The history of this area is largely about power: spiritual, physical, and political. Native American regarded the falls as having significant spiritual power. Logging interests floated logs south to the falls, where entrepreneurs built sawmills that tapped the power of the falling water to cut the logs into lumber. Other industrialists used the falls to power flour mills.
Both logging and flour industries declined, but St. Anthony Falls still represented a significant source of power and in 1882 a commercial hydroelectric power station harnessed the power of the falls at this location. The advent of hydroelectric power profoundly changed the way local communities developed. Energy-dependent businesses once had to be on the river bank to gain access to the power of falling water using turbines or waterwheels.
After the advent of hydroelectric power generation, businesses could tap the enormous power of the falls in the form of electric power transported through cables, allowing them to locate far away from the river.
Hydroelectric power represented a form of power that would have great effects on the region and spur a national discussion about rivers and their uses. A growing nation would wrestle with who would control river resources, whom would benefit, and how competing claims would be accommodated. This vital discussion continues to this day.
Water Power Park commemorates the nation’s first commercial hydroelectric generation station and how hydroelectric power changed the nation.
The power plant, which still generates about 12 megawatts, is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The 1.4 acre park is owned by Xcel Energy and was created as a condition of the re-licensing agreement for its St. Anthony power plant. While owned by Xcel Energy, the park is managed by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.