On Saturday, the historic Fort Snelling reopens with new stories to tell.
While Minnesotans may be best familiar with the fort itself — a sturdy military relic going back to 1819 – the fort’s history is considerably older and more intricate than one structure. Because of its location near the junction of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers, the geography has long attracted people — and animals.
After a more than two-year, $34.5 million restoration and upgrading effort, the site reopens to Minnesotans on Saturday, Memorial Day weekend, to begin unraveling more of the site’s rich history.
The Minnesota Historical Society provided an advance tour of the “new” location to look out for:
FORT SNELLING GROUNDS
An eagle sat on a tree limb near a new picnicking location named Picnic Grove around midday on a recent bright weekday. The eagle looked to be peering closely at the Mississippi River’s quickly moving water far below, possibly trying to discover meals suited for an eagle’s picnic. For visitors, this new site near the entry is off a path and the parking lot, with tables set up in a grassy area with a view of the river.
Picnickers and other tourists strolling around the grounds on the roaming trails may feel as if they are exploring an annotated history of the area, thanks to new signs. At one overlook, there’s a long historical timeline that starts 12,000 years ago, when the Mississippi was just a little tributary.
New and historically significant plants are also taking root, such as pezi hota bdaska (white sage), which has a sign that reads, “Cleanse and defend against negativity by burning gray leaves.” “For celebrations, Dakotas spread pezi hota bdaska on the ground and dressed dancers with sage wreaths.”
NEW VISITOR CENTER
Building 18 of Fort Snelling was built in 1905 as a state-of-the-art barracks. It has been reopened as the Plank Museum and Visitor Center, 117 years later.
Visitors traveling through this structure, unlike troops in the past, will have access to central air conditioning and other amenities, such as huge toilets, grab-and-go food options, and even all-terrain wheelchairs to allow individuals with mobility impairments to tour the grounds.
There are things to discover as you walk around the museum, such as what was served for Christmas dinner in 1906 at Fort Snelling (turkey, turtle soup, three varieties of pie, and Hamm’s beer).
Visitors will be able to answer the question, “What is your relationship to Fort Snelling?” in a future exhibition space.
How can you convey all of the tales that have gone through Fort Snelling, from military duty to human suffering? A handpicked selection of them, representing various ages and experiences, are displayed on signs throughout the property, such as Felix Battles’ narrative.
A placard featuring a photo of Felix Battles’ 1864 recruitment paperwork reads, “Felix Battles was 20 years old when he enrolled.” “He was born into slavery near Memphis, Tennessee, and may have escaped north to freedom. During the Civil War, Battles was one of 106 African American soldiers who enrolled at Fort Snelling.”
More signs and tales about individuals from now and the past may be found on the grounds and in the Visitor Center.
TREATY OF 1805 INSTALLATION
“The Treaty of 1805,” a new outdoor installation, is worth a long pause.
The Dakota and US Army Lt. Zebulon Pike concluded this pact in 1805. The Dakota were promised land, commerce, and hunting and fishing privileges by the United States government.
An explanatory placard reads, “Each side departed with what they desired.” “However, divergent worldviews and a linguistic barrier paved the way for an uncertain future.”
Some words, such as “promise,” vanish into blackness as you stand in front of the piece.