MISS Throwback: The Lake of No Return

Sandy Fuller, Education Volunteer, Mississippi National River and Recreation Area

MISS Throwback is a collaborative project in honor of the NPS Centennial. We asked volunteers to write about the last 100 years of the Mississippi River in the Twin Cities. This project was coordinated by Ranger Kathy and Centennial Volunteer Ambassador Quinn.

What good is a marsh? In the late 1800’s, health workers were just beginning to understand that marshes did not make people sick. The role of marshes in creating healthy ecosystems was unknown, and the idea that “worthless” land could be made productive through dumping, draining and filling was very much in vogue. Little did they understand that the wetlands, prairie wetlands and floodplain lakes, were part of a natural safety valve for the annually overflowing Mississippi River.

Photo credit: Minnesota Historical Society 

Lamprey Lake, located where the downtown St. Paul airport is now located was often choked with tall rushes and other aquatic plants. The overflowing river provided a vital renewal of the marsh and lake while the marshes and lakes provide filtration of water making its way to the river.

In 1916, consistent with current ideas, Lamprey Lake met its final demise. The lake was drained. Fill was added and a hard packed surface was created to accommodate those new contraptions that flew through the air. It would be another 10 years before it became official, but Holman Field was built over the previously lush and fertile marsh and its life-giving lake.


Arnott, Sigrid. “Twin Cities Sanitation History,” www.FromSitetoStory.org. (The Institute for Minnesota Archaeology, 1999.)

Empson, Donald. The Street Where You Live: A Guide to the Place Names of St. Paul. (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2006.)

Wilcoxen, William. “The Mississippi River: Competing Uses,” Changing Currents. (Minnesota Public Radio, May 6, 2002.)