Minnehaha Creek and its accompanying thoroughfare Minnehaha Parkway have been part of my life for as long as I can remember. I have a very vivid memory of my first exhausting bike ride to Minnehaha Falls for a picnic. Trailing behind The Mother on the path beside the creek, I wished my short, chubby legs could make the trip more effortlessly. That bike ride became more spirited as a teenager as I raced down the path; I knew every hole, bump and shortcut along the way. And I remember graduating to a car, still following the creek but on Minnehaha Parkway. Driving up and down for hours because I had nowhere else to go.
Now I live a block from Minnehaha Parkway and two blocks from the creek, it’s still a huge part of my life but I never gave a thought to its history. The first it appears in documented Minnesota history is in May 1822 when two teenage boys and a few soldiers from Fort Snelling followed it from the fort to Lake Minnetonka. Colonel Snelling’s son was one of the intrepid explorers but according to the St. Louis Park Historical Society, “couldn’t take the mosquitoes and headed back.” Readers familiar with this state will be somberly nodding their heads in agreement with this statement. For those of you not familiar with Minnesota, the mosquito is often referred to as our state bird and they are not pleasant.
The remaining teenager, a drummer boy from Maryland named Joseph Renshaw Brown, passed Indian settlements along the 22 mile creek to Gray’s Bay and Big Island at Lake Minnetonka where they found a Chippewa village. Minnehaha Creek was originally known as Joe Brown’s River, later called “Brown’s Creek” in 1853 by a surveyor. Early settlers used the creek for transportation, food and water and in the late 1800s, it became an international tourist destination in response to the Longfellow poem “Song of Hiawatha.”