The Weekend Tourist // Exploring the citys hidden creek

Why in the world would anyone cover over a creek? That’s what Minneapolis residents have been asking since the late 1800s. But a stretch of Bassett Creek, which begins its 12-mile journey to the Mississippi River beginning in Medicine Lake, has been forced underground for more than a hundred years.

In 1852, six years before Minnesota became a state, lumberman and flour miller Joel Bean Bassett staked claim to land now occupied by the Star Tribune printing plant in downtown Minneapolis’ North Loop neighborhood. He built a small frame house next to the creek that a few yards later emptied into the Mississippi River. The location was ideal. Across the river the town of St. Anthony was growing and in 1866 Minneapolis was incorporated. But within years the neighborhood evolved. Saw mills and flour mills sprung up along the banks of the creek and river and industry took hold. Along with progress the creek become a disaster — it was filled with sawdust, lumber and garbage. And railroads wanted better access to downtown and the creek was in the way. So in 1890 its trickling waters were contained and hidden from view in a culvert that runs from Bryn Mawr to the Mississippi.

For many decades, the North Loop was home to factories, warehouses, and the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis and Omaha Railroad’s yard and freighthouses. The area’s historic Itasca Building was built in 1886 and designed by Long & Kees the Minneapolis architectural firm responsible for many landmarks including Creamette Lofts, Lumber Exchange, Hennepin Center for the Arts, Westin–Farmers & Mechanics Bank and the Groveland Gallery. Though it looks like one building, it’s actually two-side-by side warehouses — built right over Bassett Creek. When the building was remodeled into lofts in the 1970s they cut a viewing section out of the basement floor that looked right onto the creek!

Over the years the culvert has been repaired, enlarged and even diverted below the falls to help with flooding issues. In his book “Subterranean Twin Cities,” author Greg Brick writes about walls of concrete and Platteville limestone along with the general underground creepiness he encountered on his canoe adventure through the culvert. (Don’t try this yourself!)

Bassett Creek meanders every which way it can from Plymouth to Minneapolis. Along its route are several parks with nature trails, golf courses, dog parks, tennis courts and picnic tables.

  • Medicine Lake Park, Plymouth
  • General Mills Nature Preserve, Golden Valley
  • Brookview Park, Golden Valley
  • Bassett Creek Park, Crystal (look for the 2-block-long stretch of dirt road!)
  • Briarwood Nature Area, Golden Valley
  • Theodore Wirth Park, Mpls.
  • Bassetts Creek Park/Bryn Mawr Meadows, Mpls.
  • James I. Rice River Road, Mpls.

The mouth of Bassett Creek is just on the other side of River Road from the Itasca Building. Bridges and walking paths criss cross the creek and provide a glimpse of what the rugged Mississippi must have looked like in 1852.

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Pick up a delicious gourmet sandwich to go at Bewiched Deli, 800 Washington Ave. N.