Historic Fort Snelling
Travel back in time at Historic Fort Snelling, the military outpost from
the early 1820s that was once a small settlement and served as a
welcoming post to travelers arriving on steamboats up the Mississippi
The story of Fort Snelling is the story of the development of the U.S. Northwest. While surrounded today by freeways and a large urban population,
Fort Snelling was once a lonely symbol of American ambition in the wilderness.
This renovated stone fortress opens its gates and welcomes visitors as though you were living in the good old days. Costumed
guides give tours daily during the summer and on weekends in May,
September, and October.
You can take in the sights around you or
participate in the fort’s everyday activities such as mending clothing,
shouldering a musket, or singing along with the soldiers.
Snelling is a great place to learn about Minnesota’s past!
The story of Fort Snelling is the story of the development of the U.S. Northwest.
While surrounded today by freeways and a large urban population, Fort Snelling was once a remote symbol of American ambition in the wilderness.
Built on a commanding bluff above the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers, the fort was the last
United States outpost in the northern wilderness and the center of frontier commerce and government
administration on the Upper Mississippi.
The United States gained control over the Upper Mississippi Valley through the Revolutionary
War with Great Britain and later the Louisiana Purchase from France. At the time, this vast
territory inhabited by fur traders and Indians still loyal to the British in Canada, lay well
beyond American settlement. After the War of 1812, the government took physical possession
of the valuable Northwest Frontier by establishing a chain of Indian agencies and supporting forts from Lake Michigan to the Missouri River.
In 1819, the United States Army's 5th Regiment of Infantry arrived at the junction of the Mississippi
and Minnesota rivers to build the most northern link in this chain of forts and agencies.
Here, where traffic could be controlled on two major rivers, a new fort arose. Initially called Fort St
. Anthony for the giant falls just upriver, the fort was rechristened in honor of its commanding officer Josiah Snelling when it
was completed in 1825. Col. Snelling's officers and soldiers permanently changed the landscape.
They made roads, built a gristmill and sawmill at St. Anthony Falls, planted hundreds of acres of vegetables,
wheat and corn, cut hay for their livestock, felled trees for their fires and made the first documented weather
recordings in the area. All the while they enforced the laws and policies of the United States.
For almost 30 years, Fort Snelling was the hub of the Upper Mississippi and the meeting place of diverse
cultures. Dakota and Ojibwe gathered at the agency and fort to trade, debate government policy and perform
dances and sports. Traders stopped at the fort while their goods were inspected. The American and Columbia fur companies
built headquarters nearby and employees' families settled at nearby Mendota.
Army officers, government officials and an increasing number of eastern tourists stopped at the fort for lodging
and supplies. Even Swiss, Scottish and French immigrants from Lord Selkirk's unsuccessful colony in Canada were
given temporary refuge. Forced by the Army to move down river in 1839, they formed the small settlement that grew into the city of St. Paul.
By 1851, treaties had opened much of the new Minnesota Territory to settlement and pushed the frontier
farther west. Newer forts Ridgely, Ripley and Abercrombie took over frontier duties while Fort Snelling
was demoted to a supply depot. In 1858, the year Minnesota became a state, the fort was sold to a land speculator
and platted as a town site. Plans for the city of Fort Snelling were abandoned, however, with the outbreak of the Civil War.
Between 1861 and 1865 Minnesota expanded the fort as a training center for thousands of volunteers
who joined the Union Army. Fort Snelling became the headquarters and supply base for the military Department
of Dakota, which extended from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains. Regulars from Fort Snelling served in
the Indian campaigns and in the Spanish-American War of 1898. Between 1880 and the early 1900s, scores of new barracks,
officers quarters and storehouses were built at the post and many of the buildings in the old stone fort were demolished.
During World War II, Fort Snelling processed over 300,000 inductees and trained soldiers in duties from operating railroads to speaking
Japanese. At the end of the war, the fort was finally closed and turned over to the Veterans Administration.
In the 1950s, the threat of a proposed freeway through the old fort inspired public effort to save the remnants of Minnesota's oldest
buildings. The U.S. Department of the Interior designated Fort Snelling as the state's first National Historic Landmark in 1960.
It was turned over to the Minnesota Historical Society in 1965. The original fort site was restored and opened to the public in 1970.
Within its impressive walls, costumed guides present a vivid picture of early military, civilian and American Indian
life in the region. More than 85,000 visitors per year step through the restored fortress gates where they watch soldiers on parade
to the tune of fife and drums, hear the roar of muskets and canon, and take part in the everyday lives of the fort's residents,
circa 1827. The adjacent Fort Snelling History Center, completed in 1983, provides orientation films and changing exhibits on aspects of Minnesota's past.
As Minnesota approaches its 150th anniversary of statehood in 2008, the Minnesota Historical Society is preparing for the revitalization
of Historic Fort Snelling, one of the states most significant historic sites. New exhibits and restored structures will
enable the historic fort to serve a larger audience with a more diverse program. Proposed exhibits would cover such important
topics as the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 and Minnesota's role in both the Civil War and World War II.