Mapping Coldwater

by Kate Havelin, Community Outreach, Mississippi River Fund

1837 E.K. Smith map showing Camp Coldwater

“Maps are made of useful information and sometimes, wishful thinking.”

Maps are portraits that show one view of a place. But just as people have varied pictures-- candid snapshots to formal posed portraits-- Coldwater has many maps that chart the park as it was, is, and perhaps, could be.

The oldest Coldwater map I’ve seen dates back to 1837. E.K. Smith’s map includes Camp Coldwater, where some 150 people lived. Not long after that map was made, Fort Snelling’s commander ordered all civilians to move out of Coldwater.

A circa 1857 Fort Snelling map lists Coldwater’s hotel, which had been the Baker trading post. Another Fort Snelling map made in the late 1800s, lists “water works” and “water tank” but didn’t mention Coldwater.

After Fort Snelling stopped getting water from Coldwater and had begun contracting with St. Paul for water, the fort’s 1927 map refers to "Coldwater Park.”
For a few decades after then, Coldwater seems to fall off the map, as it were. The Minnesota Historical Society has a wealth of maps and online resources, but a scan of numerous early 20th century maps didn’t yield much about Coldwater. A 1952 Minneapolis Planning Commission map of historic sites did note that Camp Coldwater supplied water to the fort.

Bureau of  Mines map, circa 1960
Bureau of Mines map, early 1950s

By the 1950s, Coldwater was home to the Bureau of Mines' Twin Cities Research Center. The place was back on the map, although not always with Coldwater's name. Bureau of Mines staffers referred to the place as Fort Snelling.

Jump forward to 2012, when the National Park Service began restoring Coldwater Spring to an oak savanna prairie, our park now has maps of its own.

Then, there’s the bigger view map, almost like a family portrait, showing Coldwater and its closest neighbors. Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, Veterans Administration, Minnesota State Historical Society, and Fort Snelling State Park all manage parcels of land surrounding Coldwater.                                                

The National Park Service is responsible for Coldwater Spring’s 29 acres; Coldwater and its neighboring land partners comprise about 100 acres of continuous public park land.

Some maps capture moments in time—they’re like growth charts showing the park’s progress. This 2013 map (at right) records when and where trees were planted at the park over two years. Since that map was made, volunteers have continued planting. Coldwater has had some 600 young trees planted since the park opened in 2012. National Park Service Ranger Rory Stierler made the rules map, posted in the parking lot, as well as the maps showing the park's land partners, trees, wetlands, and social trails to the river.

Not all maps show things as they are. Longtime Coldwater supporters Diane Steen-Hinderlie and Ann Mohler made a map in the late 1990s that they named Falls to Fort Fantasyland: Minnesota, Minnehaha, Hiawatha Hurrah!  They brought the map to legislators so officials could see the value of Coldwater and the surrounding area as the birthplace of Minnesota.

Check out this map's many details below, including an interpretative center, live archeological dig, and sculpture and botanical gardens. To me, this map is a love letter to Coldwater. It shows people's dreams and hopes for a place that’s more than just a name on a map.

Map courtesy of Diane Steen-Hinderlie