World Facts Index > United States > Minneapolis
When driving through the Twin Cities, it's sometimes hard to discern which city you are actually in. There is no visible dividing line; they really do blend one into the other. But there are some who say that the differences are vast. St. Paul is a bit smaller than Minneapolis, but some feel that lends more to its hometown feel.
Minneapolis can be more cosmopolitan, and certainly is larger. Some people from St. Paul might say that Minneapolis is a den of vice. Some people from Minneapolis may think that St. Paul is too quiet, rolling up its sidewalks at night. Of course, neither of these is an accurate picture. There are just as many people who flit back and
forth between the two cities and enjoy as much as they can of what each has to offer.
Downtown / Theater District / Nicollet Mall
Minneapolis is 'The City of Lakes.' Known for its beautiful chain of lakes and annual summertime Aquatennial festival, the city also boasts a thriving downtown with a world-class theater district. Remember that scene at the beginning of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, where she flings her hat into the air with careless abandon? That takes
place on Nicollet Mall, the bustling shopping corridor that runs parallel to the Hennepin Avenue theater district. With its grubby and tough start as a lumber and grain mill town, Minneapolis has turned into the Crystal City. The Minneapolis Convention Center anchors the south end of downtown.
On the opposite end, at the riverfront, renovation is underway on the Milwaukee Road Depot, a project that will include restaurants, a hotel, and a skating rink. Many old mills still stand along the river, and they are slowly being repurposed for other uses. Across Washington Avenue, many old warehouses are also being renovated to
revitalize the area. Open Book, a literary center holding four major book-oriented organizations, just celebrated its grand opening. The Metrodome is just a couple blocks further in.
Follow Washington Avenue across Hennepin Avenue, and you come to the famed Warehouse District, a hot-spot for nightlife, with many large spaces accommodating a lot of revelers. Rosen's, South Beach, or Chez Bananas might be the spot for your next night out.
A little south of downtown on Hennepin Avenue is the district known as Uptown. Uptown is the Minneapolis equivalent of Greenwich Village. Dotted with coffee shops and vintage clothing stores, it is a throbbing blend of bohemian and cosmopolitan. At the corner of Hennepin and Lake is Calhoun Square, full of shops and restaurants. Don't
miss Famous Dave's Bar-B-Que, where the atmosphere takes on the experience of being under the El in Chicago, complete with a train going over every few minutes. Head left on Lake and you can hit Cheapo for a vast selection of used CD's and a backroom full of pressed vinyl.
The Lakes and Linden Hills
As Hennepin winds down leaving Uptown, it hits 36th St. Take a right here and follow it directly to one of the favored recreational lakes in the area, Lake Calhoun. Take a trolley ride or join one of the many people skating, running or biking on the path that runs around it. This is just one in the chain of lakes that lies south of
downtown. To the south of Lake Calhoun is the Linden Hills neighborhood. Linden Hills is full of little antique and gift shops, and don't miss the Turtle Bread Company. Their chocolate bread will melt in your mouth!
On the opposite side of downtown, take the Hennepin Avenue bridge to the other side of the river for a varied assortment of restaurants and nightspots. Here you will find some of the best eastern European food in the cities, along with Mexican, Mediterranean, Asian, and plain old American. Polish and Ukrainian immigrants made this area
their home early in the century. The area is known as Nordeast (being northeast of downtown), and is a favored area for the University crowd.
The University crowd is so pervasive, in fact, that they have created their own little city, called Dinkytown. In this area, crowned by the Dinkydome, you can find many bastions of college life: bookstores (try Cummings, a great little nook with tons of gems), coffee houses, sports bars, clothing stores, fast food, music stores,
restaurants, and of course, copy centers. The streets resemble a little village, in an area that's only about four square blocks. Frat houses line University Avenue, and the ROTC building presents its imposing castle buttresses behind the fence.
On the other side of the river is the West Bank campus, which abuts the Cedar/Riverside area. If you want international, authentic and direct, try Cedar Avenue. African, Asian, Indian, they are all represented here. Intercontinental Video offers a wide selection of international films. This street is also the scene of Cedarfest, an annual
August music festival that brings everyone out of the woodwork. If it's pierced or tattooed, you'll see it at Cedarfest. The bars along this little strip are hot music venues, and what they lack in elegance they make up for in sound.
University Avenue continues on past the frat houses, over Hwy. 280, and into St. Paul, running parallel with I-94. On this main drag, you can pull up in your car for a chilidog at Porky's, where classic car buffs still bring their showy vehicles on summer evenings. The area from approximately Cretin to around Lexington is known as the
Midway. Many of the establishments along this strip date from the 50s: the Turf Club, Christiansens, and Midway Bank. You will find a few places to while away an afternoon. Midway Used and Rare Books, with three floors of books, is prominent on the corner of Snelling and University.
Further down University, past Lexington, is what is known as Frogtown. The area is fast becoming a center of Asian businesses, with markets, restaurants, and services from many nationalities.
Between Snelling and Lexington north of University Avenue is the Como area, containing the green jewel of Como Park. Como Park is home to Como Park Zoo, Como Park Conservatory, Como Golf Course, the Como Lake Pavillion, and acres of green space for picnics, games, and outings. To the west of the Como area, across Snelling, is the
Minnesota State Fair Grounds. Events are held on the grounds year-round. Just north, across Hwy 36, is Rosedale Shopping Center.
Downtown St. Paul
The downtown St. Paul interchange has been known as spaghetti junction for years, but is vastly improved from earlier years when it earned the name. Across the freeway from the Capitol is the heart of downtown, with the Minnesota History Center easily visible from the freeway. The St. Paul riverfront has been undergoing a facelift over
the last few years, just like Minneapolis. Recently renovated co-op loft apartments, the brand new Science Museum built into the bluff, and the new arena, the Xcel Energy Center, all line Kellogg Blvd along the river. The Ordway Center for Performing Arts, Heartthrob Cafe, and the Children's Museum are all located downtown as well. Each
January the century-old Winter Carnival is celebrated in St. Paul. Many of the events take place downtown in Rice Park, in front of the Landmark Center.
Cross the river on the Robert Street bridge and you will find Harriet Island to your right. This is the home of the Covington Inn and the No Wake Café. Take a riverboat ride on one of the boats of the Padelford Packet Company.
Cathedral Hill to Highland Park
Overlooking downtown on the west is the St. Paul Cathedral, which is open to visitors. The area around there is aptly known as Cathedral Hill, and business and government workers from downtown flock there for lunch and happy hour in one of the many bars or restaurants in the neighborhood's Victorian-era buildings. Chang O'Hara's,
Costello's and W A Frost on Selby Avenue are all well attended, each with good food and wide selections of beverages.
Further west from downtown between I-94 and Ford Parkway, from Cretin to Snelling, are three private colleges. This concentration of college students makes for many energetic neighborhoods: Highland Park, Macalester-Groveland, Merriam Park, Crocus Hill. Grand Avenue is lined with shops, restaurants, and bars. This area is heaven for those
who like to browse, drink and eat. Get there early on a Friday, or be prepared to walk a few blocks. Parking isn't as organized as it could be.
One block up from Grand is Summit Avenue, one of the greatest extant neighborhoods of Victorian architecture in the country. Starting at the James J. Hill House as a two-lane street, Summit turns into a broad, sweeping parkway, separated down the middle by a parklike boulevard that is frequented by joggers and strollers. It runs about
four miles to Mississippi River Blvd. Summit Avenue house tours are offered Saturdays during the summer; other tours are offered throughout the year, such as Garden Tours. James J. Hill House tours are available year-round.
West Seventh Street
The West 7th Street corridor still holds some vestiges of the good old days. Here you can still find the traditional supper club, such as Mancini's Char House or Parrish's Supper Club. Famous Dave's has a location on this stretch. The Pearson's Salted Nut Rolls plant just took down their giant candy bar. But Mickey's Diner is still there,
in all its neon splendor. You can find the other Mickey's Diner downtown, across from the Greyhound Bus Depot. This 1930s dining car is on the National Register of Historic Places, and has been featured in many movies. West Seventh runs into Hwy 5, which will take you right to the airport.
There is so much to see and do in the Twin Cities; it's no wonder it's hard to know where to start. The best advice is to just get started. Just spend a few days meandering. No matter where you hit, you are bound to find what you're looking for, even if it's just a bit of relaxation.
History of Minneapolis
The land of the Twin Cities is dramatically stunning in its scenery. The area is studded with lakes and high river bluffs. As the glaciers that once covered the area pulled back at the end of the last ice age, they dragged out the soft areas and left huge geological landmarks. In certain places, the evidence is still visible. Of course,
the most obvious examples are the many lakes, more than 25 in the seven-county metro area.
Twin Cities Early On
The two cities that comprise the Twin Cities, Minneapolis and St. Paul, had quite different beginnings. The downtowns are located just 13 miles apart, each situated on the banks of the Mighty Mississippi. This river played a large part in the history of each city.
The Twin Cities area lies at the confluence of two rivers, the Mississippi, which begins in northern Minnesota, and the Minnesota River, which flows south of the metro area. The first modern people to live here were the Dakota, and their story is a large part of the region. The area was a special place for these Native Americans, and
the ceremonies of old are still enacted for special occasions. The waters of Lake Minnetonka, St. Anthony Falls, Minnehaha Creek and Minnehaha Falls (that empties into the Mississippi) and the bluffs over the Mississippi are just some of the particular spots that they hold sacred. You can still visit burial mounds overlooking the river at
Mounds Park in St. Paul.
Perhaps the first white man to discover the enchantment of the area was Father Louis Hennepin, a French missionary. In 1680, he came upon St. Anthony Falls, the only falls on the entire length of the Mississippi River. The county of Hennepin, which comprises Minneapolis and then some, is named after him. You will also find Hennepin
Avenue, a major downtown artery, and many other local spots named after this early explorer.
The United States Army decided to build a fort at the confluence of the two rivers in 1819, because they had to keep an eye on the Dakota, and also because the rivers provided one of the best means of transportation. Early on, many French trappers were working the North woods, and they sought to bring their furs to trade. After the
Louisiana Purchase, the area was under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Army, so Fort Snelling opened as a garrison to protect the area, which was fast filling up with settlers, and to facilitate the trade with the trappers and the Native Americans.
In 1820, soldiers at Fort Snelling constructed a sawmill and flour mill at the site of St. Anthony Falls. By the 1840s, there were two distinct villages in the area of the falls, St. Anthony on the East bank of the river, and the village of Minneapolis on the West bank. In 1867, Minneapolis formed a city charter, and in 1872, the two
villages were combined to form one city, connected by a suspension bridge. Pillsbury, General Mills, and Cargill all started in Minneapolis, harnessing the power of the river to mill the grain from the area into flour. The grain was plentiful because the area had attracted a lot of immigrant farmers, many Germans and Scandinavians who
were reminded of their rugged homeland.
St. Paul was almost chartered as Pig's Eye, after an early settler who prospered in the area. Pierre 'Pig's Eye' Parrant was a retired trapper from Manitoba who came down to live near Fort Snelling, the only vestige of civilization on the northern frontier. The Indian Agent at the Fort didn't want this man and his bunch of squatters in
the shadow of the Fort, so the group moved first to an area known as Fountain Cave, then to the north side of the river, which is now the area of downtown St. Paul. Pig's Eye was a moonshiner, a colorful figure who supplied whiskey to the Native Americans and also the soldiers at the Fort. As such, he was pretty popular, and the area
around his little squatter's camp became known as Pig's Eye. He was the first businessman in the area, however dubious his business was. Pig's Eye was known to live here from 1832 to 1843, when he left to go back to Sault St. Marie.
Father Lucien Galtier is credited with saving the city from the fate of being named Pig's Eye. He was a missionary who promoted the name St. Paul, after his favorite patron saint. In 1841, the name was officially changed to St. Paul. In 1849 Minnesota was named a territory, and St. Paul was designated the capitol. It was incorporated
as a city in 1854, when the official city seal was created.
The Twin Cities were separated by just a few miles of river, but St. Paul was the furthest point north on the Mississippi that big river cargo boats could navigate. This is one reason that the two cities stayed distinct. Today, there are three locks that enable travel upriver to Minneapolis, but the trip is still time-consuming for
such a short distance.
The Famous Sioux uprising of 1862 (the Dakota were known by the French as Sioux, which was not a very complimentary name) sealed the fate of the Dakota. When the U.S. Army failed to provide foodstuff to the Native Americans, as they were bound to do by the treaty which granted the land to the Army, the Dakota went on a vindictive spree.
The Chief, Little Crow, was unable to stop his hungry warriors from taking what they wanted from the settlers, killing many of the settlers in the process. Colonel Henry T. Sibley, commander of the Fort and later the first governor of Minnesota, rounded up 2,000 Dakota and put them on trial. They were sentenced to death. Most of the
sentences were commuted by President Lincoln, but in December of 1862, 38 Dakota were hanged in Hastings, Minnesota at a public gallows. The Dakota were now spread far and wide and had lost their community and cohesiveness. Today, there are only about 2,000 left in the tribe, which owns Mystic Lake Casino. The remaining members enjoy
prosperity and security from their gaming industry.
The area enjoyed peace and growing prosperity for the white settlers in the years to follow. They plowed up the prairie and tamed the grasses that had grown up to six feet tall. The towns of Minneapolis and St. Paul continued to thrive, and in their growth, came ever closer to one another. The vision of James J. Hill, who built the
Great Northern railroad from the Twin Cities to Winnipeg in Canada, as well as the Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis and his great mansion in St. Paul, helped move the area ahead of the times.
The 1920s showed St. Paul a different story. The Roaring Twenties was the era of gangsters, and many of them from Chicago fled northward to escape the law. The lawmakers in St. Paul decided they could stay here but only if they did not break any further laws. Well, apparently clemency lost its allure after some time, because the gangsters
became active in the area and corruption of public officials followed. The old federal courthouse, now called The Landmark Center, was home to several of the gangster types for short periods of time.
Hubert H. Humphrey, for whom the Metrodome is named, rose to political prominence as he fought the corruption that had started with the gangsters. He was first Minneapolis City Attorney, then mayor of Minneapolis, then a Senator, and finally was Vice President under President Johnson. Another Minnesotan rose to the second highest
office in the land, Walter Mondale under President Jimmy Carter.
Of course, the most famous politician in Minnesota today is the current governor, Governor Jesse Ventura. Again, Minnesota was put on the map as an innovative forward-thinking political climate when Jesse Ventura beat out two main party candidates (sons of our two former Vice Presidents, by the way) to win on the Reform Party ticket. He
thus became the highest-ranking Reform Party member in the country. The former professional wrestler entered the race after a large surplus was announced in the state's budget, and he vowed to give the money back to the people. He made good on that promise, and another surplus is predicted.
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