What is Fort Snelling?

Fort Snelling is an historic military base established in the early 1800s to protect, control, and administer the relatively new nation of the United States of America's natural resources from the British, French, Native Americans, and outlaws. It was previously used as a military supply depot, a training facility for both the civil war and World War II; but now serves the public as a historic landmark, museum, and state park.

Where is Fort Snelling?

Fort Snelling is in Minnesota, between the state's Twin Cities in the south-metro area, by the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport by where the highways 55 and 62, and the Mississippi and Minnesota River's intersect. It is about 20 minutes from either downtown Minnepolis or downtown St. Paul.

What is the history of Fort Snelling?

After the United States gained control of the lands over the Upper Mississippi Vally through the Revolutionary War with Great Britain and later by the Louisiana Purchase from France, Fort Snelling was established as an outpost to uphold the laws, and perhaps more importantly, the territory of the United States. Fort Snelling was part of a greater plan to secure the valuable Northwest frontier by establishing a chain of diplomatic Indian agencies and forts from Lake Michigan to the Missouri River.

In 1819, the 5th Regiment of Infantry arrived at the junction of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers to build Fort Snelling. The site of the fort was chosen because from there, the infantry could control the traffic of not one, but two major waterways. In 1825, the fort was completed and Colonel Josiah Snelling had permanently changed the landscape.

The infantry had built roads, built a gristmill and sawmill at St. Anthony Falls, planted hundreds of acres of vegtables, wheat corn, harvested hay for their livestock and felled dozens of acres of trees for their fires. Near the fort, a diplomatic Indian agency was establshed, St. Peter's Agency, where Major Lawrence Taliaferro mediated disputes between Minnesota's rival Dakota and Ojibwe natives. He had the difficult task of mediating tensions between both tribes and their new white neighbors.

For nearly 30 years Fort Snelling was the hub of the Upper Mississippi and the metting place of many different cultures. Dakota Ojibwe gathered at fort to trade and debate government policy. Traders were required to stop at the fort and have their goods inspected. The American Fur Company and Columbia Fur Company established their headquarters near the fort and their employees settled in nearby Mendota.

Army officers, goverment offcials and many tourists from the East Coast gathered at Fort Snelling for lodging and supplies. Even Swiss, Scoth, and French immigrants from Lord Selkirk's unsuccessful colony in then Canada, territory that would become Northern Minnesota, were given temporary refuge. Forced by the Army to later move down the Mississippi river in 1839, they formed a small settlement that grew into the city of St. Paul.

By 1851, the responsibilities of Fort Snelling were changing. The American frontier had moved farther west and newer forts such as Ridgely, Ripley, and Abercrombie took over the frontier duties of Fort Snelling while Fort Snelling was demoted to a supply depot. In the year 1858, th year Minnesota became a state, the fort was sold to a land developer and platted down as a town site. Plans for the city of Fort Snelling where ditched, however, when the Civil War struck America.

Fort Snelling would serve the American military many times in its history: as a training center for the Union Army in 1861, as the headquarters and primary supply depot for the military Department of Dakota up until the Spanish-American War of 1891. Between 1880 and the early 1900s, many new barracks, officers' quarters, and storehouses were built at the post while the decayed buildings of the old stone fort where demolished. During World War II, Fort Snelling was used to process over 300,000 inductees and trained soldiers in duties from operating railroads to speaking Japanese. At the war's end the old fort was finally closed and turned over to the Veteran's Administration.

In the 1950s, the thread of a freeway through the old fort inspired public effort to save the remnants of some 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, and since then both public and private funds have been used to rebuilt the fort. Within the fort, costumed guids present a vivid picture of early American military, civilian, and American Indian life in the region. The adjacent Fort Snelling History Center provides orientation films and changing exhibits on aspects of Minnesota's past, while Fort Snelling State Park below the fort offers many hiking trails and nature areas.

Have you been there AP?

I have been there three or four times as a much younger AP, once with my parents and several times with my public school. I have memories of the little skits and speeches the actors and actresses put on, and it really was quite interesting to hear about the people that would actually choose to live in such a cold and desolate place like Minnesota before we had mechanical snow ploughes. It is sort of like the Alamo of the northland, except the actual grounds are much larger. As with the Alamo however beware, there are plenty of little gift shops to get sucked into!

My favorite time of day at Fort Snelling is at the end of the day when they fire off the antique cannon. It is preceded by a fully costumed performance, a building of suspence, and then a loud shot from the old cannon. Its a nice capstone to the day. I would recommend visiting the Fort to anybody!

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