Bdote Fort Snelling - Minnesota's First National Treasure!

Nation's Leading Historic Preservation Organization Names 'Bdote Fort Snelling' a National Treasure

Washington, DC (April 20, 2016) - The National Trust for Historic Preservation today named "Bdote Fort Snelling" a National Treasure, bringing a national spotlight to a historic place which reveals the richness of the American story. Bdote Fort Snelling is the first National Treasure designated by the National Trust in the state of Minnesota.

This designation by the nation's leading preservation organization is in recognition of the site's connections to Native American history, its role as a military post during the 19th and 20th centuries, and its connection to several significant events in American history, from the Dred Scott decision to the Japanese language school that was part of the World War II effort.

Stephanie Meeks, CEO National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust chose the name Bdote Fort Snelling because of its location at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers. Bdote Fort Snelling's history stretches back several millennia - it is believed that the first humans entered the area 10,000 years ago. "Bdote" is a Dakota word, meaning 'where the two waters come together.' Many Dakota people regard 

this meeting of waters as their spiritual and cultural point of origin, the place where "the Dakota people began."

"Bdote Fort Snelling connects us to and helps us tell the story of several chapters of history in North America," said Stephanie Meeks, president and CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. "From the first humans who walked this area thousands of years ago, to the military families who called this place home until just a few decades ago, this sacred site helps us understand the breadth of human experience in North America."

"We fully understand that not all of the events that occurred here were positive, particularly the Native American experience in this area," Meeks continued. "In restoring Bdote Fort Snelling, we hope to capture the site's complex history so that future generations fully understand the lessons it has to teach. We look forward to engaging a broad coalition of partners in the campaign to revitalize this important place."

Bdote Fort Snelling is a significant place that helps tell the complex-and sometimes painful-story of centuries of Native American, Minnesota and American history. It includes the entire area known as Fort Snelling: The Upper Post, Historic Fort Snelling, Fort Snelling State Park, Fort Snelling National Cemetery, Coldwater Spring and the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers.

As part of its National Treasures campaign, the Trust will employ its national expertise in helping to support the current efforts, and to fill in the gaps where needed, for sustainable uses of this historic area so that it can once again be a thriving center of community life in the Twin Cities.

"The timing of this designation dovetails with a major Minnesota Historical Society initiative to revitalize Historic Fort Snelling, Minnesota's best-known historic site and first National Historic Landmark," said Steve Elliot, director and CEO of the Minnesota Historical Society. "Working hand-in-hand with the community and our partners, including the National Trust, will help us realize our goal of creating a place that provides important historical context to our nation, brings people together for crucial conversations, and builds understanding around issues that still resonate today."Steve Elliot, director and CEO of the Minnesota Historical Society

Fort Snelling was established by the US government in 1820 and named for Colonel Josiah Snelling, who oversaw its initial construction and served as its first commander from 1820-1827. Beginning in the late 1800s, dozens of new buildings were constructed on the Fort's upper bluff for military training, supplies, housing and administration. While the original 1820s fortification, known as Historic Fort Snelling, is a popular destination for tourists, other parts of the Bdote Fort Snelling area have had relatively little attention for the past several decades.

At a press event held at Bdote Fort Snelling this morning, the National Trust, along with the Minnesota Historical Society, and the Friends of Fort Snelling announced their intention to work towards developing a vision for the area's future revitalization. With a unified vision and an effective, empowered governing entity, the coalition believes that Bdote Fort Snelling could once again be a thriving center of community life in the Twin Cities.

Check back with this page for additional coverage as it becomes available

Additional National Treasure External Coverage Links

Fort Snelling designated a National Treasure
Nick Woltman, Pioneer Press

Fort Snelling on Wednesday joined about 70 other U.S. sites on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of National Treasures.

The fort is the first site in Minnesota to receive the Trust’s National Treasure designation. It joins the likes of Theodore Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch in Medora, N.D., and Chimney Rock in western Colorado.

“This place embodies so many important layers of our history,” said Stephanie Meeks, CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “It is crucial to understanding who we are and how we came to be.” Click here to read the full article

Star Tribune Article

KSTP Channel 5 Coverage

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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.

1880 wagon bridge. The commandant's house is on the left. From Todd Adler's collection.

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:

The 1909 bridge with a street car crossing it. From Todd Adler's collection.

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.

The dedication plaque on the Mendota bridge to the 151st Field Artillery. Photo by John A. Weeks III.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.

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