Lunchtime tourist

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January 17, 2005 // UPDATED 1:48 pm - April 26, 2007
By: Linda Koutsky
Linda Koutsky

Nicollet Avenue

Other than a short interruption at Lake Street, Nicollet Avenue is one of the longest streets in the metropolitan area. And as Downtown's main pedestrian artery, it's a word with which we're all familiar. But what do you know about the person behind the name?

Joseph Nicolas Nicollet was born in Savoy, France in 1786. He became a skilled geographer and mathematician, employing his talents at the Paris Observatory and as a mathematics professor at the College of Louis le Grand. In 1823, he was appointed to the French Bureau of Longitudes.

In 1832, Nicollet moved to New Orleans to learn about the geography of North America and to study the river basin between the Red, Arkansas and Missouri rivers. He soon moved up river to St, Louis and led three expeditions into what would become Minnesota and the Dakotas. Nicollet visited Itasca, the headwaters of the Mississippi in 1836. The Army Corps of Engineers hired Nicollet two years later for a surveying mission between Ft. Snelling and Pipestone in Southwestern Minnesota. Astronomical observations helped him chart the physical terrain, and his extensive written records describe how he named many places after existing Native American terms. Because of this expedition, Nicollet was the first person to accurately map the Upper Mississippi River basin.

Nicollet died in Washington, D.C. in 1843 and was buried in the Congressional Cemetery. His obituary in the National Intelligencer said Nicollet left a "precious collection of manuscripts" about the areas he explored and the native people and cultures he encountered along the way. In Minnesota, an island and county are named in his honor, as well as a vast avenue that stretches from the Mississippi to the Minnesota River and even further south into Burnsville.

LUNCH TIP: Tucked in the back of 512 Nicollet Mall, Hamlin's Coffee Shop is geographically the first restaurant on "Eat Street."

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