For a quiet state of only 5 million people tucked away in the Upper Midwest, Minnesota has a fair number of claims to fame. We have the country's largest indoor shopping mall, we're the only state that didn't vote for Ronald Reagan in the 1984 presidential election, and Judy Garland, Bob Dylan and Prince were all born here. But a more significant fun fact about Minnesota is that the Mississippi River - a river that runs nearly the entire north-south length of the United States - finds its source in Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota. This legendary and historically important river has played a role not only in the country's history but in our state's history as well. A recent viewing of the Mississippi as it runs through Minneapolis gave me a renewed appreciation for this truly mighty waterway.
As they generally do all across the globe, original settlements in what is today known as Minnesota grew up along its most important waterways. Dakota Sioux Indians, French explorers, the United States Army at Fort Snelling, and westward-moving pioneers are just some of the groups that have called the banks of the Mississippi home. But the river really earned its keep between 1880 an 1930, when its only waterfall, St. Athony Falls, helped turn Minneapolis into the Flour Milling Capital of the World. As grain from all over the Great Plains was shipped into the city via railroad, mills powered by the falls worked furiously to supply flour to a hungry and growing country. Sawmills, woolen mills, iron works and other trades also sprung up in Minneapolis as a result of the river's hydropower. The city's population exploded, and continued to grow into a major business and arts center even after the glory years of the grain industry had come to an end.
Today, the Mississippi as it winds through Minneapolis is lined with parks, trails, restaurants, arts and historical centers and luxury condominiums. Vestiges of the milling years can still be seen, and recent development projects have once again turned the river banks into a center of activity. Inextricably linked to our history and currently redefining our present, the Mighty Mississippi will continue to shape this state's trajectory for as long as it finds its source in a small glacial lake called Itasca.