Hennepin celebrates 160 years

  • Article by: KEVIN DUCHSCHERE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 22, 2012 - 12:28 AM

The county was carved from Dakota County as growth spread westward from the Mississippi River.

Painting of Father Louis Hennepin

The president was Millard Fillmore. In Ohio, it became illegal for women and children to work more than 10 hours a day. "Uncle Tom's Cabin," the book that Lincoln later claimed started the Civil War, was appearing in shop windows.

And in far-off Minnesota, a meeting was held in a small house near St. Anthony Falls to organize the territory's ninth county. After bouncing around Snelling as a name, they finally settled on Hennepin after Father Louis Hennepin, a Belgian missionary who explored the area in 1680.

On March 6, Hennepin County -- now boasting more people and a bigger budget than any other county in Minnesota -- marks its 160th birthday. A presentation on the county's history will be made at the County Board meeting on March 13.

Here's a quick Q and A on some of the high points of Hennepin history:

Q What was the region west of St. Anthony Falls like before it became Hennepin County?

A It was home to many American Indians of the Dakota and Ojibwe tribes, who fished the waters and hunted its forests, said Jada Hansen, executive director of the Hennepin History Museum in south Minneapolis. "There was a sizable Dakota village on the west shore of Lake Calhoun" under a chief named Cloud Man, she said. In 1839, the village was relocated to what is now Bloomington because of tensions with the Ojibwe.

Q How was the county formed?

A When the Minnesota Territory was established in 1849, the area that became Hennepin was part of Dakota County, which stretched west all the way to the Missouri River in what is now South Dakota. Hansen said the first effort by the territorial legislature to carve out Hennepin County failed in 1851. But the following year the bill passed.

Q At first the entire county was west of the Mississippi River. How did Hennepin get the area east of the river that's now southeast and northeast Minneapolis?

A Residents of that area, then called St. Anthony, thought it made more sense to be linked to the county seat of Minneapolis just across the river than to St. Paul, Hansen said. After a suspension bridge linking the east and west banks of the river was completed, St. Anthony became part of Hennepin County in 1856.

Q How did Minneapolis become the county seat?

A The County Board chose the west bank above the falls as the site for the county seat and named it Albion. Villagers reportedly thought the name rather dull. The following month the local newspaper ran a letter proposing "Minnehapolis" instead, combining the Dakota word for "water" and the Greek word for "city." The editor liked the idea but suggested removing the "h" to make the name flow better.

Q Where did early settlers come from?

A Minneapolis "was founded not just by new immigrants, but by families from the East," Hansen said -- people who had the money and know-how to build the young city. Germans, Irish, Norwegians and Swedes supplied the labor on farms and in factories, and the falls powered sawmills and grain mills. By 1860, Hennepin County had 12,000 residents.

Q How significant was Lake Minnetonka to the county's development?

A It was a major draw, Hansen said. The first hotel was built there in 1853, and the first resort -- the Hotel St. Louis in Deephaven -- in 1879. Four more resorts opened up the lake to thousands every summer, many of them from the South.

Q Where can someone get more information on Hennepin County history?

A The first place to check is the Hennepin History Museum, the county's historical society with offices and galleries in a mansion near the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. The museum is a nonprofit that is partly funded by the county. For more on the museum, which is open six days a week, go to www.hennepinhistory.org.

Kevin Duchschere • 612-673-4455

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