Online College Courses for Credit

Historical Minneapolis by Bike

Historical Minneapolis by Bike

Author: Holly Magner

Students will actively engage in the historical places of Minneapolis by touring the city on bike.

To finish our semester of social studies and fine arts teacher training, we will take a bike tour of the historical places of Minneapolis. Raining? Take a virtual tour with this packet of information I've prepared. Not from around here? Follow my lead and build your own historical tour!

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Do you know the history of Minneapolis? While this tour may not be as humorous as Kevin Kling's, it will be equally educational and a little more physically intensive.

Source: Minneapolis in 19 Minutes Flat: Mill City Museum

Nice Ride!

If you didn't bring your own bike for the tour, we will be walking from St. Thomas to the nearest NiceRide Station to rent bikes.  Here's what you need to know about NiceRide.

Nice Ride MN

Where are we going?

Here's a map of the route we'll be taking.

Map the Route

And if you're a list person

Tour Schedule:

YMCA- 36 9th Street South

City Hall-315 4th Street South

Grain Exchange-400-412 4th Street South

“The Depot”-Milwaukee Road Depot and Freight House-300 Washington Avenue South

Mill Ruins-south end of Stone Arch Bridge

Stone Arch Bridge-Mill Ruins Park to Main St. SE

St. Anthony Main-Main St. SE on the River

Nicollet Island-off Historic Main Streetat East Hennepin

Boom Island-724 Sibley St. NE

Grain Belt Brewery-1220 Marshall St. NE

5th St. Historic District (5th st. between 4th and 8th aves)

Bell Museum-10 Church St. SE

Weisman Art Museum-Washington Ave SE and River Rd

Washington Ave Bridge

Riverside Plaza-Cedar/Riverside


The Foshay

Since the Foshay Tower doesn't open until noon, we couldn't end our tour on the observation deck. Here's what it may have looked like.

Tour Stops: YMCA


Noted for its “elaborate surface decoration and evocative, romantic image rather than structural innovation,” the Y.M.C.A. Central Building was completed in 1919. As part of a wave of post World War I construction in the central business district, the 12-story tower helped to define the Minneapolis skyline until the 1950s. While the tower employs the common “Wedding Cake” mode – composed of distinct layers, including a base, shaft and top – an innovative use of gothic motifs distinguishes it from other buildings. Gothic detailing was chosen by prominent local architects Louis L. Long and Lowell Lamoreaux for several reasons. On one hand, the detailing emphasized the building’s verticality, a desired symbol of corporate power. On the other, the Gothic detailing, with its symbolic association with churches, fit with the Y.M.C.A.’s value system.


Minneapolis City Hall

2. City Hall

Only four years after Minnesota was granted statehood in 1858, Minneapolis had outgrown its municipal headquarters on Bridge Square. By 1887, C.H. Pettit, a representative in the Minnesota legislature, was already behind an effort to create a joint city and county Municipal Building Commission to finance a building. The Minneapolis architecture firm of Long and Kees won a design competition, modeling their design after the Allegheny County Courthouse in Pittsburgh, built earlier in 1883 by Henry Hobson Richardson. Originally estimated to cost $2,000,000, the final construction expenditures exceeded $3,500,000. The impressive rusticated pink Ortonville granite structure occupies an entire city block between 3rd and 4th Avenues and 4th and 5th Streets. The massive 5-story building is 100 feet tall with a clock chime tower that soars 365 feet above the ground. When the clock was added in 1916, it was heralded as the largest public timepiece in the world. The exterior, with arched entryways, turrets, and steep roof pavilions, exhibits Romanesque design features. The 4th Street entrance leads into a five-story atrium. The stained glass window skylight illuminates the marble walls and ceremonial staircase. At the center of the atrium sits a massive statue of the “Father of the Waters,” donated to Minneapolis in 1906. Also noted as the first “elastic” building in the country, the Municipal Building was engineered so that the floors could be remodeled independently. When the building first opened, there was enough surplus room to lease out the Second and Third floors to private businesses. Municipal services, however, expanded so quickly more room was needed. Between 1946 and 1949, a four-story addition was inserted into the open center court, closing the 4th Street atrium. Other alterations to the building occurred in 1950 when the terra cotta roof was replaced with sheet copper and when the Council chambers were remodeled from a three-story room to a one-story room.


Minneapolis Grain Exchange

3. Grain Exchange

The Grain Exchange Buildings have been a staple in downtown Minneapolis since 1902. The three buildings, all listed on the National Historic Register,

Historic Profile: Constructed between 1900 and 1902, designs for the Minneapolis Grain Exchange were heavily influenced by Louis Sullivan’s large-scale commercial/office buildings. In addition to being recognized as one of the first buildings in Minneapolis to make use of the steel frame for its interior structural system, the Grain Exchange is also considered to be one of the most dignified turn-of-the-century office buildings in design, proportion, and terra cotta ornamentation. It is a U-shaped, ten-story brick, terra-cotta and granite building, reminiscent of Louis Sullivan’s Wainwright Building in St. Louis. Historically, the Grain Exchange was organized in Minneapolis in 1881 to deal with the increasing development and progress of the Minnesota grain market. In 1884, the first Grain Exchange building was constructed immediately to the north of the site of the present building. Increasing demands, which resulted in the status of Minnesota as the “largest primary wheat market in the world” by 1900, necessitated the construction of a larger facility. In 1909, the East Annex addition was designed and built according to the plans of Long and Lamoreaux, and again in 1928 an addition was built to the north.


The Final Bell

Old Milwaukee Road Depot

4. The Depot

The old Milwaukee Road Depot was constructed in 1899 and remains one of the last long-span, truss-roofed sheds surviving in the nation.           

The Depot, a Renaissance Revival style building, was designed by Charles Frost. Considered conservative in style, the ground floors were paved in white marble with black borders and walls were built with cream and brown enamel brick. The ceiling of intricately paneled oak gave the rooms a large, spacious feel. The total cost of the Depot was about $200,000.

The Depot fluttered with activity during the late 1800s when Minneapolis was a rapidly growing city. At the peak of activity in 1920, the prosperous Depot was bustling with 29 trains departing daily. In 1971, the Milwaukee Road terminated rail service to Minneapolis and converted the building into office use. In 1978, the Minnesota Historical Society placed The Depot and the nearby freight house on the National Register of Historic Places.


Mill Ruins Park

5. Mill Ruins Park

As the centerpiece of the revitalization of Minneapolis' historic West Side Milling District, Mill Ruins Park combines an exploration of the history of Minneapolis with present day activities for all ages.

In its 19th-century heyday, this area of mills, canals, tailraces and other historic resources comprised the largest direct-drive water-powered facility in the world and was the leading international producer of flour, a commodity which was shipped both nationwide and worldwide.

This industrial powerhouse was the catalyst for the development of Minneapolis and the birthplace of a number of companies which remain significant to this day, including General Mills, Pillsbury, Washburn Crosby (WCCO), and Xcel Energy. Mill Ruins Park lies within the St. Anthony Falls Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places; and directly adjacent to the 1883 Stone Arch Bridge, a National Historic Engineering Landmark constructed to connect Midwestern farmers and their crops of wheat to the booming flour production mills.

The park tells this story through the now exposed historic walls and waterpower features long buried beneath many feet of sand and gravel. With the reopening of the historic tailrace canal, which carried water from the mill turbines back to the river, visitors have the opportunity to interact directly with an exciting water feature.

The park is located on the west bank of the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis and is adjacent to St. Anthony Falls and the Stone Arch Bridge. It features the historic mill ruins, biking and walking paths, landscaping, raised catwalks, interpretive signs to provide information and guide visitors as they explore the river, and spectacular views of the falls and the Stone Arch Bridge. Guided programs and tours are also available.

Stone Arch Bridge


6. Stone Arch Bridge

Stone Arch Bridge – famous for its graceful arches and breathtaking views – defines Minneapolis’ skyline. Railroad baron James J. Hill built the bridge in 1883 to allow for increased movement of people and goods across the Mississippi River. The Stone Arch Bridge spans St. Anthony Falls, and served as a working railroad bridge until 1965.

Historic Main St.

7. Historic Main St/Saint Anthony Main

Historic Main Street is located between the Hennepin Ave. bridge and Father Hennepin Bluffs Parkon the east side of the Mississippi River. The area was originally part of the town of St. Anthony before it merged with Minneapolis.

Today Main Street features historic rehabilitated commercial and industrial buildings on the east side. Across the street wooded green space and picnic areas edge the picturesque Mississippi Gorge.

Nicollet Island

8. Nicollet Island

Nicollet Island Park is located off Historic Main Streetat East Hennepin. Named after the mapmaker Joseph Nicollet, the lower end of the island contains a promenade with a good view of the 1858 horseshoe-shaped dam, the first dam on the Mississippi.

The park section features the Nicollet Island Pavilionbuilt in 1893 as the William Bros. Boiler Works. Beautifully restored, this elegant venue is available for year-round rental as event center or wedding site. For rental information call Mintáhoe Hospitality Group at 612-253-0255.

The upper end of the island is a 19th century residential district with many architectural styles dating from the 1860s to the 1890s (43 historic homes).

Boom Island

9. Boom Island

Although no longer an island, the park is named after its former function and defining features during the city’s lumber industry days – the booms, long beams extended from derricks on the island, which were used to sort logs as they floated downstream to area saw mills. The buildup of silt and sawdust over time connected the island to the river’s east bank. The park’s signature lighthouse is a nod to the former island’s role in navigating the waters above St. Anthony Falls.

Grain Belt Brewhouse

10. Grain Belt Brewery

The Complex houses seven separate structures:

·       Brew House, 1891-92; Marshall Street and 13th Avenue Northeast

·       Power Station, 1891-92; courtyard

·       Wagon Shed, 1893 and Shops, 1913; Marshall Street

·       Office, 1893, addition 1910; Marshall Street and Broadway Street Northeast

·       Bottling House, 1906, addition 1969; Ramsey Street and 13th Avenue Northeast

·       Warehouse, 1906, additions 1949, 1957; Ramsey Street and 13th Avenue 13th Avenue Northeast

·       Additional Bottling House, razed 1929; Ramsey Street and Marshall Street

·       Railroad Spur, ca. 1895; Ramsey Street

5th St. Historic District

A little known gem of Northeast and Southeast Minneapolis!

The Fifth Street Southeast Historic District exhibits popular nineteenth century architectural styles built by influential citizens of Minneapolis. Primarily centered along Fifth Street Southeast extending from 4th Avenue to I-35W, the district generally includes those properties facing Fifth Street, in addition to a few properties facing Fourth and Sixth Street Southeast. Beginning as a scattered residential development in the late 1850s, the district expanded on the edge of the pioneer milling town of St. Anthony. When St. Anthony and Minneapolis merged in 1873, the street names were changed to numeric identities and lots along Fifth Street Southeast were sold to prominent families for further development.

During the early years of St. Anthony and after the merge, Fifth Street Southeast remained one of the finer streets of residence. Many of the people who resided in this neighborhood were merchant families originally from New England. The flour and milling industry drew these early residents to St. Anthony and Minneapolis. In order to be near their business, Fifth Street Southeast was a reasonable choice for settlement, due to its close proximity to the river.

Octavius Broughton, a millwright from New Hampshire, arrived in St. Anthony Falls in 1854 and purchased the lot at 511 Fourth Avenue Southeast in 1858. Woodbury Fisk, also a native of New Hampshire, came to St. Anthony in 1856 and became a principle in the flour milling firm of Pillsbury, Crocker and Fisk. He built his Italianate Revival home in 1870 at 424 Fifth Street Southeast. Related to Woodbury Fisk by marriage, Thomas Andrews built his Italianate Revival home at 527 Fifth Street Southeast. Thomas Andrews served as alderman in St. Anthony and Minneapolis. Other large homes of merchant families within the Fifth Street Southeast area include the Van Cleve residence (603 5th St. SE), William McNair (610 6th St. SE) and John Dudley (701 5th St. SE).

Combinations of large and small homes were built in the district, along with several institutional buildings, such as Andrew Presbyterian Church (1890). In addition to Italianate Revival, the district also features excellent examples of Greek Revival and Richardsonian Romanesque architectural styles. Remarkably, many of these buildings remain unaltered.

John E. Lockwood Residence, 1894

Van Cleve House

Bell Museum of Natural History


12. Bell Museum

The Bell Museum's exhibits encourage exploration and convey the wonder of nature, the excitement of science, and the importance of research and conservation of the natural world.

The renowned diorama display all of Minnesota's habitats under one roof—from the big woods to Great Lakes to the prairies.

The West Gallery showcases artworks and other traveling exhibits from around the world—and around the corner.

The Touch and See Room offers kids the chance to get up close and personal with nature—pet a turtle, stare down a grizzly, and try on a pair of antlers.

The Rainforest Exhibit offers a view of the rainforest canopy from 2 aerial walkways.

Weisman Art Museum

13. WAM

Since its origin in 1934, the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum has been a teaching museum for the University of Minnesota. Today, education remains central to the museum’s mission to make the arts accessible – intellectually, emotionally, and physically – to the University and public communities.

Housed in a striking stainless steel and brick building designed by architect Frank Gehry, the Weisman Art Museum offers an educational and friendly museum experience. The museum's collection features early 20th century American artists such as Georgia O'Keeffe and Marsden Hartley, as well as a diverse selection of contemporary art. A teaching museum for the University of Minnesota and the community, the Weisman provides a fresh, engaging arts experience through an array of programs and a changing schedule of exhibitions.

Riverside Plaza


14. Riverside Plaza

Riverside Plaza is a modernist and brutalist apartment complex designed by Ralph Rapson that opened in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1973.  On the edge of downtown Minneapolis in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, and next to the University of Minnesota's West Bank, the site contains the 39-story McKnight Building, the tallest structure outside of the city's central business district.  Initially known as Cedar Square West, the exterior shots of the complex were featured on television as the residence of Mary Richards in later seasons of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

The complex was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on December 28, 2010.  The statement of significance cites its importance as a well-preserved example of urban redevelopment spurred by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the first to receive Title VII funding.  It is also locally significant as one of the most prominent examples of Ralph Rapson's work.