Minnehaha Falls

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This article is about the waterfall in Minnesota. For the waterfall in Georgia, see Minnehaha Falls, Georgia.
Minnehaha Falls, May 2006
Minnehaha Falls, June 2013

Minnehaha Falls is a 53-foot (16 meter) waterfall located in Minneapolis in Minnehaha Park on Minnehaha Creek, a tributary of the Mississippi River located in Hennepin County, Minnesota. The Falls are located near the creek's confluence with the Mississippi River, not far from Fort Snelling, Minnesota.

Minnehaha Creek[edit]

Minnehaha Creek extends from Lake Minnetonka in the west and flows east for 22 miles (35 km) through several suburbs west of Minneapolis and then through south Minneapolis. Including Lake Minnetonka, the watershed for the creek covers 181 square miles (470 km2). The creek might have been unremarkable except for the Minnehaha Falls.

Origin of the name[edit]

While the name is often translated as "Laughing Water", the correct translation is "curling water" or "waterfall." The name comes from the Dakota language elements mni, meaning water, and ȟaȟa, meaning waterfall.[1][2] Thus the expression "Minnehaha Falls" translates as "Waterfall Falls." The "Laughing Water" translation comes from Mary Eastman's book Dahcotah, published in 1849. On the Fort map of 1823, the falls were named Brown's Falls. The Dakota called Minnehaha Creek "Wakpa Cistinna," meaning "Little River."[2]


Minnehaha Falls, c. 1860

In 1852, Ard Godfrey built a house, sawmill, and gristmill on Joe Brown's old claim, but he and his wife Harriet abandoned the site in 1871, as the mills at St. Anthony Falls economically overshadowed any commercial potential of Minnehaha.[2]

The falls became a tourist destination, especially after the 1855 publication of The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. However, Longfellow never visited the falls himself. He was inspired by the stories of Mary Eastman and Henry Rowe Schoolcraft and by a photograph of the falls.

Beginning in 1885, the state legislature began acquiring the land to become the first Minnesota State Park. But in 1889, it was turned over to the city of Minneapolis for a city park.[3] Residents and visitors could fish, swim, picnic, and visit a zoo. The park also featured pony rides and a refectory. Each year, 20,000 campers stayed in the Auto Tourist Camp in the park— it was closed in the 1950s.[2]

On June 19, 2014, professional kayaker Hunt Jennings descended the waterfall in a kayak. The creek was at record height due to several days of heavy rain, and the only injury sustained by Jennings was a small cut above the upper lip. [1] [2] [3]

Minnehaha Park[edit]

Minnehaha Historic District
Minnehaha Depot.jpg
Minnehaha Depot
Minnehaha Falls is located in Minnesota
Minnehaha Falls
Location Roughly Hiawatha and Minnehaha Aves, and Godfrey Rd., Minneapolis, Minnesota
Coordinates 44°54′54″N 93°12′36″W / 44.91500°N 93.21000°W / 44.91500; -93.21000Coordinates: 44°54′54″N 93°12′36″W / 44.91500°N 93.21000°W / 44.91500; -93.21000
Built 1849
Architect H.W.S. Cleveland; Et al.
Architectural style Greek Revival, Late Victorian, Georgian
Governing body Local
NRHP Reference # 69000369
Added to NRHP November 25, 1969[4]

Today, the falls are located near the entrance of Minnehaha Park in Minneapolis. The 193-acre[5] park is divided into two main portions: an upper section above the falls which is kept trimmed and maintained like many other city parks, and the lower section which is largely left in a natural state which is largely popular for free climbing due to the steep terrain. Minnehaha Park is a popular site for cultural festivities and weddings.

Due to the extremely cold temperatures in the area during the winter months, the falls freeze, creating a dramatic cascade of ice that can last well into the spring. If there is a rain shortage in the autumn, the falls may virtually dry up. In the summer, especially in the rainy months of June and July, the flow can be surprisingly forceful.

Some historic structures are located in the park.

  • The John Harrington Stevens House, built in 1849 or 1850 near St. Anthony Falls, was moved to Minnehaha Park in 1896. According to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, the home has the distinction of being the first wood-frame dwelling built west of the Mississippi. It was in this home that the name Minneapolis was suggested, and the government of Hennepin County was organized. In 1896 over 10,000 school children helped pull the house to Minnehaha park and in 1982, the home was situated in its current location.

Statues on the grounds commemorate several notable figures including John H. Stevens, Gunnar Wennerberg, Hiawatha and Minnehaha, Little Crow, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The main Minnesota Veterans Home is located on the bluff at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnehaha Creek.

Minnehaha Park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Minnehaha Historic District. Minnehaha Park is also within the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, a unit of the National Park Service.


The Platteville Limestone Formation along the banks of Minnehaha Creek. The limestone is the less-eroded, layered unit that constitutes the majority of the photo. Below it is a thin, dark layer of Glenwood Shale. Below the shale is a thin, white stripe of St. Peter Sandstone, followed by a slope of eroded St. Peter Sandstone material.

Visitors to the park can view the ancient geological history of Minnesota as they walk the path leading from the upper falls down to the Mississippi River. The uppermost layer of soils and gravels of Minnesota were deposited by the most recent Ice Age, about 10,000 years ago. Four great ice ages have swept away all traces of the more recent Mesozoic and Cenozoic eras in the Twin Cities area, however standing at the upper falls, one is standing directly on the Platteville Limestone Formation laid down during the Ordovician Period of the Paleozoic Era. During the Ordovician Period, about 450 million years ago, the North American continent was situated along the equator, and a warm shallow sea covered much of Minnesota.[6] Sea life was abundant and a large number of marine fossils including corals, bryozoans, brachiopods, clams, snails, cephalopods, and trilobites can be found in the limestone and shale sediments at several areas in the Twin Cities and along the Mississippi River in the park and elsewhere.[7][8][9]

Walking from the upper falls to the base of the falls one passes through the thin layer of the Glenwood Shale Formation, and just below the base of the falls, one enters the level of the Saint Peter Sandstone Formation of pure white quartz sandstone. The Minnesota St. Peter Sandstone is "famous the world over as the example of a well-rounded, well-sorted, pure quartz sand. It is the Ivory Snow of sediments, because it is close to 99.44% pure".[10] This sand was first deposited as beach sand, probably eroded from earlier Cambrian sandstones, along the shores of the Ordovician sea. Walking along the creek to the area at which the foot bridge crosses, the Glenwood Shale Formation, a thin layer of grey-green rock probably deposited in a deeper-water offshore from the beaches, can be seen where it has been exposed by erosion. Shale was formed from ancient mud deposits and the Glenwood shale in the park is filled with numerous small fossils, appropriately termed "fossil hash". Together, these three formations that are visible as one walks from the upper falls to the river represent a sequence of sea-level rise during Ordovician time.[8][11]

Minnehaha Falls is linked geologically to Saint Anthony Falls, which today is several miles upriver. The falls first appeared roughly 10,000 years ago several miles downstream of the Mississippi River at the confluence of the glacial River Warren (at present-day Ft. Snelling). They have since relocated upstream at a rate of about 4 feet (1.2 m) per year. The water churning at the bottom of the falls ate away at the soft underlying sandstone, eventually breaking off the hard limestone cap in chunks as the falls receded. As St. Anthony Falls moved past Minnehaha Creek and formed a deep river bed, they caused a new waterfall to form, the Minnehaha Falls which continued to move upstream in Minnehaha Creek.[12]

There used to be an island in the Mississippi River near Minnehaha Creek. The receding St. Anthony Falls divided into two as it passed around this island. The falls in the channel farthest from Minnehaha reached the upstream end of the island first, cutting off water to the west channel and resulting in an "abandoned waterfall" at the north end of that channel. The abandoned west channel is now a grassy cul-de-sac known as the "Deer Pen". Locating the abandoned waterfall has been made difficult in recent years since the Deer Pen was partially filled with tons of fill dirt from nearby construction projects.[13] The lower portion of Minnehaha Creek now flows through a wide and deep channel once belonging to the larger river. The end of Minnehaha Creek where it joins the Mississippi River is the lowest surface point in the city of Minneapolis at 686 ft (209 m) above sea level.

Erosion within the last century has resulted in a falls that is fairly narrowly channeled and vigorous, notably after a heavy rain. Photographs of the waterfall from the 19th century (such as the one from 1860) show a much wider, curtain like character to the falls. When the creek is dry, the older, much-broader ledge can be observed. If there were sufficient interest and funding, some remedial work could theoretically restore the 19th century appearance of the falls.[14]

Image gallery Minnehaha Park[edit]


External links[edit]