Dedicated to the preservation of the Fort Snelling Area
Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society
Letter from the President
The New Year’s Eve Candlelight Walk was a terrific event. Thousands of people followed the trails through Fort Snelling State Park on a brisk winter evening. The Thomas Savage Visitor Center was open for candlelight walkers to warm up and get a cup of hot coffee or cider. Friends of Fort Snelling members Susi and Todd Adler were on hand in historic reenactment garb to promote our organization.
Substantial activity continues at Fort Snelling. The Minnesota Historical Society is seeking $36 million from the Minnesota Legislature in its bonding bill for replacement of the visitor center and renovation of the Lower Post. The Department of Natural Resources is working with Dominium to redevelop the former officers’ housing in the Upper Post into low income housing. The Northstar Council is planning construction of a new, $15 million headquarters building near its Base Camp.
The Minnesota Historical Society has applied to the National Trust for Historic Preservation to designate Fort Snelling as a National Treasure. There are 55 National Treasures in the United States. Fort Snelling would be the first National Treasure in Minnesota. A decision is hoped for this spring.
The Friends of Fort Snelling has undertaken a strategic planning process. The goal is to review existing and identify new programs, events, and activities; plan for the bicentennial of the founding of the Fort in 2020; and develop a sustainable business model.
Another membership year has begun for the Friends of Fort Snelling. Please print out our 2016 membership form by clicking on the banner to the right and join or extend your membership.
President, Friends of Fort Snelling
Help Revitalize Historic Fort Snelling
David Kelliher - Minnesota Historical Society
A Timely Request
As noted in the previous issue, the Minnesota Historical Society plans to revitalize Historic Fort Snelling in time for its bicentennial in 2020. Although Historic Fort Snelling is visited by thousands each year, its importance remains unknown to many Minnesotans. The area is underutilized. The site facilities are aging, inadequate and in need of renovation. Only a portion of the fort’s many captivating stories are told.
MNHS’s revitalization of Historic Fort Snelling will be centered around the renovation of a historic 1904 cavalry barracks to create a new, more welcoming visitor center. It will also include the demolition of the existing visitor center and improved landscaping to highlight the site’s natural beauty and river views. Updated exhibits and new programs will be more inclusive, weaving in the area’s many stories of the people of many backgrounds for whom the site has played a central role for thousands of years.
A top focus of the 2016 legislative session will be to pass a capital investment budget, or bonding bill, to invest in state assets. MNHS has requested $34 million from the state for design and construction for Historic Fort Snelling as part of the bonding bill. MNHS will raise an additional $12 million through private funding. If Historic Fort Snelling is fully included this year, the revitalized site will be ready in time for the 2020 bicentennial.
The legislative session begins March 8, and will end no later than May 23. There are signs for optimism in the funding process, but there is still more work left to do. Last year, Governor Dayton and Minnesota Legislature appropriated $500,000 for predesign. This is a signal they value and support the revitalization of this National Historic Landmark. In January, the Governor further showed his confidence in the request by including the full $34 million request in his capital investment proposal to the legislature.
Governor Dayton’s support is just a first step. The Minnesota House and Senate will each assemble their own capital investment bills, then together, along with the Governor, will negotiate a final compromise. Total bonding requests for the year were $3.7 billion, so there are many interests advocating to be included as the House and Senate consider their positions.
Your Voice Matters
Your action is needed to help this substantial and important request gain the support needed from state leaders. Governor Dayton and members of the Minnesota Legislature keep careful track of constituent input. Members of the legislature are readily available for in-person meetings and these carry the most weight in shaping their decisions. A phone message or email can also be an effective way to voice your support.
The biggest impact you can make in support of the fort is to attend this year’s History Matters Day at the Capitol on Tuesday, March 22. The day will start at 10 a.m. with an orientation and brief training at the Minnesota History Center. Participants will then head to the Capitol area for meetings with state legislators. No additional knowledge of state politics or the legislature is necessary, just the ability to explain why Historic Fort Snelling is important to you. If you can make it, please RSVP to Erik Anderson at 651-259-3104 or Erik.Anderson@mnhs.org. Erik is available to help set meetings up with your legislators.
If you are unable to attend, you can also make a difference by calling or sending a letter or an email to your state legislators to express support for the project. A simple message that communicates your connection to the fort and support for its revitalization will be most effective. Visit www.mnhs.org/HFS2020 to learn more about the Historic Fort Snelling project and how you can connect with elected officials.
Treasurer's Report Malcolm McDonald - Treasurer, Friends of Fort Snelling
Treasurer's Report for 2015 shows a year end balance for 2016 activities and beyond of $17,555 with an overall gain for the year just ended of $2,974 comprised of gains on events with revenues and expenses, of gains on the sale of our publications and of contributions received in excess of all other expenses.
Going forward we anticipate benefits from our relationship with Dowell Management and have received funds and commitments of funds to cover the cost of this change in the way we do things that provides for growth in activities and forward steps as we progress towards the bicentennial of Fort Snelling in 2020, our state's first bicentennial and with it a major opportunity to collaborate with other worth organizations, particularly the Minnesota Historical Society, Common Bond, the Boy Scouts and our various veterans organizations and friends in our adjacent military organizations.
Association Management Report
Through the early stages of our strategic planning process, it has become clear that there are a few quick steps that we can take immediately to improve the ways that we connect with our members, partners, potential members, and those simply with a general interest in learning more about Fort Snelling. The primary and immediate focus of our plan is to implement a new database management system and website.
We will have an improved website up and running by April 15th. It will better showcase Fort Snelling and the key organizations that work hard to preserve its rich history. By utilizing a more modernized and user friendly system, the Friends of Fort Snelling will be able market events, highlight partnerships, and give website visitors a pleasant and informative experience every time they visit.
The database management system that we are implementing will give the Friends of Fort Snelling the tools to quickly and easily manage their contacts, member information, billing, and marketing outreach. It will also allow for events to be set up on the website fully integrated with online registration and credit card payment capabilities.
On another note, we urge everyone to attend the History Matters Day at the Capitol event on March 22nd to have your voice heard. Follow the link in the article above for more information.
2016 Board of Directors
James Miller,President Jeffrey Olson, Vice President Malcolm McDonald, Treasurer Linda Michie, Secretary Todd Adler,Past President Board Members
Dr. Jerald Dosch
Mary Ann Newman
Dr. Nelson Rhodus
Charles W Arnason
Larry Peterson, Fort Snelling State Park
Tom Pfannenstiel, Fort Snelling & Sibley Historic Sites
The Bridges of Fort Snelling
Todd Adler - Friends of Fort Snelling Board of Directors
Over the last hundred odd years there have been five bridges around Fort Snelling spanning two main barriers for travelers: the mighty Mississippi River and Minnesota River. For many decades after the fort was built the only way across was to catch a ferry, which was privately operated and charged a fee per person, horse, and wagon. In 1855 the first bridge over the Mississippi went up in Minneapolis, but that still meant a long overland trip (as well as a toll across the bridge) to get to St. Paul.
Thanks to an appropriation that was steered to Minnesota by Secretary of War Alexander Ramsey, Fort Snelling started a large building campaign in 1879 that was to last many years. Through the 1880s many new structures went up, such as the headquarters building with its clock tower (1879), the iconic infantry barracks (1885), and various warehouses and repair shops to support the troops.
Clearly the post was here to stay.
As a major economic engine for the young and growing Twin Cities, Fort Snelling needed a better connection across the river than the ferry or a steam boat trip. The first pedestrian bridge went up in 1880 and was a steel truss wagon bridge and connected from bluff to bluff, reaching the fort near the stone barracks. With its high deck it must have been quite the attraction back in the day before skyscrapers and airplanes could give people a perspective from on high.
The bridge served well for many years, but by the early 1900s it was outclassed by modern transportation methods. The Twin Cities had expanded greatly due in no small part to the extensive trolley system that fed workers from the neighborhoods into the core city. There was a gap in the system though: Fort Snelling. A line ran down West 7th Street (also known as Fort Road), but stopped at the river as the wagon bridge couldn’t handle the weight of a trolley car. On the Minneapolis side, the line stopped just north of the fort, waiting for the day when the two ends could be joined.
That day came in 1909, when a new, sturdier bridge was built across the river. An interesting side note:
as payment for letting the street car company run a line across post land, a spur called the Dummy Line was built behind barracks row, joining up with the main line near the Round Tower.
The 1880 bridge was dismantled, but the stone blocks from the piers were saved and later used to build the Fort Snelling chapel (1927). The chapel still stands today and hosts hundreds of weddings every year. It’s in the middle of a cloverleaf for highways 5 & 55, but still a neat place to go to check out the stained glass windows and memorials.
The trolley bridge was in turn replaced in 1961 with the highway bridge you see today. You can see some of the piers and abutments from the first two bridges on both the St. Paul and Fort Snelling sides of the river—one has been turned into an overlook with a great view of the river valley and Fort Snelling on the other side.
There was a huge public outcry when the 1961 bridge was planned as the freeway was supposed to go right through the fort, irrevocably destroying a lot of the state’s history with a few passes of a bulldozer. That awakening lead directly to the preservation of the historic Fort, although the compromise still lead several freeways being punched through the post. This compromise is why you see hwy 5 going through a tunnel under the fort—a curious feature for drivers going to and from St. Paul.
Another bridge to go up at Fort Snelling is the Mendota Bridge. For many years there was a ferry that crossed the Minnesota River and naturally that lead to a lot of roads converging on the area. The next progression then was to put up a bridge at the site, which was finally built in 1926 and dedicated to the 151st FA (Field Artillery), the “Gopher Gunners”. This unit was attached to the 42nd Rainbow Division in the Great War, so named because the division drew soldiers from all 48 states of the Union. The 151st was a Minnesota unit and served with distinction in the war, fighting in many of the major battles in France.
At the time it was built, the Mendota Bridge was the longest concrete span arch bridge in the world, covering a distance of nearly a mile over the Minnesota River valley. By the 1990s though the bridge was showing its age and was closed for repairs and to get a new, wider deck to accommodate modern vehicles. When the bridge was reopened in 1994 it was rededicated to the 151st FA. A few of the unit’s original members were still around and able to attend the ceremony.
I’ve saved the oldest bridge for last: the railroad bridge across the Minnesota River. Hard data is difficult to come by, but it looks like there were two bridges on this site at various times. One in the 1860s when the railroad first went through and again in 1900 when a replacement bridge was installed to upgrade the original structure. Both were swing bridges that moved out of the way so steamboats (and later barges) could make their way up the Minnesota River. During WWII LSTs (“Landing Ship, Tank” or, as the sailors called them, Large Slow Targets) were built near Savage and floated down the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers to the Gulf of Mexico and the bridge had to be swung open to let the them pass.
The bridge was removed in 1957 and the railroad bed below Fort Snelling has been a biking and hiking trail for many years.
Ringing in 2016
Krista Jensen - Lead Naturalist, Fort Snelling State Park
Fort Snelling State Park’s New Year’s Eve Candlelight Walk grows (and grows!) each year- and 2015’s end-of-year event was no exception! Approximately 3,500 people hiked some portion of the nearly six miles of lit trails. All of the candles used in this event are made by one of our super-volunteers Bruce Gravelle and Bruce also made the majority of the ice luminaries for the event!
It was a beautiful night to explore the park, toast a marshmallow and ring in the New Year and we couldn’t have pulled this event off without a great team of volunteers and partners. Along side Bruce we had an additional 25 volunteers assist with some portion of the event: handing out hot cocoa and cider, tending bonfires, lighting candles and cleaning up the next morning. Plus, staff from the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (MNRRA) and the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge (MVNWR) also came out to host bonfires on Pike Island and near the fishing pier. Thanks to all of this hard work, we filled up nearly every parking lot at Fort Snelling State Park!
If you missed the event this year- please pull out your calendar and pencil us in for Saturday, December 31, 2016!
Celebrating 125 Years of Minnesota's State Parks and Trails
Krista Jensen - Lead Naturalist, Fort Snelling State Park
Did you know Itasca State Park was Minnesota’s first state park? Or that Minnehaha Falls Regional Park was nearly a state park? Keep an eye out for one of many events and programs this year celebrating our amazing state park system throughout 2016.
We’re also pleased to be offering a special “challenge” for the year. We want to see how many people can achieve 125 miles by Bike, Boot, or Boat this year. It’s a self-reporting challenge- so, every time you hike, bike, or boat in a state park or on a state trail record your mileage (record sheet available at the website below). Once you’ve reached your 125 miles stop by a state park and you’ll earn yourself a “finishers” sticker!
I’m already up to 14 miles… who’s going to beat me to 125?
Mississippi National River and Recreation Area's Coldwater Spring Property Update
In January, the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area completed the final permanent touches to the entry monument for its Coldwater Springs property. The park kept the original entry monument from the Bureau of Mines and added a sign and arrowhead. Now you truly feel like you are entering a National Park!
So who was this Snelling guy, anyway?
Sarah Shirey, MinnPost
A lieutenant colonel by 1818, Josiah Snelling was promoted to full colonel of the Fifth Infantry Regiment on June 1, 1819. He was ordered to the confluence of the Mississippi and St. Peters (now Minnesota) Rivers to replace Lieutenant Colonel Henry Leavenworth and establish a headquarters for the Fifth Infantry. After a year at the confluence, Leavenworth’s men had established only temporary quarters.
After his arrival in the fall of 1820, Snelling quickly broke ground on the first permanent barracks. With the help of engineer Lieutenant Robert McCabe, Snelling designed a diamond-shaped, limestone fort on the bluff above the rivers. This construction took five years for the enlisted men to complete.