Minnehaha Falls is located within the Minnehaha Regional Park, near the confluence of Minnehaha Creek and the Mississippi River, by Historic Fort Snelling. The park was designed in 1883 by landscape architect Horace W.S. Cleveland as part of the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway system, and was also part of a “fashionable” steamboat tour of the Upper Mississippi during the 1800s. The park preserves sites that illustrate pioneering as well as historic forms of transportation (train, steamboat, etc.). Preserved structures include a Victorian train depot built in the 1870s; the John H. Stevens House, built in 1849 and moved to the park from its original location in 1896 (utilizing horses and 10,000 school children!); and the Longfellow House, built to resemble the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s house in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The central feature of the park, Minnehaha Falls, was a favorite subject of pioneer photographers, beginning in 1852 with Alexander Hesler’s daguerreotype, the first publicly available photographic process. And to this day, the falls continue to be the most photographed site in Minnesota. Although he never actually visited the park, Longfellow helped to spread the waterfall’s fame with his celebrated epic poem The Song of Hiawatha, which features Native American characters and is based on oral traditions surrounding the figure of Manabozho (also known as Nanabush), the Ojibwe trickster figure and culture hero.
In 1893, the falls received a visit from the Czech composer Antonin Dvorak, who traveled up from Spillville, Iowa where he was living at the time. Having recently finished his Ninth Symphony (Symphony in E Minor “From The New World”), he was looking for peace and quiet away from the press. Dvorak said that he had fallen into a trance-like state while staring at the shimmering water, and in his mind, heard the song of a Native American. The result was the so-called “Minnehaha Melody”, which was written on Dvorak’s shift cuff! He ended up using it in the Second Movement, the Larghetto, of his Sonatina in G Major, Opus 100.
- Visited: several times between the 1980s and 2000s
- National Register of Historic Places: 1969