Architectural Preservation at Fort Snelling

A couple years ago I entered Dwell Magazine’s Rethinking Preservation contest.  The magazine asked readers to send in photos and a proposal for what they thought would be a landmark or building worthy of preserving.  I immediately thought of the Upper Post of Fort Snelling.  The 40 or so buildings of the Upper Post had been mostly boarded up since the 1940’s and were in danger of being torn down.

I didn’t win the contest (that wine fridge would have been nice – winning’s not bad either) but I really appreciated how much I learned about the fort and Minnesota’s history and the connection to the U.S. – Dakota War of 1862.

Here is what I wrote –

At the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers lies the Fort Snelling Historic Site, a landmark so rich in historical and environmental significance, it is referred to as the “birthplace of Minnesota.”

Established in 1819, the fort was built to control traffic and a thriving fur trade with the Native population on two major rivers and the exploding population of white settlers. The Indian Agency was also built here – the U.S. embassy to the American Indian Nations. The creation of Minnesota was negotiated here. This site is also sacred Indian land – Coldwater Spring, a 10,000 year old spring is very close by.

Dred Scott, enslaved with his wife at Fort Snelling, sued for their freedom here leading to the Dred Scott decision.

During the U.S.-Dakota War in 1862, 1600 Dakota Sioux were held here in a concentration camp and many of them died here.

Fort Snelling was an induction point for hundreds of thousands of soldiers from the Civil War until World War II.

A national historic landmark, on the National Register of Historic Places, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Preservation Alliance both list the fort as one of the most endangered places in the U.S.

In the words of grand chief Eddie Benton Benais,  “My grandfather . . . many times he retold how . . . his family . . . as a small boy traveled by foot, by horse, by canoe to this great place to where there would be these great religious, spiritual events . . . a sacred place, a neutral place, a place for many nations to come . . . a spring that all nations used to draw the sacred water for the ceremony . . . How we take care of the water is how it will take care of us.”

Below are a few photos of the Upper Post – to be clear, most of these buildings were built around the turn of the century and were not the buildings that housed American Indians during the U.S. – Dakota War.  That portion of the fort is not far away from these buildings, however.

Barracks_Plane_B Row of houses are former officers' quarters Post Headquarters of Upper Post of Fort Snelling Historic SiteOne of the large barracks at Fort Snelling's Upper Post

Winning the contest would have meant that one of the organizations responsible for renovating the fort would have received $10,000.  There is good news for the fort however, plans are moving forward to renovate the fort.  A charter school, Upper Mississippi Academy has moved in to temporary buildings and will soon occupy 9 of the architecturally significant buildings that have been vacant for decades.  Also, 58 apartments for homeless vets will be built in 5 rehabilitated buildings by Common Bond and possibly be ready for occupancy by summer of 2014.

The fort has also benefited from a program to have inmates from various correctional facilities work on the buildings and learn carpentry, roofing and masonry.

In the future post I hope to publish photos of the newly restored Coldwater Spring which is not pictured here.

By the way, here’s the winning project –


About andrea rugg

Professional photographer specializing in location, architecture, product, interiors and gardens. Other interests: bicycling, soccer, gardening, golf, music, travel and walking Boris the dog.
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