Mississippi Dam

I located this subject here as opposed to under Infrastructure, since it was primarily a commercial, non-municipal enterprise throughout its history.

Here is a brief timeline of its existence:

-1882, June 24: Chas. F. Kindred organizes Brainerd Water & Power Company (N.J. Savier, pres.), for which the city council granted a 25-year franchise. Just one of its purposes was to build a dam and generate electricity. It was originally to be constructed just a short distance from the RR bridge, but procurement of property on the river's west side was unobtainable. Therefore, the dam project went on hold in favor of a small pump house on the big river-flat, on the west side of what would be 7th. St. if it extended north to the river; and on the east side he erected a small steam-generator plant (condemned in 1907, then the Minnesota Water Works Company, later dissolved). In 1889 Kindred left town financially ruined.

1888, March 19: The Mississippi Water Power & Boom Company, also a Kindred enterprise completes a dam and bridge, the bridge being over the dam (I believe there was a separate bridge nearby for use by the Minnesota & International Railway Company) about a mile north of the above-mentioned proposed site.
-20' of head claimed (later proved to be grossly in error; about 16').
-It developed a claimed 25,000 horsepower (later estimated at 6-7,000).
-The back-bay provided boomage for 50,000,000 logs.
-The dam created the present Rice lake, then just a small rice bed.
-It was made of wooden piling driven inside a belt 100' wide and the spaces between were filled with rock. On top the piles were bolted together with heavy planking like a cover.
-A sluiceway inserted for logs was 50' wide.
-Materials included 70,000' of oak, 800 tons of iron, and 2,800 cords of stone.
-$20,000 was needed to pay for damages due to flooding land south of the brick yard, now paper mill grounds, but I'm unsure just where this land was.
-Total cost was $50,000, only $2,500 of which was for the bridge portion, it being paid for by the city, not county or private.
-1888, Nov.: Timber already authorized by the council for repairs. A wood railing was also added to the bridge over the dam.
-1892 (or shortly thereafter): Weyerhaeuser builds a PULP mill on the EAST side of the river.
-1899, May 1: The bridge over the dam is condemned and closed to all traffic.
-1903: Northwest Paper Company of Cloquet, MN purchases the dam from Northern Water Power Company (a Weyerhaeuser company). Paper mill is constructed 1915-17 at the east end of the dam.
-1910, April 23: The city's light plant at the east end of the dam is destroyed by fire.
-1912, April 13: $4,797 appropriated from the county to virtually rebuild the bridge.
-1913: The Minnesota & International Railway Company quits crossing the river over the dam (in favor of westward out of Brainerd instead of northward). Bridge is donated to the county by the NWPC and converted to a wagon bridge, still in use as late as 1946 as part of State Aid County Hwy.No. 3.
-1914: The pulp mill built in 1903 on the west side of the river and dam is razed.
-1916: Dam rebuilt by NWPC (bridge discontinued?).

Dam over Mississippi River at Brainerd, MN, effects on its course and water levels and flooding:

Question: “Where did the river go before the dam went in?”

Wow, good question! And I've gotten it before, usually stemming from an old rumor...or story of the river making some dramatic change in course when the dam was put in back in about 1884. I have not fully researched this, but sure need to! There are a few things I have heard over the years though on river courses:

-The river course was changed when the dam was put in. I have seen only one indication that there was a course change, and that is the 1913 Ogle map which shows by a double dotted line either a temporary diversionary course while the dam was built, like a spill way, of about 6 blocks, to the west of the present course. Or, this was where the river flowed BEFORE the dam was put in.

-The dam was originally to be placed much farther downriver, about at the middle of the Tyrol Hills area, but land could not be acquired economically on that side of the river. This of course would not have change the COURSE but sure would have made a dandy recreational lake!

-Some old-timers tell me that the Little Buffalo Creek once flowed from it's present place by Bane Park to the “Big Sev” hollow ( S 7th & Vine Sts.), then under S. 6th St. at a place N of its present path, to the hollow N of the Trinity Lutheran Church's sliding hill. I am not clear if this was before 6th St. was elevated and the creek diverted, or if it was due the massive flood of the mid-1940's that flooded the entire Franklin football field and most of the waste treatment plant. From this flood I have also heard that the creek essentially ran backwards for a time.

-The story could be from a pre-historic scenario from just after the last ice age, where the river could have been miles from where it is now.

-I doubt very much that the dam being build could have made much of an impact of more that those 6 blocks N/S, and a block E/W, if you look at a map of Brainerd. The Old Town is a 60' plateau surrounded on the W and N by the river, and the E by the ravine, AKA "Ravine Creek". There are only 2 low areas with present flowage where it could have flowed before. One is the creek flowing in to Rice Lake at its S tip, so the river would have to find its way S from there, say through the present Brainerd Industrial Park area, possibly to Big Buffalo Creek then to the present river.

RAVINE CREEK flows W from marshlands S and E of JayCees Park in SE Brainerd, skirting its W side, then via culverts or storm sewers to just S of Oak St. at its lowest point E of the RR tracks, then open to the low area up to the RR fill, and going under it in a culvert, then to the “big hole” between the fills, still in storm sewers or culverts. It then enters another culvert [replaced 2008] under the E Washington Sts. “The Fill”. From here it is on its last journey in a taller than wide and round-topped concrete culvert probably built in 1914 when the Fill was put in, all the way to the river. You can see this on the W side of the football fiels, barely visible just beyond the sidelines. It is also visible at some points along the W edge of the cemetery at the hill’s base. It now sticks out in to the river and is broken off at the last 20’ or so due to erosion under it.

This Ravine Creek however, during that 1940's flood, I have heard filled the ditch along and to the E of the RR tracks clear up to Thiesse Rd. One person told me they were able to paddle this entire route, from the river to HR Davis/Thiesse Rd. on that flood year of the 40's., less portaging over roads. At this time the Mississippi River backup waters would be spilling in to Little Buffalo Creek at Bane Park, and interesting scenario indeed. This then I would think could be another source of the "rumor", as it was as if the river changed its course, but in reality merely backed up in the low areas. This could also be that pre-historic course. To the W, West Brainerd is just to high to support this body of water.

I believe that if the dam went out today it would result in merely Rice Lake once again becoming a rice paddy, and one could also again easily walk across the barley-navigable French Rapids to the N. Just one or 2 folks on the W side of the river on Riverside Drive would be flooded out. Don Adamson Field/High School would go back to a marshland, and Boom Lake would regain its second N inlet. The present road between the river and Boom Lake would have to be bridged. There would be water covering the Franklin football field, spilling over at the road in front of the cemetery, now Evergreen Ave., by the entrance to the river landing, which would need some bridging for passage there. The old sewage treatment plant S of Boom Lake would once again be under water. The folks on Bluff Ave. would have waterfront property again. This all means not a tremendous raise in water levels, but only about 10', which I have seen come within a few feet of this scenario many times in my lifetime on wet spring years. [I am basing the above on what I have noted on the last 3 or 4 high water years in the last 2 decades/now 2009, by going to these locations and more and noting where the high water line was at, at various locations from the dam to the sewage treatment plant, and on both sides of the river.]

Largely, only the area ABOVE the dam would look dramatically different, quite the reverse of what one might think. In the early 1870's, long before any dam, a steamboat landing was on the E side of the river about opposite the high school sports area bleachers. So, to get a feel for what the scene would have looked like pre-dam, just go there on a high water year and envision what it would be like after a dam failure, that is, a few hours after it failed! A study with some geological basis and sea level data could verify this hunch, which is all I offer here.

See attachment (1913 Ogle, East Brainerd). We now have 5 maps online on the City website: