The Falls
that Fueled a City

There's nothing like a waterfall to capture people's attention, stir the emotions, and, for some, fuel ambitions. St. Anthony Falls--the greatest cascade on the Mississippi River--has seen a lot of human interst and activity ever since it was named after St. Anthony of Padua by the French Franciscian explorer Father Louis Hennepin in 1680. Energy generated by the falls powered the industries that gave Minneapolis its start--nearly 100 waterwheels were once turned by St. Anthony Falls' rushing waters.

The area surrounding the falls has been the site of the first bridge ever to cross the Mississippi, the first hydroelectric plant in the western hemisphere, & what was at one time the largest flour mill in the world.

Today, as you can see in this picture, the cascade pours over a wall of concrete where waters once tumbled over rough bedock.


What can we learn about how we relate to the river now and in the past from this modern-day photo of the falls? Here are some activies that will help you think things through:

1. Identify one river use or type of human activity for each labeled area of the photo.
2. Which of these activities and river uses do you think harm the river and its native creatures? How? Which are harmless?
3. Harrison Salisbury, a famous Minneapolis-born journalist and author, once wrote, "The mills stood at St. Anthony Falls in their corona of flour dust like block houses guarding the rapids of the river. The grain poured in from Montana, the Dakotas, the Red River valley. It poured into the Minneapolis mills, and the flour in its cotton sacks and its great jute cloaks filled coutless red feight cars and poured out over the country and over the world." Does the fact that energy generated by the falls has provided food for many, many people justify any negative impacts of human activities?

Information on this page is from The Mississippi River: Nature, Culture and Travel Sites along the "Mighty Missippi" by Tom Weil

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Center for Global Environmental Education
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