Various stories were in circulation concerning the difficulties of navigation on the Upper Mississippi in a low stage of water. One pilot declared the wheels of his boat actually raised a cloud of dust in many places. Another said his boat could run easily in the moisture on the outside of a pitcher of ice-water, but could not move to advantage in the river between Lake Pepin and St. Paul. A person interested in the railway proposed to secure a charter for laying the track in the bed of the Mississippi, but feared the company would be unable to supply the locomotives with water on many portions of the route. Many other jests were indulged in, all of which were heartily appreciated by the people of St. Paul.
The day after my arrival at St. Paul, I visited the famous Falls of the Minnehaha. I am unable to give them a minute description, my visit being very brief. Its brevity arose from the entire absence of water in the stream which supplies the fall. That fluid is everywhere admitted to be useful for purposes of navigation, and I think it equally desirable in the formation of a cascade.
The inhabitants of St. Paul have reason to bless the founders of their city for the excellent site of the future metropolis of the Northwest. Overlooking and almost overhanging the river in one part, in another it slopes gently down to the water’s edge, to the levee where the steamers congregate. Back from the river the limits of the city extend for several miles, and admit of great expansion. With a hundred years of prosperity there would still be ample room for growth.
Before the financial crash in ’57, this levee was crowded with merchandise from St. Louis and Chicago. Storage was not always to be had, though the construction of buildings was rapidly pushed. Business was active, speculation was carried to the furthest limit, everybody had money in abundance, and scattered it with no niggard hand. In many of the brokers’ windows, placards were posted offering alluring inducements to capitalists. “Fifty per cent. guaranteed on investments,” was set forth on these placards, the offers coming from parties considered perfectly sound. Fabulous sums were paid for wild land and for lots in apocryphal towns. All was prosperity and activity.
By-and-by came the crash, and this well-founded town passed through a period of mourning and fasting. St. Paul saw many of its best and heaviest houses vanish into thin air; merchants, bankers, land-speculators, lumbermen, all suffered alike. Some disappeared forever; others survived the shock, but never recovered their former footing. Large amounts of property went under the auctioneer’s hammer, “to be sold without limit.” Lots of land which cost two or three hundred dollars in ’56, were sold at auction in ’58 for five or six dollars each. Thousands of people lost their all in these unfortunate land-speculations. Others who survived the crash have clung to their acres, hoping that prosperity may return to the Northwest. At present their wealth consists mainly of Great Expectations.