Minneapolis historically has been known more for its Mississippi River falls and rapids than the islands that dot the more languid current below the Coon Rapids Dam or the river below the Twin Cities.
Nevertheless, there’s been a shifting landscape on the river as it flows through the city, with islands appearing and disappearing in response to river conditions and human interventions.
The most notable change was the installation of three dams that improved shipping, created hydro power and, with other structures, helped keep the St. Anthony Falls from eroding into rapids. Those dams disrupted the natural river and erased some islands.
For example, Meeker Island lay in the river channel north of Lake Street, and in 1907 was the site of the earliest federal lock and dam on the river, aimed at improving navigation. But the second Ford Dam flooded the Meeker Island area, although the old lock wall is visible at low water from the Lake Street Bridge.
Park Commissioner Scott Vreeland notes that an 1876 map shows 13 smaller islands in the gorge south of Meeker. A larger island that ran for three blocks is still listed by the county as owned by the park system. But property records show it was one of multiple Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board properties inundated by the Ford Dam, for which park authorities were paid $15,000.
Similarly, Plummer Island formerly lay just upstream from what is now the Lowry Avenue Bridge. Plummer has disappeared since a remnant remained in a 1960 aerial photo, although Hennepin County property records still show it as owned by the city. City representatives think it has simply eroded.
Several substantial islands lay just down from St. Anthony Falls but were erased by quarrying, erosion and construction of the lock and dam.
Boom Island was once an island, just upstream of Nicollet Island, at which a log boom was stretched across the river to intercept logs for nearby mills. A sawmill and a rail yard with roundhouse were located there, and an adjacent channel gradually filled with silt and sawdust. It’s now a park.
Hall’s Island didn’t appear in maps until the early 20th century, when it showed as three islands near the east end of the Plymouth Avenue Bridge. The city filled between them and built public baths. Long afterward, it sold the parcel to nearby Scherer Brothers Lumber, and the company erased the island by dredging. It sold the property in 2010 to the Park Board, which now plans to recreate the island.