Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Finding Traces of Henry David Thoreau's 1861 Visit to Minneapolis

Our Lady of Lourdes Church, built 1854-1857, with later additions.
In May 1861, Henry David Thoreau visited Minneapolis. He was terminally ill, and would die within a year.

I found myself wondering if there are any traces of places or institutions Thoreau would have seen or visited.

There is very little contemporaneous documentation about his visit to Minneapolis: no newspaper articles, no subsequent book. We do have Thoreau's handwritten field notes, and letters written by his 17-year-old companion Horace Mann, Jr.

Chronology

1817, July 18. Thoreau born, Concord MA.
1819 Fort Snelling established, initially as a tent settlement.
Later, settlements were established on each side of the Mississippi a few miles to the north around St Anthony Falls where today's Minneapolis has grown up.
1851 University of Minnesota founded.
1852 Hennepin County (where Minneapolis is located) established.
1855 St Anthony, across the river from Minneapolis, formally incorporated.
1855 Longfellow publishes his big hit: Song of Hiawatha.
That same year, Brown Falls, near Minneapolis and Fort Selling, became known as Minnehaha Falls, named after Hiawatha's lover.
1858 Minnesota achieves statehood.
1859 The Athenaeum, the precursor to the Minneapolis public library, established.

1861
April 12. Civil War began. Fort Snelling became a rendezvous and training center for union soldiers.
May 26. Thoreau and Mann arrived St. Paul, MN, by riverboat in the early hours of the morning. They took a stagecoach to St. Anthony (across the Mississippi from Minneapolis, now part of Minneapolis).
Checked in to Tremont House (hotel), St. Anthony.
May 26, and subsequent days: Explored Nicollet Island, St Anthony, University of Minnesota.
May 28. Met with Dr. Charles L. Anderson, the state geologist.
In their 4 days with Dr. Anderson they saw Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun, Minnehaha Falls, Fort Snelling.
May 29. Met with Dr. Anderson. Visited Minnehaha Falls, then Fort Snelling.
May 31 Met with Dr. Anderson.
June 1. Cloudy day. Visited Athenaeum Library.
June 3. Met with Dr. Anderson.
June 5. Took coach to Lake Calhoun. Stayed at the house of a Mrs Hamilton, on the southern edge of Lake Calhoun.
June 14. Early afternoon, left Lake Calhoun. Moved back to Minneapolis. Met with Dr. Anderson one last time June 14 or 15. May have spent one night in St Anthony.
June 16. Took stagecoach to St Paul.
July 11. Thoreau arrives back home in Concord, MA.

1862, May 6. Thoreau died.
1867 Minneapolis incorporated.
1872 St. Anthony and Minneapolis merged.
1883 Minneapolis Park Act passed. Later, Thoreau's notes were used to re-establish native plants in park land.
1885 Minneapolis public library established. The Athanaeum collection is now housed in the Central Library in Minneapolis.

Interactive Map

I decided to build a cycle ride around places connected with the time of Thoreau's visit.
Interactive Map.
For a location-aware guide, open the interactive map in the Google My Maps app on a mobile device.

The interactive map includes descriptions of each point of interest, the main cycle trail, and transit stops. Metro Transit has real-time bus and train schedules. You can cycle the entire route, or take transit between each of the areas in the above map. Buses have two bike racks at the front, and light rail trains have bike racks in every car. The trail is mainly off-road on dedicated bike trails; short sections are quiet roads or dedicated lanes. 

University East Bank to Downtown

Start at the LRT East Bank Station, University of Minnesota.
From their hotel on Main Street, Thoreau and Mann visited the university in the east and Minneapolis across the river to the south. In Minneapolis, Thoreau researched at the Athanaeum Library.
Detail from 1861 map. Main Street aligns with the Mississippi. Zoomable image. (Source: Borchert Map Library.) 
Lakes Calhoun and Harriet
Lake Harriet. A good place to stop for refreshments.
Thoreau and Mann stayed in a boarding house on the southern edge of Lake Calhoun. From this base they documented the flora and fauna. Later, this information was used by the Minneapolis Park Board to restore areas to their native state.

 Minnehaha Park to Fort Snelling
John H. Stevens House. Built 1849-1850 beside St. Anthony Falls, later moved to Minnehaha Park.
Fort Snelling
From Fort Snelling LRT station, take the Blue Line, then the Green Line back to East Bank Station. Alternatively, backtrack to Minnehaha Park, then ride the bike path on either side of the Mississippi. 

Notes

Sources include:
Westward I Go Free: Tracing Thoreau's Last Journey, Corinne Hosfeld Smith.
Thoreau in Minnesota. The Thoreau Society.
History: Henry David Thoreau Observes Lake Harriet. Alison Nowak.
In A Gate Agent's Conundrum I decided who I would rather sit beside on a plane: Henry David Thoreau or Werner Herzog. I've read books on walking by both authors, they've both been to Minneapolis; beyond that, their paths converge.

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