Go on these historic adventures to celebrate Minnesota’s 160th birthday

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photo courtesy of Audrey Fretz

This past week on Friday, May 11, Minnesota celebrated its 160th birthday as the official 32nd state to join the United States.

Minnesota entered the union on May 11, 1858 becoming the most northern state in the continental U.S. This year, Minnesota didn’t get quite the pomp and circumstance that it did on its centennial birthday back in 1958. On Minnesota’s 100 year-old celebration, over 20,000 people gathered to celebrate Minnesota’s statehood which included members of the royal families from Norway and Sweden, the prime ministers of Denmark and Finland, as well as a performance from movie star and Minnesota native Judy Garland. Quite the shindig.

Well, it looks like this year it’s going to be more of a low-key celebration. But it’s still the perfect excuse to go out and explore our wonderful state and learn its rich culture, beauty, history, and yes, even our not-so-proud history of how our state came to be. So grab a fellow history buff and pick your own adventure to travel back into Minnesota’s past.

James J. Hill House

Considered Minnesota’s own Downton Abbey, the James J. Hill house symbolized success, class, and power. Completed in 1891, the mansion was built for the railroad magnate James J. Hill and his family. And at mere 36,500 square feet spread across five floors, the James J. Hill house was the largest and most expensive home in the state. (Imagine losing your keys in this place…) The mansion has 13 bathrooms, 22 fireplaces, 16 cut-glass chandeliers, two-story skylit art gallery, a three-story pipe organ (because of course), elaborate hand crafted woodwork, and so much more. And you can see it all. Take a tour of the mansion and learn more about the Hill family and their contribution to Minnesota’s growth through the Minnesota Historical Society.

Split Rock Lighthouse

While considered one of the most beautiful spots in Minnesota overlooking the rugged North Shore and blue waters of Lake Superior, the story behind the historic Split Rock Lighthouse is a less than idyllic tale. As the the steel industry boomed in the early 20th century, the demand for iron ore shipments on Lake Superior grew exponentially. However, on November 28, 1905 the stormy and unpredictable waters of Lake Superior damaged 29 ships that included a third of the U.S. Steel fleet. Because of this fateful day, construction began on the Split Rock Lighthouse to help safely guide ships to shore. You can visit the lighthouse and hike the surrounding trails for some truly spectacular views.

Jeffers Petroglyphs

The 5,000 petroglyphs carved into the Red Rock Ridge go as far back as 7,000 years. The American Indians that lived on this land for thousands of years recorded their stories and history carving images into the rock that include pictures of buffalo, turtles, and throwing sticks. Records show that while it’s unknown who first sketched images into the rock, over the last 350 years the area was home to Ioway and Otoe tribes, and then later, to the Cheyenne and Dakota tribes. This site holds spiritual significance for many Native Americans who regard this place as a connection between the physical and spiritual worlds and one “where Grandmother Earth speaks of the past, present, and future.” – Minnesota Historical Society. Go visit these spectacular carvings and learn more about Minnesota’s Native American history.

Minnesota State Capitol

If you want Minnesota history, the Minnesota State Capitol is the perfect place to find it. Recently renovated and restored to its old glory from when it was first imagined back in 1895 from local architect Cass Gilbert, you can explore the beautiful artwork, sculptures, and architecture of the Capitol building. You can go on either a free guided or self-guided tour through the building. If you choose to take your own self-guided tour, be sure to see the Quadriga (those golden horses at the base of the dome), the first floor rotunda, the Governor’s Reception Room, the “grand floor” that holds the chambers of the Senate, House of Representatives, and Supreme Court, and finally the Rathskeller cafeteria.  

Happy 160th birthday, Minnesota.

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