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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.

Governance and Infrastructure

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Minneapolis developed later than St. Anthony because much of the area west of the Mississippi River was occupied by the Fort Snelling Military Reservation. Although there were "squatters" who had settled in the area, registration of claims was not accomplished until 1855, when the reduction of Fort Snelling was ordered by President Millard Fillmore. The town of Minneapolis was finally authorized by the Minnesota Territorial Legislature in 1856 and the first town council was organized in 1858. In 1867, the town was upgraded to a city by a charter issued by the state legislature and the city's first mayor, Dorilus Morrison, was elected. Though reluctant to relinquish their individual identities, St. Anthony and Minneapolis agreed to merge in 1872 under the name of Minneapolis. The new charter, written by the state legislature, provided for a mayor, comptroller, treasurer, and a city council. There were ten wards with two aldermen representing each ward. The first mayor of the merged cities was Eugene M. Wilson.

(Map: Progressive Growth of Minneapolis)

By this time, the police force numbered ten full time officers. In 1879, the volunteer fire department was replaced by a paid department consisting of 59 men and eight companies.

The city's infrastructure grew by leaps and bounds in the last twenty years of the 19th century. The first hydroelectric station in the United States began supplying water power at St. Anthony Falls in 1882. In the years from 1885 to 1890, 150 miles of water mains were laid. In 1889, the street railway system electrified its first line. In 1889 and 1890, 145 miles of sidewalks were constructed. By 1908 there were about 125 miles of paved streets. Work began on the city's sewer system as early as 1871, and by the early 1900s, there were 225 miles of sewers in the city.

In 1884 the city occupied 24 square miles; by 1889 the boundaries had expanded to cover 53.5 square miles. With the city's last major annexation of land in 1927, the total land area of the city became 58.7 square miles.

Crowd at a City Council meeting concerning beer licensing for the 13th Ward (1940).
Minneapolis Collection, M2124.

The population of Minneapolis exceeded 300,000 by 1910 and governing a city of such size was becoming more complex. In 1920, voters approved a home rule charter for the city. It provided for the election of a mayor, city treasurer, city comptroller, a city council, members of a board of education, board of park commissioners, library board, and a board of estimate and taxation. Home rule granted the city's governing body exclusive authority to deal with matters municipal or local in nature.

Over the years, Minneapolis had many illustrious mayors and a few notorious ones. In the latter category stands Dr. Albert Alonzo Ames, known as Doc Ames, who had six terms as mayor in the late 1800s to early 1900s, achieving infamy for graft and corruption.

Mayor Hubert H. Humphrey (photo 1975).
Minneapolis Collection, M0791.

In 1945, at the age of 34, Hubert H. Humphrey was elected mayor of Minneapolis. Part of his legacy for the city was to establish the first equal employment commission in the United States. He attained national attention at the 1948 Democratic National Convention when he made an impassioned speech advocating a civil rights plank in the party's platform. He went on to become a U.S. Senator, and in 1964, was elected vice president of the United States as Lyndon Johnson's running mate. He ran for President of the United States in 1968 but was defeated by Richard Nixon.

In 1993, Sharon Sayles Belton became the first woman and the first African American elected as Minneapolis mayor, after serving as City Council President for four years. She was elected to a second four-year term in 1997, but lost her bid for a third term in 2001.

Although there were never more than 13 wards in Minneapolis, the number of city council members fluctuated, being as high as 39 in 1887. Since the mid 1950s, each of the thirteen wards has been represented by one full-time council member. Citizen participation in governing Minneapolis is most evident at the neighborhood level. City planning has long been tied to the framework of the neighborhoods, but it is the Neighborhood Revitalization Program, established in 1991, that solidifies this connection. Supported by public funds, the individual neighborhoods partner with local government to identify and prioritize neighborhood needs, brainstorm solutions, formulate Neighborhood Action Plans, and finally work together to implement their unique plans.

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