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.
The Minnesota State Historical Society created a directory of early Minnesota professional photographers. It’s an indispensable tool for photo-historians and researchers.
This picture was taken by Joel E. Whitney. He was notable for taking the very first picture of Minnehaha Falls while working with Alexander Hesler in 1852. They took a few dozen daguerrotypes of the Falls on that day, and perhaps a few survive today. This is not one of them.
It’s that fence that helps date this picture. Most likely it was taken after the scandalous 1857 purchase of Fort Snelling by Franklin Steele and his shadowy partners from Back East. That was the first time that Steele owned the Falls of Minnehaha.