Where the Mississippi Pauses...
Crystal water bubbles over a bed of rocks forming a stream that exits Lake Itasca to become one of the world's major rivers. The Mississippi River begins its journey through Minnesota's north country, gathering strength from the numerous tributaries entering its banks.
At the center of Minnesota the river pauses. The Ojibwa called it KaKaBikans (the little squarely cut-off rock), a place where the water tumbles over an out-cropping of slate and granite to form a beautiful and sometimes tempestuous water fall.
For Centuries native inhabitants knew it well. It was a place for gathering, a resource and sometimes a site of conflict for the Dakota, the Ojibwa and the Winnebago. Explorers described it in their journals. Lt. Zebulon Pike (1805) called it "a remarkable rapid in the river, opposite a high piny island." Joseph Nicollet (1837), a French man, called it "petite chutes". Henry Schoolcraft and J.C. Beltrami also noted the falls. The diaries of fur traders and missionaries also gave vivid accounts.
In the mid-1840's settlers began to arrive. It was the "little falls" in the Mississippi River that attracted the attention of entrepreneurs, as it had the traders and explorers. On October 1, 1849, the Little Falls Mills and Land Company was formed and a dam was built, the first in a succession of four dams, each an improvement over its predecessor. The "little falls" became a source of power for a growing city.
Construction of the 1887 dam brought the boom era. Little Falls was literally "turned on" with electricity for powering the industries that were arriving. The Pine Tree Lumber Company, operated by Charles Weyerhaeuser and R.D. Musser, and Hennepin Paper Company were recipients of the logs driven down river from the northern pineries. Immigrants arrived in large numbers, establishing a diverse ethnic community.
Today's visitors will not find the natural waterfall, but there is something both serene and exciting about watching the water pause at the gates of the dam, then force its way through the man-made chutes. It bubbles and sprays as it hits the bed of slate. Fish await their fate as a great blue heron searches for a meal. Mamma duck teaches her fluffy offspring to cope with the turbulent water. Little Falls' residents greet one another on their evening stroll through Maple Island Park. It is a welcoming place, and we welcome visitors to join us here, Where the Mississippi Pauses.
Charles A. Lindbergh
Without a doubt, the most famous native of Little Falls is Charles A. Lindbergh, an internationally renowned aviator and environmentalist. As the Mississippi built its strength from the streams of central Minnesota, so too were Lindbergh’s own beginnings shaped by his experiences in Little Falls.
He spent his boyhood on the Mississippi River, enjoying his summers in a house built by his father on the west bank of the river south of town. His father was a lawyer, politician, and real estate broker. His mother was well-educated and taught high school chemistry. Both parents gave their son courage and independence which the younger Lindbergh described this way: “...he’d (father) let me walk behind him with a loaded gun at seven, use an axe as soon as I had the strength to swing it, and drive his Ford car anywhere at twelve. Age seemed to make no difference to him. My freedom was complete. All he asked was responsibility in return.”
In 1927, the resourceful, independent 25-year-old made the first non-stop solo flight from New York to Paris, a feat which brought him instant fame and recognition. However, Lindbergh wanted to be known as more than just an aviator. He was also an accomplished inventor and sincere environmentalist, concerned deeply about the impact of technology on the natural world. Still it’s his solo flight across the Atlantic that resulted in his highest honors. He won the Congressional Medal of Honor for the flight, and his recollection of the event, captured in his autobiography The Spirit of St. Louis, won him a Pulitzer Prize for literature.
In 1931, the Lindbergh family gave the entire 110 acres and summer house to the State of Minnesota in recognition of the elder Charles A. Lindbergh’s life and accomplishments. In 1969, the house and 17 adjacent acres were placed under the management of the Minnesota Historical Society to preserve and interpret the Lindbergh story. Today, visitors can see the 1906 house with original artifacts throughout, and experience Lindbergh’s relevance today.
Little Falls Historic Study
Download and view the historic context study for Little Falls below.