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A History of Minneapolis: an Overview by Staff at the Hennepin County Library

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Featuring historical photos and items from the collections of the Hennepin County Library, with contemporary photos from the Phototour of Minneapolis by Chris Gregerson.

Intercity Transit and Highways

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Next: Intercity Transit and Highways (Part II)

In 1854, the first bridge over the Mississippi River, a cable suspension bridge, joined St. Anthony and Minneapolis. This was replaced in 1876 by a suspension bridge with stone towers. In 1888, a third bridge was built. It was a steel-arch bridge built to accommodate the growing street railway system, and it served the city for 100 years. In 1990, the present suspension bridge was opened (fourth bridge on this site).

Horse-drawn streetcar on Riverside Avenue in 1888. The tracks are laid on unpaved streets. The horse-drawn streetcar line ran from 6th Avenue North down Riverside to 27th Avenue South.
Minneapolis Collection, M0808.

The first horse-drawn streetcar in Minneapolis began operating in 1875. By the early 1880s, horse-drawn lines extended outward from the commercial area along Lyndale, 4th, Chicago, Bloomington, Cedar, and Minnehaha avenues on the south side and West Broadway, Monroe Street, and Central Avenue on the north side. The "Motor Line," a steam-powered inter-urban railroad, connected Bridge Square to Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet and eventually to Lake Minnetonka. Residential settlement followed these streetcar lines. The electric streetcar debuted in 1889 and accelerated the process of residential and commercial development along transit lines. Thomas Lowry was a key player in the development of the streetcar system in both Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Workers laying tracks for the streetcar line at 5th Street near City Hall (ca. 1900-1910).
Minneapolis Collection, BR0086.

Hennepin Avenue at 3rd Street, looking south, showing multiple modes of transportation in 1913.
Minneapolis Collection, M4408.

Electric streetcars continued to provide the bulk of intra-city and inter-urban transit, carrying residents and visitors for work and recreation. Streetcar service peaked in 1920 with 140 million passengers. The passenger volume decreased steadily after 1922 as the automobile gained prominence. The mobility offered by the automobile prompted the population spread to the suburbs as early as the 1920s. By the mid 1920s traffic and parking congestion were already a problem on downtown streets.

The last run of the streetcars in Minneapolis (June 19,1954). Photograph taken at Hennepin Avenue near 6th Street.
Minneapolis Collection, M4083.

The last streetcars in Minneapolis were burned in 1954. James Towley (left) presenting check to Fred Ossanna (right) with a burning streetcar behind them (1954).
Minneapolis Collection, M3857.

Previous: Railways

Next: Intercity Transit and Highways (Part II)