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St. Anthony Falls

Primary Source Set
by Beth Staats, Reference Outreach & Instruction Librarian, Minitex

Business and Industry Environment

The Mississippi River, centerpiece of the second largest watershed in the world, begins as a tiny stream in Itasca State Park, MN, and runs all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. It flows through 10 states and is 2,340 miles long, the second longest river in the U.S. next to the Missouri. The 29 lock and dams on the upper Mississippi River make it possible to ship millions of tons of freight each year. The Mississippi River was essential to the growth of Minneapolis as people settled in the area because of the river. The cities first settlement was near the Mississippi River's only waterfall, St. Anthony Falls. Eventually, the power of the falls was harnessed for lumber and flour milling industries and the growth of settlements along the river gave rise to the city of Minneapolis.

Discussion Questions & Activities

1. How did Minneapolis businesses near the river use St. Anthony Falls to their advantage beginning in the 1850s?

2. What are some ways you are directly related to the Mississippi River and St. Anthony Falls?

3. What is the greatest industry of Minneapolis, and why?

4. Check out Forests, Fields, and the Falls for classroom activities.

5. See resources at the Mississippi River Connections Field Trip.

6. Look at the Journey to the Falls Teacher Guide.

eLibrary Minnesota Resources (for Minnesota residents)

1. Minneapolis. Britannica School. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 9 Feb. 2015. Accessed 21 Jul. 2016.

2. St. Anthony Falls. Image. Britannica School, Encyclopædia Britannica, 8 Apr. 2019. Accessed 17 Jul. 2019.

3. "Video: Behind the Scenes: U of Minn.'s St. Anthony Falls Lab." Local Broadcast Video Content 16 Sept. 2014. Student Resources in Context. Web. 21 July 2016.

Additional Resources for Research

1. National Center for Earth-surface Dynamics. (2019), A History of St. Anthony Falls. Retrieved July 07, 2020. 

2. Mill City Museum History

3. St. Anthony Falls Heritage Board

4. St. Anthony Falls Historic District

5. St. Anthony Visitor Center Lock and Dam

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Think Like a Historian

Observe a Primary Source Item and Record Your Thoughts

  • What is happening in the photograph or letter, diary, etc.? What just happened, or what is about to happen?
  • Describe the people you see in the image. How do they relate to each other and to the photographer? If there are no people in the image, what is the subject of the photograph?
  • Describe where the photo was taken. Were they inside, outside, somewhere identifiable? Was the location an urban area, suburban, or rural? 
  • Look for details that show when the photo was taken – time of day, season, and year. Do the people in the photograph look different than people today? How are their clothing, shoes, and hair styles different? Also look for differences in things like transportation, housing, equipment, and general infrastructure.

Think about the Creator, Audience, Context, Relationships

  • What is the author/creator's point of view? What was the author's purpose?
  • Who is the intended audience for this primary source material?
  • Explain how the source tells its story.
  • What was happening locally, regionally, or nationally when this primary source material was created?
  • How does this item relate to other content in this Primary Source Set and/or the rest of the Minnesota Digital Library collection? Compare and contrast two resources.

Finally, using the clues you have observed, try to figure out why the source was created. By asking these questions, you have begun to understand the what, who, where, when and why of the primary source material – and ultimately, the story it tells.

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