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Fort Snelling
U.S. National Register of Historic Places
U.S. National Historic Landmark
Fort Snelling's round tower
Fort Snelling, Minnesota is located in Minnesota
Nearest city: Across Mississippi River from St. Paul, at 7th St. Bridge, St. Paul, Minnesota
Coordinates: 44°53′34″N 93°10′50″W / 44.89278°N 93.18056°W / 44.89278; -93.18056Coordinates: 44°53′34″N 93°10′50″W / 44.89278°N 93.18056°W / 44.89278; -93.18056
Built/Founded: 1819
Architect: Col. Josiah Snelling
Governing body: Minnesota Historical Society
Added to NRHP: October 15, 1966[1]
Designated NHL: December 19, 1960[2]
NRHP Reference#: 66000401

Fort Snelling, originally known as Fort St. Anthony, is a former military fortification located at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers in Hennepin County, Minnesota, United States. It is part of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, a unit of the National Park Service. The 2000 census listed Fort Snelling as an unorganized territory (a designation it has carried since it was founded) with a total population of 442.

The Historic Fort Snelling, run by the Minnesota Historical Society, is located on top of the river bluff. The land at the bottom of the bluff is protected as Fort Snelling State Park, run by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The history of these two areas are intimately connected despite the current split in ownership.



Fort Snelling in 1844, by John Caspar Wild (Minnesota Historical Society)

Lt. Zebulon Pike purchased 100,000 acres (400 km²) of land in the area in 1805, though it was more than a decade before significant settlement took place. Following the War of 1812 the federal government built a chain of forts and installed Indian agents between Lake Michigan and the Missouri River. Their primary purpose was to protect the territory from Canadian and British encroachment. The soldiers at these outposts denied non-U.S. citizens commercial use of the rivers, kept American Indian lands free of white settlement until treaties were signed, enforced law and order, and protected legitimate travelers and traders. In this case, they also attempted to keep the peace between the Ojibwe and Dakota people.[3]

The original installation was constructed between 1820 and 1824 as Fort St. Anthony. During construction, the soldiers lived at Camp Coldwater, which provided drinking water to the fort throughout the 19th century. It received its current name upon its completion in 1825 in honor of Colonel Josiah Snelling, who commanded the regiment that built it (the 5th Regiment, United States Infantry), and oversaw its construction. Snelling was considered to be a reasonable commander—when he was sober. He was susceptible to becoming angry when ill from chronic dysentery, and he left the installation in September 1827 when recalled to Washington. He died a year later from complications due to dysentery and a "brain fever".

1850 administration building

The fort's doctor began taking weather observations in January 1820. Observations have been recorded continuously in the region ever since, giving the Twin Cities one of the most complete weather records in the country. Observations were made at the adjacent Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport until 1995, when the local National Weather Service office moved to Chanhassen, Minnesota.

Fort Snelling is noted because it was a post where John Emerson, Dred Scott's owner worked. Emerson, who purchased Scott in St. Louis, lived with Dred and Harriet Scott at the fort during much of the 1830s. At the time, slavery was illegal at Fort Snelling due to the Missouri Compromise; Dred and Harriet's time in Minnesota led to the infamous U.S. Supreme Courts case.

Bridge linking Ft. Snelling with St. Paul, 1880–1912

Once the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul were well-established, the need for a forward frontier military post at its location had diminished and the fort was sold to Franklin Steele in 1858 for $90,000. (Fortunately for Steele, the deal included 8000 acres (32 km²) of what would become south Minneapolis.)[4] But during the Civil War, he leased it back to the government for use as an induction station. After the war was over Steele leased the land to settlers and the city began to grow. The town of Minneapolis became a city in 1867.[5] After the war, the regular army returned to the fort. They protected the interests of the white settlers from the Dakota people and others from the fort, west to the Rocky mountains, dispatching forces projected for the Indian Wars and the Spanish American War of 1898.[3]

The fort saw service through World War II, when it was chosen as the location for the Military Intelligence Service Language School, set up to teach the Japanese language to Army personnel. Scores of buildings were constructed for housing and teaching the 300,000 soldiers processed there.[3][4] It was de-commissioned on October 12, 1946, and parceled out to various federal agencies. The majority of the structures fell into disrepair. In 1960, it was listed as a National Historic Landmark.[2][6]

Until its deactivation as a part of force-structure eliminations in 1994, Fort Snelling was the headquarters of the Army Reserve 205th Infantry Brigade, a light infantry brigade composed of three light infantry battalions and attached field artillery, cavalry, air defense artillery, combat engineers and supporting logistics units from the Upper Mid-West area.

In the decades since, the area of the original walled fort has been converted to an educational establishment operated by the Minnesota Historical Society, rebuilt to resemble its original appearance, and staffed during the spring, summer and early fall with costumed personnel interpreting life at the early post.

The fort in 1889

While restoring and re-creating the original fort has assured its survival as a historical artifact for the foreseeable future, many of the more recently-constructed and since-abandoned buildings of the fort have fallen into serious disrepair and neglect. In May 2006, Fort Snelling's Upper Post was added to the list of "America's Most Endangered Places" by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Some restoration on Historic Fort Snelling, however, is currently underway--the flagpole has been removed from the iconic round tower and will be placed in the ground, a change since its opening as a historic fort.

Fort Snelling National Cemetery is located at Fort Snelling; many notable Minnesotans as well as other deceased Minnesotan members of the United States Armed Forces are interred there. The United States Navy honored the fort by naming an amphibious warfare ship the USS Fort Snelling.

Geography and transport

A view of the grounds of Fort Snelling taken from the round tower

The Fort Snelling Unorganized Territory, on which the fort is located, is an unincorporated area, a county division of Hennepin County lying just east of the city of Richfield. It is also adjacent to the cities of Minneapolis, Bloomington, St. Paul (across the Mississippi River), and Mendota Heights (across the Minnesota River). The fort is located at the eastern end of the territory, near the confluence of the Mississippi River with the Minnesota River. The territory houses numerous federal facilities, primarily military in nature. Along with the fort and the cemetery, the Minneapolis Veterans Health Administration Medical Center is also located here. However, most of its land area is the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. According to the United States Census Bureau, this unorganized territory has a total area of 17.2 km² (6.7 mi²). 16.5 km² (6.4 mi²) of it is land and 0.8 km² (0.3 mi²) of it is water. The total area is 4.65% water.

The federal government still owns some land near the airport. This is the home to Army Reserve, Marine Corps, Naval, and Coast Guard regional Reserve campuses, a golf course, ball fields, and a V.A. hospital. An Air Force Reserve, a Minnesota Air National Guard station, and a federal building are situated on this land. This area is now served by the Hiawatha light-rail line.


As of the census[7] of 2000, 442 people reside in the unorganized territory. The population density is 26.8/km² (69.5/mi²). The racial makeup of the unorganized territory is 94.57% White, 3.62% Black or African American, 1.36% Native American, 0.00% Asian, 0.23% Pacific Islander, and 0.23% of other races. 0.45% of the population is Hispanic or Latino of any race.

The population is spread out with 4.5% from 25 to 44, 33.0% from 45 to 64, and 62.4% who are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 69 years.

Males had a median income of $43,558 versus $0 for females. The per capita income is $24,328. None of the population is below the poverty line.


Compass Airlines has its corporate headquarters on the grounds of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and in the Fort Snelling UT. The airline moved its headquarters there on December 16, 2009.[8][9]

Prior to its disestablishment, Republic Airlines (1979-1986) had its headquarters on the grounds of the airport and in what is now Fort Snelling.[10][9]

See also


Barracks. Last occupied during World War II
  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2006-03-15.  
  2. ^ a b "Fort Snelling". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved 2007-10-03.  
  3. ^ a b c "Historic Fort Snelling: A Brief History of Fort Snelling". Minnesota Historical Society. Retrieved 2007-05-30.  
  4. ^ a b "Fort Snelling State Park Upper Bluff Reuse Study" (PDF). Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. November 1998.  
  5. ^ "Urban Connections - Minneapolis". USDA Forest Service. Retrieved 2007-05-29.  
  6. ^ Marilynn Larew (March 15, 1978) (PDF), National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination: Fort Snelling, National Park Service,, retrieved 2009-06-21   and Accompanying 29 images, including photos from late 1880s to 1977.PDF (6.55 MB)
  7. ^ "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31.  
  8. ^ "About Us." Compass Airlines. Retrieved on December 18, 2009.
  9. ^ a b "Fort Snelling UT, Hennepin county, Minnesota." U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved on December 19, 2009.
  10. ^ "World Airline Directory." Flight International. March 30, 1985. 111.

Further reading

External links



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