Lunchtime Tourist

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September 8, 2003 // UPDATED 11:03 am - April 30, 2007
By: Linda Koutsky
Linda Koutsky

A guide to art, architecture and cultural curiosities

Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam Visitors Center 1 Portland Ave. S. Long before you started working Downtown -- in fact, more than 12,000 years ago -- the falls of St. Anthony tumbled over their limestone cliffs not in Minneapolis, but in St. Paul. Geologists figure the water dropped nearly 180 feet, making it 20 feet taller than the current Niagara Falls drop, and the thunderous sound could be heard for miles. Fragile limestone below the rushing current eroded and broke into pieces and the falls slowly moved upstream to where they are today.

You can learn about the history of the river at St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam Visitors Center, located just under the Stone Arch Bridge. It's open daily, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. If you're lucky, you might just see the Anson Northrup tour boat lowered through the lock.

Why do we have these locks? It turns out the Mississippi River is naturally quite shallow. Today's barges need nine feet of water in order to float. When steamboats first navigated the upper Mississippi in the 1820s, the channel was less than 4 feet deep. Many got caught on debris or sandbars and sank. Congress authorized a dredging of the channel in 1866 to provide better passage for boats.

Since then, we've dug even deeper, narrowed the riverbanks and built a series of 29 locks and dams. Now the river is navigable from Downtown Minneapolis to the Gulf of Mexico. The St. Anthony Falls locks are the farthest upstream and have the greatest lift of any on the Mississippi -- 49 feet.

A lock is essentially two sets of double doors. When the lock is filled, a boat coming from upriver enters the box-like space and the doors are closed. Then, the lower set slowly open, allowing the water to flow out.

Stop by the Visitors Center to see maps, charts, and historic photos and take in the unsurpassed view of the river.

LUNCH TIP: Eddington's soups are available to-go in the nearby Ceresota Building, 155 5th Ave. S.

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