Dreaming of an Historical Park

By Jeremy Hubbell

Apropos the editorial piece in the Star Tribune on July 24 concerning the ethics of land sales, a sale of Federal Land nears completion along the Mississippi River adjacent to Fort Snelling. The 27-acre property where the Bureau of Mines carried on research for several decades has the potential to be a place for Minnesotans to reconnect with their history. The site could be a place for young Minnesotans to learn the facts behind the National Pageant - contrary to the writer in the Star Tribune on July 12th. Indeed Native Americans, concerned citizens, historians, and anthropologists dream of an interpretive center that would finally rescue the life and people who lived around Fort Snelling and before Fort Snelling from the bin labeled "unimportant." As anthropologist Bruce M. White put it, the Camp Coldwater settlement is "a dream archaeological site. The birthplace of Minnesota [is] a rich, culturally diverse area in which Indian people, whites, fur traders, missionaries, soldiers & settlers came together to create the basis for the state as it is today."

While researching Minnesota's industrialization these past few weeks, I've met many people dreaming of a new way to celebrate the beginnings of this state. It could look like this:

The year is 2005.
As a bicentennial celebration of Lt. Zebulon Pike's treaty with Way Aga Enogee, a dedication ceremony of a new interpretive center took place today at Cold Water Spring. The fanfare follows 5 years worth of publicly viewed archeology at the site which brought to light the Ancient Indian Village south of the Spring, the barracks site whence the soldiers built Fort Snelling, and the various properties dwellings of "squatters" who lived around the spring until their eviction. The old Bureau of Mines buildings house various ecological, mineral, environmental, and historical exhibits explaining the multiculturalism to be found at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers.

In one exhibit, an overview of the Upper Mississippi River basin covers the geology and hydrology of the area. Highlights of the exhibit include the groundwater model developed during the construction of tunnels at the nearby airport. Another exhibit explains the geology of the area and tells of the contribution of the Bureau of Mines, on this site, to mining operations. This exhibit includes an explanation of Taconite processing. Building off these two exhibits, the center offers a unique presentation of environmental history that explains the way in which the landscape of Minnesota has changed through natural processes and through human actions.

Taking advantage of archeological finds in the area, the main exhibit inside an old Bureau of Mines building tells the story of indigenous people who lived in the area for thousands of years before the arrival of soldiers. The soldiers established their barracks at Cold Water spring while they constructed Fort Snelling. After the fort was completed, the spring served as the freshwater source for the fort. Eventually, refugees from Lord Selkirk's colony and from Pembina arrived at the fort and were allowed by Josiah Snelling to stay in the old barracks. The refugees built homes, raised cattle and families as they "squatted" around the spring and along the river. The stories of the settlers are told alongside archeological evidence gathered on the property. The beginnings of St. Paul resulted from the forcible eviction of the community from the military preserve.

After visiting the exhibits, the visitor exits into the sunlight to visit the spring itself. After some quiet moments enjoying the rush of water from the hillside, a hike begins along a trail whose markers explain who lived at a site and, as nearly as possible, what the house looked like. South of the spring, multicultural reenactors have created village life that accompanied any North American fort as well as the Indian Agency and council house. Fort Snelling asserted the USA's power but the Indian agent, Major Lawrence Taliaferro, was busy creating what would be the ceded territory of Minnesota. Much more complete than those empty teepees found outside Fort William in Canada, for example, here opportunities abound to bridge this nineteenth century site with twentieth century spiritual needs of Native Americans. A sweat lodge resides near the spring for the ceremonial uses of the local community.

The public can view scheduled debates, instead of period role players. Actors present the thorny issues of Treaties by reviewing those made with tribes throughout Minnesota. The abolitionist movement presents itself through a scripted argument of the Dred Scott Case - one of many biographies presented in the interpretive center. They also reveal what pioneers in Minnesota thought of slavery, especially those who catered to slaveowners vacationing at St. Anthony Falls.

Following the trail toward the river to visit sites of human habitation, other markers become evident to the visitor. Contrary to the ragweed and miscellaneous tree stock that had been there, biological restoration has been under way to bring back indigenous plant life. With help from various biological agencies in Minnesota, visitors walk down paths lined with indigenous grasses, wildflowers (including the state flower), and through a Bur Oak savanna. Markers inform the curious about plants from the notebooks of explorers or surveyors. ...

Back in the year 2000, such a vision remains elusive. A National Park Service newsletter says MAC will purchase the 27-acre property. Purchase plans include constructing a 7-acre parking lot on the site and tearing down the buildings. Minnesota should allow no such thing. MAC needs a "sacrifice zone" and the envisioned park would suit that need perfectly.

(Parking is presently adequate at the site.) A group of concerned citizens are working for the realization of an archeological park and interpretive center. They share Sam Morgan's vision of preserving our heritage and our natural places. However, preservation happens only with hard work. If any Minnesotan would like to preserve this vital area for future generations, please offer your help and support to the Preserve Camp Coldwater Coalition. You can easily reach them on the web at www.preservecampcoldwater.org. Alternatively, bug your representative to look into this matter of state. This park could preserve the birth of Minnesota as well as foster those understandings essential to our diverse community.

-Author, teacher, and historian specializing in industrialization,
Jeremy W. Hubbell hails from the Department of History at the State
University of New York at Stony Brook, though he sometimes resides in
Cannon Falls, MN.