 1914 for $1 million and was razed in 1933.  Gates died before the house was finished.  Its address was 2501 East Lake of the Isles Boulevard.

Lanegram, David. Lake District of  Minneapolis: A History of the Calhoun-Isles Community. St. Paul: Living History Museum, 1979.

Business and Industry

Is the Star Tribune a merger of two newspapers?
The Star Tribune is a merger of four Minneapolis newspapers: The Minneapolis Tribune, Star, Journal, and Times.  In 1905 the Tribune purchased the Times.  In 1935 and 1939 the Cowles family bought the Star and the Journal and merged the two to form the Star-Journal which was soon shortened to the Star.  In 1941 the Cowles purchased the Tribune and published it as the morning paper, and the Star was published as the evening paper.  On April 5, 1982 the Star merged with the Tribune to form the Minneapolis Star and Tribune.  On August 31, 1987, the Minneapolis Star and Tribune changed its name to Star Tribune: Newspaper of the Twin Cities.  They published a Minneapolis edition, a St. Paul edition, and a state edition for the rest of Minnesota and surrounding states.

Minneapolis Star and Tribune, July 1, 1987

What was the first newspaper ever published in Minneapolis?
The St. Anthony Express was first published in May 1851 in a log or block house on Main Street, St. Anthony.  In the beginning the paper was Whig in politics and reflected the conservative views of the Silver Grey wing of the party as it was then known.  As the Whig party gradually merged in the Free soil and Republican parties, the Express took sides with the Democratic Party and was Democratic until its discontinuance in 1859.  The idea for the paper was that of Elmer Tyler, a tailor on Main Street opposite the Falls.  The paper was edited by Isaac Atwater.  The St. Anthony Republican was established in April 1855 with Rev. C.G. Ames as editor.

Atwater, Isaac, ed.  History of Minneapolis and Hennepin County Minnesota. New York: Munsell & Company, 1893. 355-356.

Which Twin Cities mall was the first in the country?
Southdale Shopping Center, located in Edina, was the first totally enclosed shopping center in the nation.  The two-level mall opened in 1956 with 72 stores, including two major department stores.  It offered 5000 free parking spaces grouped into lots and marked by clever symbols.  Architecture firm Victor Gruen & Associates aimed to combine elements of the village green, European city centers, and elegant arcades and galleries in a constant temperature-controlled enclosure.

Who owned the first grocery store in Minneapolis?
E. Case and his son S.W. Case opened a store in the upper part of town, opposite the St. Charles Hotel in 1851.

Stevens, John H. Personal Recollections of Minnesota and Its People. Minneapolis: [Tribune Job Ptg. Co.], 1890. 115

Churches and Cemeteries

How was Minneapolis chosen as the site for the Basilica of Saint Mary?
In 1830 St. Anthony was included in the diocese of Archbishop Henny of Milwaukee.  Building of the first Catholic Church, St. Anthony of Padua, commenced in 1849.  The Basilica of Saint Mary was constructed between 1907 and 1915.  It is the first basilica in the United States, honored by Pope Pius XI in 1926.  In the 1980s, it became evident that repairs were needed and in 1990s the historic structure was restored.  The Basilica has been named to the National Registry of Historic Sites.

Atwater, Isaac and John H. Stevens, eds.  History of Minneapolis and HennepinCounty Minnesota. Vol. 1. 1989. 210-211.                                          

What is the oldest still-active cemetery in Minneapolis?
St. Anthony’s Cemetery on Central Avenue and 28th Avenue N.E. is the oldest still-active cemetery in the city.  Founded in 1857, the cemetery was actually in St. Anthony at the time of its founding.  Lakewood Cemetery, which opened in 1872, was selected in 1957 as one of the nation’s 10 most beautiful cemeteries and is still active today.  Coming in third is St. Mary’s Cemetery (originally Immaculate Conception Cemetery), founded in 1873 on Chicago Avenue and 46th Street.

Warner, G.E. History of HennepinCounty. Early cemeteries of Minneapolis Township. p. 345-46. (Ref. 977.65 W28)

Early History and Lore
Who is the first European credited with exploring the land that is now the City of Minneapolis?
Louis Hennepin, a Franciscan priest, first set eyes on the Falls of St. Anthony in 1680. On an expedition commissioned by the French king, he had been dispatched at Lake Peoria to explore the Upper Mississippi but abandoned the river at Pig’s Eye and followed an Indian trail to the Mille Lac region. On his return in July or August 1680, he pitched his camp on the site of the present city of Minneapolis and christened the “curling waters” St. Anthony after the chosen patron saint of the expedition. The area east of the Mississippi became known as the village of St. Anthony. In 1872 this village merged with the city that developed on the west bank, becoming what is now the city of Minneapolis. The Falls would give the city industrial power.

Excerpt taken from:  Atwater, Isaac and John H. Stevens, eds. History of Minneapolis and Hennepin County Minnesota. Vol. 1. 1889. 11. 4 vols.
John H. Stevens, eds.  History of Minneapolis and Hennepin County Minnesota. Vol. 1. 1989. 11. 4 vols.

What Native American nations lived in Minneapolis before Europeans arrived?
In pre-historic times, the Mound Builders occupied the whole valley of the Mississippi. When explorers first arrived, the people inhabiting the area belonged to the Ihonktonwan or Yankton branch of the Dahkotah nation. The name Dahkotah signifies “league.” They were called Nadowaysioux by their neighboring enemies. Traders shortened the name to Sioux. The Sioux occupied a vast area from the shores of Lake Superior to Arkansas and from the country east of the Mississippi to the Mille Lacs region. The Sioux and Ojibways were traditional enemies in a continual state of war, but the Sioux gradually yielded their possessions on the east of the Mississippi, until that river became the dividing line between the territories occupied by each.

Excerpt taken from: Atwater, Isaac and John H. Stevens, eds. History of Minneapolis and Hennepin County Minnesota. Vol. 1. 1889. 18-19. 4 vols.
Atwater, Isaac and John H. Stevens, eds.  History of Minneapolis and HennepinCounty Minnesota. Vol. 1. 1989. 18-19. 4 vols.

What is the legend of the falls?
A young Indian of the Sioux nation had lived happily for a few years with his wife and two children.  Having met with unrivaled success as a hunter and knowing that he would soon be called upon to preside as the nation’s chief, the man was encouraged by some new friends to take a second wife.  They convinced him that it would be impossible for one woman to manage his household affairs and wait upon all the guests his rising importance would call to visit him.  The man accepted the wife they had selected, and then went home seeking his wife’s permission.  She refuted every argument he posed, pleading with him to remember the happiness of their former life.  Finding her pleading in vain, she took her two children and went to live with her parents. 

The group journeyed up the Mississippi River to spend the winter hunting.  On their return trip, at the Falls of St. Anthony, the woman painted herself and her children, paddled her canoe immediately into the suck of the rapids, and began singing her death song.  She continued as she and her children were born headlong down to the roaring cataract and instantly dashed to pieces on the rocks below.  No trace of herself, her children, or of the boat was ever found afterwards.  The woman’s brothers killed her husband to avenge her death.

Atwater, Isaac and John H. Stevens, eds.  History of Minneapolis and HennepinCounty Minnesota. Vol. 1. 1989. 15-16.

How did Minneapolis get its name?
The first name selected for the city in 1852, Albion, proved unpopular.  The name Minneapolis, suggested by schoolmaster Charles Hoag, was compounded from “Minnehaha” (laughing waters) and “polis” (Greek suffix for city or city of the falls).  The literal meaning of Minneapolis is “city of waters.”

Upham, Warren. “Minnesota geographic names, their origin and historic significance.” Collections of the Minnesota Historical Society. Vol. 17. St. Paul: Ramaley, Chaney & Co., 1920. (977.6 M64 Vol. 17)

Why did people settle in this cold climate and how did they survive?
Early white settlers came here because they were told about the richness of the land and lied to about the climate. Promoters of the area called it chilly, but healthful and invigorating.  Many settlers who fell for the propaganda would later lie to attract the next wave of immigrants.  And for some immigrants, Minnesota wasn't colder than their homelands. Those were the people from Scandinavia and northern Europe, many of whom came in the 1880s and 1890s and chose Minnesota partly because it looked and felt like home.

Some settlers didn’t survive the climate.  Some perished in blizzards, weakened over the winter, sickened and died, a few starved, some went crazy and some went back home. Many were repulsed for the rest of their lives by the memory of the Minnesota winters. But most people did live through the harshest weather.

The Indians survived because they didn't venture far away unless they had to, and that meant to hunt.  They just settled in until the storm was over.  Already in summer, the Indians were working hard to prepare for winter. The Dakota made teepees out of buffalo or elk hide. They dried or smoked the meat of the animals they killed in the summer and fall. They harvested vast quantities of wild rice and stored it in deer hide. During the winter, the men ice-fished and tracked deer and occasionally moose through the snow, and the women set snares to catch rabbits. Early accounts tell of the Indians walking 30 miles a day in hunting expeditions. They carried spare pairs of dry moccasins and stuffed them with grass for insulation and cushioning, but even in the best of conditions the Indians' supplies could get meager by spring, before the ducks and geese came back.  They also made beds made of furs for mattresses, covered with cedar and pine boughs for warmth and with hay and grass for comfort; mats for sitting on, made of tightly woven bulrushes. They dried berries and store them underground, and medicines such as swamp plants that purify blood.

The earliest whites here - explorers, fur trappers, fur traders - learned from the Indians and for the most part lived as they did.  It was later immigrants, by the middle of the 1800s, who got into trouble, partly out of winter ignorance, partly out of loneliness.

Peg Meier, Star Tribune Jan. 20, 1995. 

Who was the first American settler in Minneapolis?
Prior to the opportunity to make lawful settlements, many squatter claims were made on both sides of the river.  The first of these seems to have been made in 1836 by Major Plympton, the Commandant at Fort Snelling, who staked out a claim adjacent to the Falls on the east side, and built a log house upon it.  The following year Sergeant Carpenter, also an officer at Fort Snelling, made a claim adjacent to it.  In 1838 Franklin Steele took up a homestead on the site of St. Anthony.  Five years later Petit John made a claim south of the Plympton location, extending along the river indefinitely, but including the site of the State University.  These claims passed through several ownerships by transfer, until the title was secured, after the lands came into market; the Plympton claim by Franklin Steele, and the Carpenter and Petit John claims by Pierre Bottineau.

Charles Wilson was the first American settler in 1847.  These first American settlers were mostly from New England and the Middle States.

Atwater, Isaac, ed.  History of Minneapolis and Hennepin County Minnesota. New York: Munsell & Company, 1893. 29, 84.

American Guide Series on Minnesota p. 186


When was the University of Minnesota established?
The University of Minnesota was incorporated by an Act of the Legislature approved February 25, 1851.  By the terms of the Act, it was located, “at or near the Falls of St. Anthony.”  The first building was erected in 1857 and 26 pupils were admitted, but the State fell into financial depression before its completion, and the school was closed in 1861.  It was not until 1867 that an Act was passed appropriating funds to be expended in repairing and furnishing the building.  In 1869, the school permanently reopened and in 1873 two students received the first Bachelor of Arts degrees given by the school.  In 1888 the first doctor of philosophy degree was awarded.

Atwater, Isaac and John H. Stevens, eds.  History of Minneapolis and HennepinCounty Minnesota. Vol. 1. 1989. 126-149

When was the first school established in Minneapolis?
The first educational institution in Minneapolis was started by Rev. J.D. Stevens on the shores of Lake Harriet in 1834. It was for children, including those from Cloud Man's band of Mdewakanton Dakota and from Fort Snelling. By 1849, in St. Anthony, the first private or subscription schools opened. Then in 1851-52, a school was opened on the west side of the river by Mary Schofield.

As the settlers moved into the area, more educational opportunities opened up. By 1874, there were six school buildings in Minneapolis with an enrollment of 2,907 pupils and four school buildings in St. Anthony (part of Minneapolis since 1872) with an enrollment of 900 students. The first high school was Central Union High, which opened in 1857 and burned down in 1863.

The first school was located at 2nd Street near 2nd Avenue South.

Entertainment and Sports

When did the Vikings join the NFL?
The Minnesota Vikings joined the National Football League as an expansion team in 1961 and produced only one winning record in their first seven seasons.  They were one of the dominant teams of the 1970s.

Is it true the Los Angeles Lakers Basketball Team were once the Minneapolis Lakers? 
Yes, from 1947 to 1960. Two Minneapolis businessmen Ben Berger and Morris Chalfen bought the Detroit Gems franchise of the National Basketball League for $15,000 in summer of 1947, renamed them the Minneapolis Lakers, and hired a new coach and players. With star George Mikan the team was an immediate success and won three championships in three different leagues in its first three years. (The National Basketball League, then the Basketball Association of America, and then the new, merged National Basketball Association - professional sports was more fly-by-night back then.) Once settled in the NBA, they were the first "dynasty" of that league, and won four championships in five seasons (1949-50, 1951-52, 1952-53, 1953-54). After a few lean years, and complaints of lame ticket sales, lack of an arena dedicated to basketball and fears of competition from rumored pro baseball and football teams (the Vikings and Twins), owner Bob Short announced the Lakers would move to L.A. for the 1960-61 season.
Thornley, Stew, Basketball's Original Dynasty : The History Of The Lakers,   p.18, 25, 71-2  

When did the Timberwolves join the NBA?
The Minnesota Timberwolves made their NBA debut on November 3, 1989 against the Seattle SuperSonics in Seattle.  They recorded their first win on November 10 of that year.

Minnesota Timberwolves. Inaugural season summary, 1989-1990. (GV885.52.M56M57)

Where in Minneapolis did Mary Tyler Moore live?
Mary Tyler Moore lived at 2104 Kenwood Parkway.  Her office (television station) was located at the Midwest Federal Building.

Minnesota file

What high school did Prince go to and what year did he graduate?
Prince Rodgers Nelson went to Central High School from 1973-1976. His picture as a sophomore is in the 1974 Central High School yearbook which is in Special Collections.  He graduated in 1976.

What was the earliest place for theatrical performances?
Woodman’s Hall was the earliest place for theatrical performances, and was situated at the corner of what is now Second Avenue South and Washington.  It was owned by Ivory T. Woodman, and his first attraction was the old Sally St. Claire troupe.  In a few years both actors and audience needed more space, so a second theatre, Harmonia Hall, was built at the corner of Second Avenue North and Second Street.

Atwater, Isaac and John H. Stevens, eds.  History of Minneapolis and HennepinCounty Minnesota. Vol. 1. 1989. 326.

Where is the house that is featured on the cover of the Let It Be album by the Replacements?
The photo was shot by Daniel Corrigan in 1984 at the Anita Stinson home, 2215 Bryant Ave South.

1985 Minneapolis City Directory.

Geography and Natural History

Are there any artificial lakes in Minneapolis?
There are no artificial lakes in Minneapolis.  Some of our lakes and lagoons, however, were formerly swampy lakes.  Lake Hiawatha (formerly called Rice Lake), and Lake of the Isles were swampy and were dredged out to deepen them and make better lakes.  Longfellow Lakelet, the lagoon at Webber Park, and the Bassett’s Creek lagoons in Theodore Wirth Park were made by putting dams in the streams.

Minneapolis Tribune, August 19, 1963

How did Lakes Calhoun and Harriet get their names?
Lake Calhoun is named after John Caldwell Calhoun (1782-1850), statesman of South Carolina.  He was secretary of war, 1817-25; vice-president of the United States, 1825-32; U.S. senator, 1833-43; and secretary of state under President Tyler, 1844-45, when he was again elected to the Senate, of which he remained a member until his death.  The Dakota (Sioux) name of this lake is given as “Mde Medoza, Lake of the Loons.”  Lake Harriet, named after Calhoun’s wife, Harriet Leavenworth, is called by the Dakotas, “Mde Un-ma, The Other Lake.”

Upham, Warren. Collections of the Minnesota Historical Society. Volume 17. Minnesota geographic names, their origin and historic significance. St. Paul: Ramaley, Chaney & Co., 1920. 229. (977.6 M64)

Durand, Paul C. Ta-Ku-Wa-Kan Ti-Pi: the Dakota Homeland in the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area.  Prior Lake, MN: The author, 1982. (REF F604.D97 1982)

How many lakes are there in Minneapolis?
There are 22 lakes within the city limits of Minneapolis.

How far is it to walk or bicycle around Lake of the Isles, Lakes Calhoun, Harriet and Nokomis?
It’s approximately a 3-mile walk or bicycle ride around Lake of the Isles and a 3.4-mile walk or bicycle around Lake Calhoun.  Lake Harriet and Lake Nokomis (including the Cedar Ave. bridge over Nokomis) are each 2.8 miles around.

Minneapolis Star Tribune August 12, 1994

What is the longest street in Minneapolis?
Lyndale Avenue is the longest street within the city limits.  It is the only street extending from the northern city limits to the southern city limits.

City Hall/Public Info Representative, June 1971

What was the first park in the city?
Murphy Square donated by Edward Murphy in 1857 was the first park in Minneapolis.

Smith, David C. City of Parks: The Story of Minneapolis Parks. Pg. 12

What townships is Minneapolis within?
Minneapolis is in townships 118, 29 and 28.

City Engineer’s Office, Surveying Department 14 April 1959

What are the highest and lowest points in Minneapolis?
Waite Park School sits on the highest point in Minneapolis.  The school address is 1800 34th Ave. NE.  Other sources say that Johnson Street and 34th Avenue NE is highest at an altitude of 973 feet.  The lowest point is immediately south of Minnehaha Falls at 710 feet.

Minneapolis Star-Tribune July 30, 1996
City Engineer’s Office

What are the sister cities of Minneapolis?
Minneapolis’ sister cities are Cuernavaca, Mexico; Eldoret, Kenya; Harbin, China; Ibaraki City, Japan; Kuopio, Finland; Novosibirsk, Russia; Santiago, Chile; Tours, France; Uppsala, Sweden; Najaf, Iraq.


When was Minneapolis granted its charter?
Minneapolis, not including St. Anthony, was chartered in 1867.  In 1872 a second charter was granted on the consolidation of Minneapolis and St. Anthony.  St. Anthony had received its charter in 1855.  The present city charter was formed and adopted in 1920.

Hudson, Horace, ed. A Half Century of Minneapolis. National Cyclopedia of American Biography. p. 65.

Parson, p. 41, 79.

Who was the first mayor of Minneapolis?
Dorilus Morrison was the first mayor of Minneapolis, elected in 1867 when the state legislature issued a charter upgrading the town to a city, and while Minneapolis and St. Anthony were still two separate identities.  The cities merged in 1872, and Eugene M. Wilson became the first mayor of the merged Minneapolis.

When did Minneapolis become the Hennepin County seat?
The creation of Hennepin County was approved by an act of the Territorial Legislature on March 6, 1852.  Hennepin County elected its first commissioners on October 12, 1852.  The first Commissioners were John Jackins, Alexander Moore and Joseph Dean.  The commissioners first met at the house of John H. Stevens on October 21st 1852.  The most important order of business for the new commissioners was to name a county seat.  Commissioner Jackins moved that it should be “on the west side of the Falls of St. Anthony,” which was passed unanimously.  The settlement did not have an official name and Commissioner Moore suggested Albion which was a place holder until later in the year when Minneapolis was chosen as the name of the county seat.

Atwater, Isaac and John H. Stevens, eds.  History of Minneapolis and HennepinCounty Minnesota. Vol. 1. 1989. 98-100.

When was city hall built?
The old city hall on the Gateway site was built in 1874.  The cornerstone for the building’s present-day location was laid July 16, 1891.  This building formally opened on November 11, 1905.  The city half of the structure was not finished inside until the following year.  Architects were Franklin Bidwell Long (1842-1912) and Frederick Kees (1852-1927).

Hudson, Horace, ed. A Half Century of Minneapolis. National Cyclopedia of American Biography. Vol. 15, p. 278. 132.

Minneapolis Journal, August 22, 1912

Minneapolis Journal, March 17, 1927


What is included on the Minneapolis coat of arms?
The coat of arms contains a fess barry undy; the chief quarterly (1) a row of factories throughout, (2) a suspension bridge, (3) per pale dexter two warehouses, sinister per fess the chief three houses on a bridge, the base play undy (a waterfall), (4) play undy (waterfall); and in the base a cogwheel, barrel, garb, circular-saw, plow and pile of lumber.  The motto is “En Avant.”  This Gothic treatment of the arms appears on the city seal.

Chapin, Howard M. Civil heraldry; a roll of arms of cities and towns in the United States including those of some counties, councils and courts.Providence: Roger Williams Press, 1935. (929.8 C46)

What is on the Minneapolis flag and why?
The flag, adopted by the city council on May 27, 1955, features a blue pennant on a white background.  Inside the pennant is a white circle, displaying these symbols:

  • A building representing education and the arts.
  • A cogged wheel representing labor and industry.
  • A pilot wheel representing lake and rivers.
  • A microscope representing research, skilled craftsmanship and progress.

Minneapolis Tribune, May 28, 1955

What is the Minneapolis theme song?
“We Like It Here!” was named the official theme song in 1984.  The song was developed and campaigned by Carmichael-Lynch.

Skyway News, June 19,1984


How did Dinkytown get its name?
Dinkytown, a Minneapolis neighborhood near the University of Minnesota, whose boundaries run roughly along University Avenue, 15th Ave. SE, Como Ave., and 10th Ave. SE, got its name from the building in the center of the neighborhood.  The building now houses Gray’s Drug Store, but the name “Grodnick” is carved into the archway.  “Grad” is Slavic for village and “nik” is the diminutive form, so you get tiny village, or Dinkytown, as the students called it.

Minneapolis Star-Tribune July 12, 1993

What is defined as “downtown” Minneapolis?
The Post Office defines the area of Minneapolis between the river and 10th Street, and between First Avenue North and Portland Avenue as “downtown.”

US Postal Service, 1971


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