Minnesota Historical Society

When Minnehaha Flowed with Whiskey

$ 18.95

A Spirited History of the Falls

Karen E. Cooper

Minnesota Historical Society Press (August 16, 2022)


The lost history of Minnehaha Falls—featuring dance halls, secret saloons, wild behavior, lawsuits, and plenty of whiskey.

Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis has been a much-loved place for a very long time. Native people visited the Falls for millennia before 1855, when Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha put its “laughing waters” into the American imagination. Tourists from the cities in the East soon began arriving on new railroads to view its picturesque loveliness. And Minnehaha Regional Park is still a favorite place for walking, biking, and glorying in the sights and sounds of the famous waterfall.

But from the 1880s until at least 1912, Minnehaha Falls was a scene of surprising mayhem. The waterfall was privately owned from the 1850s through 1889, and entrepreneurs made money from hotels and concessions. Even after the area became a city park, shady operators set up at its borders and corrupt police ran "security." Drinking, carousing, sideshows, dances that attracted unescorted women, and general rowdiness reigned—to the dismay of the neighbors. By 1900, social reformers began to redeem Minnehaha Park. During the struggle for control, the self-indulgent goings-on there became more public and harder to ignore.

Karen E. Cooper here tells the astonishing stories of the time when Minneapolitans went to the Falls to turn a profit and raise a little ruckus.

Advance Praise

“In walking you through the liquor-soaked history of Minnehaha Falls, Karen Cooper is the ideal tour guide, with a historian’s eye for the larger context and a true enthusiast’s eye for colorful detail in the stories she recounts. It’s great to know that whenever you’re enjoying a Summit at Sea Salt, you’re part of a long lineage.” 
Andy Sturdevant, coauthor of Closing Time: Saloons, Taverns, Dives, and Watering Holes of the Twin Cities

“An obsessed collector of anecdotes and vintage photographs, Karen Cooper has crafted a history of Minnehaha Falls with the intimacy of a memoir — employing an encyclopedic scope and authoritative voice that reflects her twenty years of research. It’s a rollicking tale laced with whiskey, greed, corruption, and arson that not only tells the story of the famous falls but also reveals the early development of Minneapolis.” 
Curt BrownStar Tribune columnist and author of Minnesota, 1918: When Flu, Fire, and War Ravaged the State

“A richly detailed romp through the rogues’ gallery of rabble-rousers and reprobates who sought to cash in on the fame of Minnehaha Falls. As always, conflicts arose between public and private interests, between reverie and revelry, in and around today’s park. The battle was engaged, and Cooper helps sort out the colorful players and the stakes in a history not nearly as tranquil as the falls itself.”
David C. Smith, author of City of Parks: The Story of Minneapolis Parks

Author Information

Karen E. Cooper, a photo historian and writer, has been collecting photographs and researching the history of Minnehaha Falls for thirty years.

  • This title is also available at your favorite e-book vendor.
  • 224 pages
  • Paperback
  • 6x9 inches,40 b/w photos, notes, index
  • ISBN: 9781681342269

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