BEST VIEW Minneapolis 1999 -
Walk out onto this pedestrian/bike path, turn to face downtown, and behold: the history of Minneapolis business in a panoramic nutshell. In front of you, the twinkling lights of the modern skyscrapers. To your right, the uppermost lock on the Mississippi. On the riverbanks behind and in front of you, the remains of the city's storied mills. And not far upstream, the very falls that powered those flour and lumber mills--falls that, until man intervened, were wild and free-flowing and known as the Niagara of the West. The bridge upon which you stand, built as a Great Northern Railroad bridge in the 1880s by railroad baron James J. Hill, is an amazement in its own right. It's made up largely of limestone quarried on the Minnesota River; micromanager that he was, to better select the stone, Hill bought the quarry. The bridge's curve--a feature Hill insisted upon--was intended to follow the curve of St. Anthony Falls. Modeled after the aqueducts commissioned by previous empire builders, the bridge consists of 23 arches varying in width, each of them comprising half of a perfect circle. On a summer night, the river that flows underneath those arches is quintessentially Minnesotan: an unruffled surface that yields few clues to the underlying current.