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A History of Minneapolis: an Overview by Staff at the Hennepin County Library

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Featuring historical photos and items from the collections of the Hennepin County Library, with contemporary photos from the Phototour of Minneapolis by Chris Gregerson.

Hotels

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Early in their history, Minneapolis and St. Anthony became meccas for tourists, drawing people to see the famous Falls of St. Anthony. Visitors came primarily from the South, lured by local promoters extolling the health benefits of the cool climate. Visitors came from the East as well, including Henry David Thoreau in 1861. To accommodate the tourists visiting the falls, the Winslow House on the east bank (St. Anthony) was erected in 1857, and the Nicollet House (forerunner of the Nicollet Hotel) opened across the river in 1858. The Nicollet, with its lace curtains, Brussels carpets, mirrored parlors, and elegant furniture, all made in Minneapolis, went on to become one of the most prominent landmarks of the city.

Winslow House Hotel in St. Anthony just before the Civil War. Horse-drawn ambulance is pulled up at the front entrance.
Minneapolis Collection, BR0138

West Hotel, 1884 (razed in 1940).
Minneapolis Collection, Postcards: Buildings

West Hotel lobby.
Minneapolis Collection, Postcards: Buildings

The Queen Anne style West Hotel opened in 1884 on the southwest corner of Fifth Street and Hennepin Avenue, and was considered "the most luxurious hotel west of Chicago." It remained Minneapolis' grand hotel for 20 years, catering to such celebrities as Mark Twain. Business declined, however, in part due to a fire in 1906 that claimed eleven lives, and in 1940 the West Hotel was demolished. The Nicollet House was torn down in 1923 and replaced by a grand new hotel. In addition to housing guests and bringing in notable performers to entertain customers and others, the new Nicollet was the home to WCCO radio for many years. By the 1960s, facing difficult times and situated as it was in the declining Gateway Area, the hotel closed in 1973, and was demolished in 1991.

Gateway Park and Nicollet Hotel.
Minneapolis Collection, Postcards: Hotels

Radisson Hotel.
Minneapolis Collection, Postcards: Hotels

Police patrol wagons backed up in front of the West Hotel in January 10, 1906, to remove the bodies of eight persons killed in a fire that day.
Minneapolis Collection, Uncat Photo Police Dept.

In 1909, the Radisson Hotel opened on Seventh Street between Nicollet and Hennepin, and was dubbed by its press agent "the jewel of 7th Street." It eventually eclipsed the West Hotel as the social center of Minneapolis. Named after the French explorer to the Great Lakes area in the 17th century, Pierre Esprit Radisson, it was famous for its many amenities and first-class elegance. It was one of the first hotels in the country to have a telephone in every room. Three operators were on continuous duty and even a wireless telegraph system was available so guests could transmit messages to all parts of the world. In the 1980s, the Radisson was demolished and replaced by a new and larger hotel. The Leamington Hotel at 10th Street and Third Avenue, built in the early 1910s and razed in 1990, was home away from home for many a politician and foreign dignitary visiting the area. President John F. Kennedy slept at the Leamington, but he had his own mattress flown in. Other hotels that have come and gone, and played prominent roles in Minneapolis history, are the Curtis, the Dyckman, and the Sheraton-Ritz.

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