Brainerd has been essentially "landlocked" since it was first platted in 1871. If you look at a map you'll see that one was first greeted at its southern entrance with a deep gorge at Slaughter House (Little Buffalo) Creek, much too deep to even traverse with a rail line without a bridge. Before that was filled at South 6th. St. a bridge was needed at 7th. Street just for wagon traffic from the south. To the west and north is the river, and for some time only a railroad bridge, and a wanigan (ferry) went across to the west. The height of the banks here made for an expensive bridge. The east was bounded by the ravine, made impassable many times of the year due to the flowing creek and swampy land at its base. NE Brainerd was to be their salvation for industrial expansion, since Brainerd proper in the original plat provided room for a downtown and private residences only. It did support some lumber mills, and the water and sewage treatment plants, but anyting of any consequence would have to go up-river, and that required getting traffic across the cursed "ravine", which proved to be an annoyance clear up until it was filled in 1914. See more on "The Fill" as it was called under BRIDGES.
Soon a wagon bridge went over the river at (west) Laurel St. to form the city of West Brainerd, and another bridge over the ravine on (east) Laurel St.. The Ravine Bridge connected the Town of East Brainerd Addition, so platted on June 28, 1882. The eastward expansion was stopped once again to its northern extremities by the river, and to the east even more swamp and yet another flowing creek, leading in to Rice Lake.
The good news is that the "plateau" that the city is built on is of sufficient height above the river to prove no major threat to its residents. The reason I call it a plateau is what you can clearly see on a map. In 1892 the map still shows Bluff Ave. as startng on the west side of the city at Maple St., just north of the meadow (present HS football field) by the present day High Rise. It continued north on what is now 1st. St. to the present Bluff Ave., then south again on the present 11th. St., clear to Oak and 10th St.! On a map it appears to be a giant horseshoe encircling the entire city, its open end only 9 blocks apart. There you have "landlocked". For this reason Brainerd was often referred to as "the end of the trail". The only flooding endangering buildings or blocking roads is around the low areas by the Franklin football field, and the Boom Lake water/sewer treatment plant area (and perhaps a residence in a floodplain on the west side of the river, north of Washington St.). There was a flood in the mid-forties, I believe, that nearly took out the treatment plant. The levees built then are still visible, and did their job in 1997 and 2001 that I know of. There have been a few other years of high water, perhaps 1965, but I haven't narrowed that down yet. If someone has access to historical records with flood stages, please send them along!
In WATERWAYS you'll see Brainerd could be called City Of Creeks, and has several that flow year-round, some that are artesian-fed, and yet others that provide flash flood or snowmelt runoff. At an early stage, the city has installed a labyrinth of concrete culverts hiding some creeks for many blocks to correct any flooding problems, or to make more buildable land. In some areas mother nature fought back from over-filling with flooded basements.
For the most part though, the site was carefully selected, and uniquely situated, to provide boomage for logs, access to timber, transportation for trade, and in modern times...recreation!