Joel Whitney and the First Bridge

Throughout the 19th century, and largely different from today, people approached the Falls from the south side.  Upstream on the road–now Minnehaha Avenue–there was indeed a bridge over the creek, but the roadhouses and hotels and such were south of the creek, and the railroad depot (when the railroads came in) was put where the people were, on the south side.  It was closer to the Fort, after all, and the Fort was the only legal settlement in the earliest years.  Minnehaha Falls were within the military reservation at the beginning of European settlement in Minnesota.

Someone, some time in those early years, built a bridge to allow people to cross the creek below the Falls.

An early pic of Minnehaha, showing the first bridge
Early spring, the snow is melting, the creek is thawed and the falls are falling. An undated picture by Joel E. Whitney, possibly from the 1850s. From the urbancreek.com archive.

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Mythbusting, part 1: This is not “Minnehaha in 1860.”

This picture gets reprinted all the time in books, articles, and magazines.  It’s the most popularly reprinted image of Minnehaha Falls in the 19th century.  And it’s easy to understand why.  The caption clearly states that it is from 1860, and invites the reader back into the past with its advice, “Note costumes.” Putting precise dates on photographs of Minnehaha Falls is a difficult project, as no one knows better than the researchers of urbancreek.com. The very specific date here seems like a gift from the past.

Unfortunately, it’s wrong. On some rare occasions when this image is reprinted, the people standing in the background on the traverse behind the Falls are pointed out. But no one ever mentions the graffiti.

The often-reprinted "1860" postcard.
The often-reprinted “1860” postcard.

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John Carbutt at Minnehaha Falls, part 2

Mollie Carbutt standing between Edward L. Wilson, left, and Mrs. Wilson. Note that the bridge is not in good repair.
Mollie Carbutt standing between Edward L. Wilson, left, and Mrs. Wilson. Note that the bridge is not in good repair.

Chicago’s John Carbutt took this picture of his wife and Mr. and Mrs. Edward L. Wilson in October 1866, and it’s interesting for several reasons.  That very first bridge across the creek is in terrible condition with obvious broken railings.  It’s now a few years old.

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