(From “St. Paul Location-Development-Opportunities” by F. C. Miller, Ph. D., Webb Book Publishing Co., St. Paul, Minnesota, 1928)
Forever new and old,
Among the living and the dead,
Its mighty, mystic stream has rolled.
—Henry Wad-worth Longfellow
The greatest surface feature of St. Paul is the Mississippi River. The very location of the city is due to the river. If there had been no river here, there would most likely be no city here. When St. Paul was founded, the easiest means of travel and transportation was the river. It brought many of the early explorers to this vicinity and. subsequently, settlers and their supplies. It is, therefore, not only a physical factor but an economic one in the history of this city.
The word "Mississippi" comes from the Chippewa language and means "great river." There is little doubt that the name "Father of Waters" was given to the river by white explorers and pioneers, as there is no record that Indians ever used that expression.
The Sioux name for the river was Haha Wakpa, which means Falls River, the falls being those of St. Anthony. The h's were pronounced like k's, and hence the name would sound to us Kaka Wakpa.
The Mississippi River has had great contentions with Nature to maintain a channel for itself. Glaciers dumped their cargoes across its path, but its dauntless tide could not be thwarted. It made a new way and has rolled on and on. From the surface features that remain and from borings that have been made geologists have shown that it flowed originally from the north through the Minneapolis chain of lakes and, by way of Westcott, entered its present channel at Gray Cloud Island, almost five miles south of South St. Paul. The present channel between Fort Snelling and Gray Cloud Island was made by River Warren and Phalen Creek, which was evidently at one time a fairly large river.
From the Minneapolis lakes the old Mississippi channel extended at a lower level than the bed of Lake Minnetonka westward toward Delano and the north fork of Crow River. It is evident also that the original bed passed under the present bed of the Minnesota River. The old channel of the Minnesota is thought to have joined the Mississippi near Lake
Minnetonka, where, as the channels would indicate, each river must have been more than a mile wide.
The "great river" has its source in the Itasca basin, more than 566 miles north-northwest by river from St. Paul. Its length from the Itasca basin to the Gulf of Mexico is 2,553 miles. By the time it reaches our city it has traversed a little more than one fourth of its way to the Gulf.
Its headwaters are 1,535 feet above sea level. It reaches St. Anthony Falls at an altitude of 782 feet and St. Paul at G80 feet. Thus, by the time it reaches St. Anthony Falls, it has dropped over one half of its total slope. Between the crest of St. Anthony Falls and St. Paul it falls over 100 feet.This fall is interrupted at the Ford plant by a large dam that furnishes operating power. From St. Paul to the Gulf the average fall is 4.1 inches per mile.
The region of the upper Mississippi is practically exempt from damage by floods. The reasons for this are that the rainfall is less than that farther south; as the river runs from north to south, the snow and ice melt in installments; and it has fewer tributaries to increase its volume. The problem has rather been to provide plenty of water than to dispose of too much. The Federal Government has constructed six reservoirs at the headwaters in which to store water when it is plentiful, so that, in times of need, it may be released to raise the level of the lower stream, with special reference to St. Paul. These reservoirs can furnish enough water to raise the water level in St. Paul from 5 to 40 inches, and to make navigation possible for steamers between the St. Croix River and this city.
In order to assist navigation, the river is dredged and wing dams are maintained.
On account of the development of extensive railroad facilities the city is no longer dependent on the river for transportation; but, as freight can be carried more cheaply by water than by rail, efforts are being made to make the river navigable for larger vessels and at all seasons of the year. The Government has authorized the construction of a dam at Hastings, which will insure St. Paul new possibilities of commercial importance.
The Mississippi River drains practically the whole central inter-mountain area of the United States. It flows "from lands of snow to lands of sun." It is a volume of history.
Its upper half is picturesque and beautiful. The gorge through which it flows at St. Paul, as we have said, is the most striking feature of our landscape. An intelligent and appreciative observer, standing on any one of the lookout points that surmount the gorge, will be amazed at the magnificent panorama unfolded to his astonished eye as he looks eastward or westward.
"O river of the molted snows,
From northern pine thy current flows
To sunny lands of palm and rose.
Forever going, never gone,
Thy ceaseless waters lengthen on
From countless dawn to countless dawn.
What song and shout and storied lore
Are thine of men that live no more
To beat thy bosom with the oar!
And in our turn our years and we
Shall know thee not, hut thou shalt be
And keep thy tryst with the deep sea."
Did this river always flow through St. Paul?
Where did it and the Minnesota meet?
What changed its course?
How did it get its name? What does it mean?
How long is the river? How many feet does it fall?
What is the value of the river to the city?
How is its flow regulated?