home > reference & research > special collections > Minneapolis collection > History of Mpls.
A History of Minneapolis: an Overview by Staff at the Hennepin County Library

Back to A History of Minneapolis index page

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

Naming of Minneapolis

Previous: Minneapolis Becomes Part of the United States
Next: Falls of St. Anthony

The community of St. Anthony on the east side of the Mississippi River near St. Anthony Falls was surveyed and platted as a townsite in 1849, the same year the territory of Minnesota was established. In 1852, President Millard Fillmore approved an act of Congress reducing the Fort Snelling reservation, thereby opening the land west of the river to settlers, although most of the settlers did not receive clear title until 1855.

Detail of 1850 map of Minnesota Territory.
Minneapolis Collection, Maps

Also occurring in 1852 was the creation of Hennepin County by the Territorial Legislature. Hennepin County was named after Father Louis Hennepin, a Catholic friar of Belgian birth and an explorer in the service of France. Father Hennepin named the falls of the Mississippi "St. Anthony" after his patron saint, Anthony of Padua. Father Hennepin, in 1683, published his memoirs of the exploration in a publication, Description of Louisiana, Newly Discovered of the Southwest of New France.

Father Louis Hennepin (circa 1683). Portrait reproduced from a painting.
Minneapolis Collection, M0760.

The first commissioners selected the land to the west of St. Anthony Falls as the county seat although the settlement there was without municipal existence, or even a name. The first name selected by the county commissioners in October 1852, was Albion. However, it proved unpopular. Other names for the young community considered but discarded included All Saints, Lowell, Brooklyn, Addiseville, and Winona. The name Minnehapolis was selected by popular acclaim following schoolmaster Charles Hoag's proposal to the editor of the St. Anthony Express, George D. Bowman. The name came from a derivative of laughing waters, "Minnehaha," and the Greek suffix for city, "polis," or city of the falls. Bowman published the name in the paper in November 5, 1852 and in the November 12th issue it was given favorable review. The 'h' was dropped early on; the literal meaning is "city of waters".

Charles Hoag, Superintendent of Schools for Hennepin County, who suggested the name "Minnehapolis" in 1852.
Minneapolis Collection, M0143.

Minneapolis was authorized by the Minnesota Territorial Legislature in 1856 as a town. In 1858 the town of Minneapolis government was organized. Then in 1866 under a legislative act, the city of Minneapolis was incorporated. However, the act established boundaries for the city that included St. Anthony for certain purposes although that city was allowed to retain its corporate existence as a separate municipality. Minneapolis was divided into four wards. The act proved unpopular with residents of both St. Anthony and Minneapolis, the result being that there was no election of city officers, hence the act did not become effective. At the next legislative session, another act of incorporation was passed and approved in 1867. This time, St. Anthony was not part of it. Dorilus Morrison was the first mayor. The two communities of Minneapolis and St. Anthony were not joined until 1872. (See City Government: Governance and Infrastructure).

Tepees on the west bank of the Mississippi River near the John Stevens house, the first modern frame house built in Minneapolis (1850).
Minneapolis Collection, BR1031.

Street scene looking south on Washington Avenue from 2nd Avenue in the 1850s.
Minneapolis Collection, BR0267.

Previous: Minneapolis Becomes Part of the United States

Next: Falls of St. Anthony