The Tale of Two Cities

  1. Nucleus of the Northwest, in the hub of an area where 900,000 people live, the Twin Cities, Minneapolis and St. Paul, are at the head of navigation on the Mississippi River--1,596 miles from where it pours into the Gulf of Mexico--and near the geographical center of North America. Following the river, Minneapolis lies 15 miles upstream from St. Paul, but a crow flying from city hall to city hall would find them only 1O miles apart. Together they form one metropolitan trade center, which ranks eighth in the United States.

  2. To a stranger they seem already to have merged. Connected by a common zone, each has grown up on both sides of the river, their residences intermingled; to the north only a surveyor's line divides them, farther south the mythical "center" of the river marks the boundary. But their citizens know that although born at almost the same time, their culture shared wholeheartedly, each maintains, as it has from the beginning, a personality differing sharply from that of its twin.

  3. Even the casual visitor (when he overcomes his bewilderment and determines into which city he has wandered), cannot fail to note certain obvious differences. The St. Paul skyline is all of a piece, Minneapolis sprawls; St. Paul is hilly, Minneapolis level; St. Paul's bridges leap down from the high shore to the loop; in Minneapolis they snake across the river with no regard for distance; St. Paul's loop streets are narrow and concentrated, while in its twin city the center of activity extends many blocks along the broad shopping avenues. Minneapolis marks its streets and ornaments its lakes, but leaves its river shore ragged and unkempt below the cream-colored elevators. St. Paul makes much of its river shore but illumines no street sign for a nervous driver. St. Paul has already attained a degree of mellowness and seems to be clinging to its Victorian dignity, while in Minneapolis dignity is less prized than modern spruceness. The visitor from the East will perhaps feel more at home in St. Paul; if from the West he is likely to prefer Minneapolis.

  4. Less obvious, but quite as distinctive, are the cities' social differences. While Minneapolis has outstripped its neighbor in wealth and population, St. Paul has clung more tenaciously to its cherished New England traditions and to the tenets of family aristocracy. St. Paul's largest foreign immigrations were German and Irish. Minneapolis, on the other hand, was built largely through the help of Scandinavians, most of whom were of peasant stock whose descendants today hold important positions in banks, industry, politics, and the professions, as they also make up in large measure the thrifty middle class of small business folk. This difference in racial element is again suggested by the great cathedral dome that dominates St. Paul's hill and proclaims the city the seat of a Roman Catholic archbishopric, even as the spires and towers of scores of Lutheran churches proclaim Minneapolis the Lutheran center of the same area.

  5. The contest for leadership that repeatedly in the days of their growth broke out in bitter, vituperative, schoolboyish quarrels, has always been conspicuously lacking in their cultural activities. Music particularly has been communally enjoyed. From the first when string quartets played in the wooden hotels, when chorals preserved the conglomerate temper of immigrant races and ranged from the intricacies of Gregorian chants brought over by the French Catholics to simple lyrics of the Indians, or Paul Bunyan songs of the lumberjacks and "whistle-punks," down to recent times when together they support a symphony orchestra, the Twin Cities have been the united music center of the Northwest. In all other fields of art the story has been likewise one of a common pride and enjoyment in the achievements of both. Art galleries, painters, writers, composers are invariably claimed by the Twin Cities as a unit, rather than by the one or the other, and the trend toward a regional art expression is watched with undivided interest. In this unifying process the University of Minnesota has figured largely. Between its main campus and the agricultural college campus, one in Minneapolis, the other in St. Paul, a special trolley carries back and forth hundreds of students who daily attend classes on both. Its open concerts, athletics, forums, and speakers attract large Twin City audiences, while the Golden Gophers' football contests annually cement the two towns into one almost rabid fraternity. Research workers of both cities take equal advantage of the university library in Minneapolis, the James J. Hill Reference Library, or the fine collection at the Minnesota Historical Society, both of which are in St. Paul. Enjoyed by both cities are the famous Botanical Gardens, the many miles of park boulevards and highways that skirt the Mississippi, famous Minnehaha Falls, and the lakes. Sports too have had their integrating effect, and the sports fans of the two cities have little regard for city boundaries as they dash to St. Paul's ice palaces and colorful parades, or to the national skiing and skating exhibitions Minneapolis stages; to St. Paul's municipal auditorium to watch ice hockey contests, or to the Golden Gloves Tournament at the Minneapolis auditorium. Twin City professional hockey and baseball, to be sure, arouse considerable rivalry, but it is the rivalry of good sportsmanship and has nothing to do with the jealousy of older days.

  6. Nevertheless it cannot be gainsaid that there still survives a remnant of the old distrust that marked their industrial struggle in that long period when, suspiciously on guard against the threat of absorption, they watched with jealous eyes as their territories each year drew more nearly together. Some newspapers, with very little intercity circulation, still enliven their editorials with barbed thrusts at their neighbors' pretensions, and rarely encourage combined activities. Until 1936, when the Twin City sewage project was finally agreed upon, two bridges represented the sum of their joint public undertakings. The visitor who mildly suggests that a merger might offer advantages, may well be surprised by the heat with which his idea is rejected.

  7. Nowhere else in this country have two cities in such close proximity, born at almost the same time, grown to a status so nearly equal. To understand how this happened and why, it is necessary to go back to the days of settlement and to trace briefly their development.

  8. First a steamboat landing and then a waterfall determined the locations and likewise the economic growth of the Twins' progenitors, Pig's Eye and St. Anthony, which in the 1830's squatted on the banks of the upper Mississippi. Already there were two other little settlements in the area, but these existed only by sufferance of the U. S. Military Reservation that stretched for 10 miles up and down the river and blocked all other newcomers. Mendota, at the confluence of the Minnesota River and the Mississippi, was then the focal point of the Red River fur trade and the liveliest and busiest community of the Northwest. It seems more than probable that had legal ownership been granted the village before the fur trade shifted to St. Paul, Mendota might have become the capital city of a vast region and have swallowed up both of the neighboring villages before they had taken on any true significance. But governments moved slowly in those days, and by the time its residents could claim the right to own and improve the land they lived on, Mendota was already fading into the drowsy site of memories it is today.

  9. The other settlement that preceded the embryo cities had a far less colorful, and an even briefer duration, but nevertheless has a greater bearing on the story, for it was this forlorn group of squatters who were the real founders of St. Paul. French-speaking Swiss refugees who had wandered down from the Selkirk colony on the Red River, were allowed to locate on the west bank of the Mississippi within the reservation's boundaries. In 1838 they were ordered to vacate, and a few families moved across the river under the mistaken impression that they were now well outside the military limits. There they found Pierre Parrant, a French Canadian, who a few weeks before had put up a shack where he lived and sold whisky to the soldiers. Parrant was thus the first actual settler within the present limits of St. Paul.

  10. The nature of his business gave rise to the popular quip that "while Minneapolis was conceived in water power, St. Paul was born in whisky." (Mark Twain, visiting St. Paul in 1882, expanded this idea in one of his classic perorations. "How solemn and beautiful is the thought that the earliest pioneer of civilization, the van leader, is never the steamboat, never the railroad, never the newspaper, never the Sabbath School, but always whisky! The missionary comes after the whisky--I mean he arrives after the whisky has arrived; next the trader, next the miscellaneous rush; next the gambler, the desperado, the highwayman, and all their kindred of sin of both sexes, and next the smart chap who has bought up an old grant that covers all the land, this brings the lawyer tribe, the vigilante committees, and this brings the undertaker. All these interests bring the newspaper; the newspaper starts up politics and a railroad; all hands turn to and build a church and a jail and behold! Civilization is established forever in the land. Westward the jug of Empire takes its way !" )

  11. All settlers on both sides of the river were forcibly expelled from reservation lands in 1840, and then it was that some of these French-Swiss wanderers moved a few miles eastward and became the real founders of St. Paul. Parrant built another cabin at the river landing there, and resumed his business. Nicknamed Pig's Eye by soldiers and traders, this sinister-looking scoundrel seemed destined at one time to become immortalized in the name of the future city. The little settlement that grew up about him was long and widely known as Pig's Eye, a euphonious title that survives on the bottoms farther down the river where he later moved. But the church proved stronger than whisky. Father Lucian Galtier erected a little log chapel at the landing in October 1841 which he consecrated, November first, to St. Paul, and the community gratefully took over the name of the apostle.

  12. The refugees from the reservation were agriculturists and it was mere chance that led them into possession of the head of Mississippi navigation. They gave no thought at all to the opportunities the river landing offered, and little guessed that their happening upon this site was to determine St. Paul's rapid rise to wealth and leadership. Henry Jackson, later the first justice of the peace, who opened the first store among them in 1842, was probably the first to dream of commercial possibilities. Three years later, however, only about 30 families made up the settlement, most of them farmers.

  13. While the fathers and mothers of St. Paul were still being shifted about, Henry Sibley, later the first Governor, then a prosperous fur trader and a famous host, was living at the trading post, Mendota. He had seen the commercial possibilities of the region and induced his future brother-in-law, Franklin Steele, to act as sutler at the fort whose reservation at that time embraced most of what is now Minneapolis. Steele watched with considerable interest the two mills Colonel Snelling had built (1821-23) on the west side of St. Anthony's Falls, one to cut lumber for his buildings, the other to grind flour from the wheat his men half-heartedly raised. In 1838 Steele erected a cabin on the east side of the falls and paid a man to live there. Six years later, Bottineau, a half-breed guide who had drifted down to St. Paul from the Red River country, took out an adjoining claim. (Bottineau is one of the State's most colorful legendary characters. Handsome and reckless, he has been called the Kit Carson of the Northwest. In 1936 an old-timer recalled vividly being one of an admiring group of youngsters for whose edification he was wont to "skip" silver dollars across the surface of the Mississippi.) In 1847 Steele's workmen started building a sawmill and dam on the east side of the falls. Steele and Bottineau now emerged as sole owners of the land along this east bank. French colonists, mostly part Indian, followed Bottineau to the new settlement, and St. Anthony, later the East Side of Minneapolis, was born, with American workmen busy at the falls and half-breeds scattered about on nearby claims.

  14. That same year the town of St. Paul was platted, a school was opened, and steamboats made the settlement their official terminus with regular scheduled visits. What with the establishment of the American Fur Company's headquarters in the new town, ever-increasing cartloads of pelts from the Red River country coming here to unload, and the Hudson's Bay Company's trade, St. Paul quickly became the most significant trading post in the Northwest.

  15. When the Territory of Minnesota was created in 1849, St. Paul had a population of 840, while 10 miles away St. Anthony had about 250. St. Paul boasted a chapel, school, hotel, post office, warehouses, and stores, a total, including residences, of 142 buildings. St. Anthony had its mill, a store, a post office, and a school, with not nearly so many dwellings. The name Minneapolis had not yet been conceived, but St. Anthony was platted that year on Steele's land. Bottineau at once followed suit and platted the addition that still bears his name.

  16. Between St. Anthony and St. Paul stretched the military reservation, largely on the west side of the river. It required a special Government permit for Col. John H. Stevens, Mexican War hero, to build a residence on the west bank of the falls in 1849. But the incoming Yankee settlers cared little for Government paper. Despite the opposition of the soldiers at the camp, who repeatedly tore down their cabins, they persisted in their determination to occupy the land surrounding Stevens' home. Then in 1855 Washington curtailed the boundaries of the reservation and gave these obstinate squatters their legal patents. By that time a village had grown up on Stevens' claim, now the Minneapolis loop district. Someone proposed a name for the new hamlet derived from "Minne," Sioux word for water, and the Greek suffix "polis." The editor of the first St. Anthony Express added an "a" for euphony's sake and Minneapolis it became.

  17. Attempts to incorporate the city of St. Paul were first made in 1849, but it was not until 1854 that city government was a reality. The next year St. Anthony became an acknowledged city. Both it and Minneapolis were booming. In 1858 St. Anthony had a population of 3,500 and Minneapolis on the other side of the falls, 1,500; most of the former were French-Canadians, and the latter principally Yankees, British, and later Scandinavians. (Minneapolis was not incorporated as a city until 1867, and it was not until 1872 that the two united as one city.)

  18. In the fifties, following the Indian treaties, all three towns expanded at a rate almost incredible even to their own optimistic founders (see IMMIGRATION AND RACIAL ELEMENTS). With the first great tide of immigration, St. Paul, the landing port of the thousands who came up the river, became the center for immigrant supplies and laid the foundations for its extensive wholesaling and jobbing interests. By 1853 it had established the first bank in the Northwest (Borup & Oakes). St. Anthony, on the other hand, was ideally situated with its abundant water power to manufacture the lumber the newcomers required for their homes, to turn into flour the wheat they soon began to raise. The boom brought a train of land speculators to all three of the new towns, and by 1856 lots were selling for as much as $2,500. St. Paul was still far in the lead in wealth and population, but the lumber and milling industries that later made Minneapolis famous the country over, already had a healthy start.

  19. Then came the panic of 1857 with its attendant collapse of grandiose dreams. One of the byproducts was its indirect effect on the future expansion of the Twin Cities. Some time before, having decided to abandon the fort, the Government sold the reservation to Franklin Steele, who made a preliminary payment, and on the site of the fort platted a beautifully designed metropolis which he named Minnesota City. The proposed town, still on paper, was seriously advocated as the capital of the State whose admission to the Union was now assured. But the panic so depreciated Steele's resources that he was unable to complete his payments, and the Government took back the fort to reopen it at the beginning of the Civil War. The area once laid out in broad streets and avenues is today occupied by administration buildings, barracks, and parade grounds.

  20. By the end of the decade the division of function that distinguishes so sharply the early development of the Twin Cities was already well established. St. Paul's river advantage for years gave it leadership in trade and commerce, and the city paid far less attention to manufacturing. Its two steam lumbermills produced only enough for local consumption. For a brief period, St. Anthony, refusing to submit to St. Paul's boast that it headed Mississippi navigation, persuaded steamboat captains to risk the hazards of the falls by the promise of rich bonuses. In 1857, 52 steamboats loaded down with goods and passengers, docked at St. Anthony, and took lumber and grain on their return trip. But the next year low water defeated hopes of grand-scale river navigation, and the two sister villages at the falls resigned themselves to their dependence on St. Paul for needed goods. On its commercial facilities they leaned more and more heavily as they built up national markets for lumber and flour. These differences in function--St. Paul, the trade and commercial center; Minneapolis, the industrial--arising directly from their respective locations, are today largely eliminated, but for years they were the leading factor in the almost parallel growth of the Twin Cities.

  21. With the development of steamboat traffic above the falls, the fur trade shifted to St. Cloud, but ,by this time St. Paul had a well-established wholesale business, and the loss was not too disastrous. Merchants in the new prairie villages followed the established custom and stocked from its wholesale houses. The rapid extension of the railroads in the early seventies meant not only more towns and new markets, but advanced still further the city's trade ascendancy, for while Minneapolis had equal railroad facilities, St. Paul was the official terminus of the roads running to Duluth and to the East. St. Paul's present and future alike at that time could well have been painted in glowing colors, but the picture had one dark blot. There was no escape from the fact that Minneapolis was rapidly catching up. Already it was called "the sawdust city," and its fame for the flour it milled from the State's expanding wheat supply had extended its market even into European countries (see INDUSTRIAL DEVELOPMENT).

  22. It was during the period when Minneapolis was perfecting the "new process" milling methods, which carried the quantity and quality of its flour output to new records, that the city was suddenly threatened with a loss of all its water power. In 1869 it was discovered that the two tunnels under construction beneath the falls, one for waste and the other for a traffic route, had hastened erosion to a point where the falls themselves might be completely swept away. But the Government quickly came to the rescue, and, aided by private contribution, built a cut-off wall and saved the 120,000 horsepower by a project started in 1870 and completed in 1879.

  23. By 1880 Minneapolis began to boast that it had passed St. Paul in the race for supremacy. This was the decade in which the Twins, totally unmindful of their mutual dependence, slashed at each other with a vindictiveness that today seems incredible. A book published in 1885 and endorsed by the mayor of Minneapolis, refers to the Dual City Blue Book (St. Paul) as follows: "According to the above authority, Minneapolis is shown to be much the stronger society; that is, there are more spike-tail coats, high collars, more silks, satins, diamonds, jewelry, and gim-cracks generally; more ton. We have always contended this was true, but we did not expect to demonstrate it so clearly by cold statistics." Rival sparring was kept up more or less continuously and mainly by the newspapers. Although it was largely "literary" in character, it must have fanned the jealous flames, for over the 1890 census the feud attained such scandalous proportions that the Government was forced to take a hand. St. Paul contended that in the previous decade the two cities had maintained a population substantially equal--Minneapolis scorned equality. Charges and countercharges were hurled back and forth. Census takers were kidnapped, evidence seized, arrests were frequent. At last the Government ordered a recount of both cities. The results showed that in guilt at least they were equal. Both had increased their figures by fictitious children and boarders, by counting workers at home and shop, by inventing residences, by the registration of transients. When the smoke cleared away, the lead granted to Minneapolis was 10,000 less than its own figures showed, while St. Paul had basely boosted its figures only a little less. The count officially declared, amity was soon re-established. Joint subscription paid the fines of two convicted enumerators, and charges against 31 others were good naturedly dismissed. Thus ended the worst and the last rowdy quarrel between the Twins.

  24. Although by 1880 Minneapolis was thoroughly established as an industrial city, St. Paul as the Northwest's commercial stronghold, the demarcation between the business activities of the two cities was by no means as clean-cut as this might seem to imply. St. Paul had a few local sawmills and a number of industries of which boot and shoe manufacturing was most profitable, while Minneapolis was by no means devoid of commercial interests. St. Paul's jobbing at the time far exceeded that of Minneapolis, yet Minneapolis merchants, wholesale and retail, handled the supplies required by the army of transients who seasonably passed through the city on their way to the north woods.

  25. Gradually St. Paul's river trade died, and Minneapolis' twin industries, lumber and flour, declined. Their sharply defined differences, so important historically, began to fade and lose significance.

  26. That the Twin Cities should have developed as two separate metropolitan centers is readily explained by their respective functions, but the reason they did not merge after these functions no longer operated is found in the railroad situation. The Mississippi-Minnesota River valley involves a belt 1 to 5 miles wide of river and marsh bordered by steep bluffs 120 feet high, and while this gives easy access to railroads from the south it has formed a barrier to lines that must cross it. St. Paul is at the exact northern limit of this valley, and has the advantage of breaks in the bluffs that occur in its immediate vicinity. Minneapolis on the other hand was nearer the grain fields of the West, and had in Nicollet Island the most convenient river crossing for routes passing north around the valley. Thus each city had reason to have a railroad center of its own. But to obtain the business they needed, rival railroads from whatever direction were forced to secure entry into both cities. Had the distance between them been less, one railroad center might conceivably have handled the traffic of both, but before the days of automobiles, the 10 miles separating them barred such a possibility. Today, although the cities' borders almost overlap, their commercial centers are almost as far apart as in the beginning. To change this situation would require so tremendous a loss in invested capital that it seems hardly possible that it will ever be undertaken.

  27. With their industrial and commercial differences largely eliminated, the Twins welded their economic life and their establishment as one metropolitan trade center that serves a vast area and includes roughly the northwest quarter of Wisconsin, all of Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Montana, and portions of Iowa and Wyoming; a more recent tendency is toward a closer relationship also with the northern peninsula of Michigan. Since the establishment of a Federal Reserve Bank in Minneapolis in 1914, the Twin Cities have become likewise the financial headquarters of the Northwest.

  28. Minneapolis has continued to maintain a considerable lead over St. Paul in both population and business wealth since 1880. (Between 1920 and 1930 the population increase of Minneapolis was 22 percent; of St. Paul 15.7 percent. The percentage of foreign-born at the same time dropped from 20.5 percent to 19.4 percent in Minneapolis; in St. Paul, however, the decline was far greater, i.e., from 22 percent to 16.2 percent. These figures are interesting when compared with those of the United States as a whole, which showed 13.2 percent of foreign-born in 1920, and 11.6 percent ten years later. ) Manufacturing establishments in Minneapolis number 923, in St. Paul, 639. Jobbing, in which St. Paul once surpassed its Twin, has forged ahead in Minneapolis until that city claims a "billion dollar market." But, while jealous irritation still occasionally bubbles up to the surface in quarrels little more serious than shadow boxing, the question of supremacy is no longer an issue. Psychological antagonism may still exist, but in the economic field both cities have come to a realization of the wisdom of Jim Hill's dream in which he saw not one but both together constituting the industrial heart and arteries of the great body of the Northwest.

  29. Symbolic of this conception is the Midway district sandwiched between the two cities and within the boundaries of each. When the four railroads to the Pacific coast were completed, all freight from the West was routed through what was called the Minnesota Transfer in the Midway district. Around this transfer developed an industrial and commercial center and blocks of residences for the workers. Through it were carried the goods of the Orient, the lumber and fruit from the Pacific States. The double centers became a unit, and promised to become the nucleus of a railroad empire. Before 1915 this Midway was the scene of extraordinary railroad and shipping activity. Then the Panama Canal was opened and the activities languished. But today the Midway is a flourishing industrial and business center and has practically wiped out the cities' official dividing line.