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As you walk towards the Stone Arch Bridge, you can start to see the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam. The Lock & Dam is another example of how the landscape has been changed---and the consequences. Completed in 1963, the Upper and Lower Lock at St. Anthony Falls was used for fifty years before Congress closed the lock to boat traffic in 2015. Although currently managed by the Army Corps of Engineers, the lock is currently undergoing a disposition study to see if the Corps should continue to manage the lock, or if another agency should. What might this be in the future? Can this sort of structure change to meet community needs?

Constructing the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock & Dam

Constructing the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock & Dam

Creating the Lock

Minneapolis' government sought a new industry that could revitalize the riverfront as flour milling and related industries declined. They decided to bring commercial river navigation to the city. In 1937, US Congress authorized an extension of the 9-foot navigable channel above the falls and the lock, which was completed in 1963. The lock provided a mechanism for boats to navigate the falls.The Lock remained open until 2015 when it was closed to boat traffic.

The lock came at a significant cost. Located below the falls was Wita Wanagi (Spirit Island), part of what made Owamniyomni (also called St. Anthony Falls) a place of spiritual power for the Dakota. Accounts of the island describe a place of respite surrounded by the rush of water, with bald eagles nesting on the island and catching fish at the base of the waterfall. Spirit Island had been quarried by white colonists who had moved onto Dakota homeland and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers removed the island to accommodate boat traffic.

What's next for Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam?

Now that the lock is closed to boat traffic, community groups have ideas for what it might become. Some have suggested a visitor center and public space or maybe a space for art. Performances have already been projected onto the lock walls. Others wonder if the lock and other structures could be removed entirely, asking what might be possible if the river is returned to its natural state?

Carlson, Andrea. "On The Uncompromising Hand: Remembering Spirit Island."Open Rivers: Rethinking Water, Place, & Community, no. 9: 63 - 74. Published January 1st 2018. on-the-uncompromising-hand-remembering-spirit-island/.

Disposition Study, Upper St. Anthony Falls and Lock and Dam, Upper Mississippi River, US Army Corps of Engineers St. Paul District Website. March 16th 2016. Accessed July 18th 2020.

"A History of Owamni Yomni: Lock Closures Signal Healing for Mississippi River," The Circle: Native American News and Arts. July 19th 2015. Accessed July 21st 2020.

Jones, Irene. "Locks and dam meetings draw a crowd," Friends of the Mississippi River. September 14th 2019. Accessed July 18th 2020.

Weber, Tom. Minneapolis: An Urban Biography. St. Paul, Minnesota. Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2020.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

Minnesota Historical Society Collections