Hospitality at Minnehaha Falls in the Early Years. Part 1.

As early as 1863, there was a hotel at Minnehaha Falls, providing meals and accommodations to those who had come to Minnesota. Some were settlers, who came pouring into Minnesota by the tens of thousands throughout the 1860s.  Others were tourists, perhaps come to partake of our famously invigorating climate. A great point was made to both groups to see our world-renowned waterfall out on the frontier of the  “Great Northwest.”

Here is the first hotel at Minnehaha Falls:

In 1863, this hotel sat on the south bank of the creek above the Falls.
In 1863, this hotel sat on the south bank of the creek above the Falls.  This photograph is owned by the New York Public Library, and–unlike other institutions that monetize their 19th century collections–the NYPL released their high-resolution scan of it to the public domain on January 6, 2016.

Little is known about the place.  It was called the Minnehaha House, or maybe it was the Minnehaha Hotel.  It was run by someone named Boyden whose first name might have been George but was more likely Augustus.  But the accommodations were considered “first-class” and “the character and reputation of the place were excellent.”

The 1863 to 1864 date for this picture is firm.   Augustus Boyden was reported to have lived at the Falls in 1863-1864.  The above photo was taken by the photographers and photographic supply company of E. & H. T. Anthony of New York.  While no specific record of their photographer’s visit to Minnesota has turned up, all other pictures discovered so far published by E. & H. T. Anthony at Minnehaha Falls clearly predate 1866 and the known date of John and Mollie Carbutt’s visit in October of that year.

But, more importantly, the hotel picture has a Civil War tax stamp on the back.

The company name "E. & T. H. Anthony" dates from 1862, during the Civil War. The sale of photographs was taxed during the war. This orange 2¢ stamp indicates that this stereo view sold for 25¢.
The company name “E. & T. H. Anthony” dates from 1862, during the Civil War. The sale of photographs was taxed during the war. This orange 2¢ stamp indicates that this stereo view sold for 25¢.

Since this tax went into effect on June 30, 1864, we are certain that this object was not sold before then.  But the photograph was taken before then, and of course could have been easily reprinted.

During these Civil War years, efforts to build Minnesota’s railroad network  were stalled, but it was obvious that the roads would be built eventually.  The track was laid past the Falls in September of 1864, though it would be another year before a train ran on that track. Perhaps Boyden invested in this hotel expecting the crowds to have easy railroad access to the Falls, and that he left the area when, after 1864, there were as yet no trains and only the smaller crowds arriving in carriages. Perhaps this New York photographer was engaged to help promote the hotel back East.

An even higher-resolution scan would show more details.
An even higher-resolution scan would show more details.

It’s easy to imagine that Augustus Boyden is the man precisely centered in the photograph, standing in front of his hotel with his children by the hand. One of them looks to be a girl, and he was known to have a daughter. But we’ll likely never know who these people are.

4 thoughts on “Hospitality at Minnehaha Falls in the Early Years. Part 1.”

  1. I have original diaries written by my great-great grandmother, Esther Palmer Clark, after moving to Minneapolis from Rockford Illinois in 1868. In one of the many entries , dated May 20, 1879, she wrote about a visit to Minnehaha Falls. “When we reached the hotel the hostler came out and led our horses off to the stables”. After a long description of her visit to the falls she writes ” It was time to go home so we all went into the Hotel and waited while our horses were brought to the door and then we bid this lovely place good-by”. Could there have been more than one hotel at the Falls if the photograph in the article above was taken in 1863, or was this possibly the same hotel?

    1. Hi, Claudia!

      Those diaries are such a treasure. Thanks for sharing that stories from 1879 are still out there, unknown to Minnehaha history. I would love to read her long description, because she may describe things that I don’t have a date for.

      The hotel question is a good one. I have written a book about this place and the hotel, and since the book isn’t quite published yet, I don’t have stories about it on the website. (Here’s the link for the book on amazon: https://tinyurl.com/3btp5au6)

      The records are not perfectly clear, but the story is that there was a roadhouse on the spot in the 1850s, it became a hotel in the 1860s, and in the 1870s was enlarged. By 1879, it was run by an interesting character named Hugh Donnelly, and he is likely the hostler that Esther wrote about. There was a second hotel, further from the falls, and it was in business at that time. It was the Minnehaha Spring Garden Hotel, and it also had stables. So, yes. That could be the place also. The book will have pictures of both, and a map. If you transcribed the diary, I might be able to suss out more details about Esther’s day at the falls.

      I descend from the Clarks of Genesee New York and lower Michigan. Do you know if that is your branch of the Clarks?

      Thanks so much for dropping!

      Karen.

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