Minnesota's "Fashionable Tour." In the years between 1835 and 1860, steamboats from St. Louis and the Illinois river towns of Rock Island and Galena carried hundreds of tourists up the Mississippi River past "a thousand bluffs which tower in countless fascinating forms." Their destinations were the frontier town of St. Paul and the famous Falls of St. Anthony in what is now Minneapolis.
Made popular in the east by panorama painters, writers, and lecturers, the "Fashionable Tour" of the upper Mississippi River combined the scenic "grandeur and majesty" of the west, a chance to glimpse real Indian villages along the shores, and the luxury and fine food provided by the big excursion boats. By 1854 visitors could travel from New York City to Rock Island entirely by rail in about 48 hours, step onto a steamboat heading north, and experience the "tonic of wildness" in a comfortable four-day round trip to St. Paul, where boats docked at the rate of four or five a day during the summer months.
Today the steamboats of the "Fashionable Tour" are gone, but the drive along the Mississippi River bluffs and through the old river towns proud of their historic heritage is still one of Minnesota's most popular and scenic tourist attractions.
Welcome to Minnesota. Known to her citizens as the North Star State or the Gopher State, Minnesota has never claimed to be the Land of the Giants. But two famous American giants do hail from Minnesota. The giant lumberjack Paul Bunyan cut the pine forest of the north that helped build America's towns and cities, and the Jolly Green Giant towers over the south's lush corn, vegetable, and soybean fields, a part of the midwest's fertile farm belt.
Like its neighbors, the thirty-second state grew as a collection of small farm communities, many settled by immigrants from Scandinavia and Germany. Two of the nation's favorite fictional small towns—Sinclair Lewis's Gopher Prairie and Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon—reflect that heritage. But the vast forests, the huge open pit iron ore mines, and the busy shipping lanes of Lake Superior attracted different settlers with different skills and made Minnesota a state of surprising diversity.
Best known for its more than 15,000 lakes, Minnesota has some 65 towns with the word "lake" in their names, not counting those whose names mean "lake" or "water" in the Chippewa or Dakota Indian languages. There are also 13 "falls," 10 "rivers," 5 "rapids," and a smattering of "isles," "bays," and "beaches." Even the state name itself means "sky colored water" in Dakota. The mighty Mississippi River starts as a small stream flowing out of Minnesota's Lake Itasca, and a Minneapolis waterfall called Minnehaha inspired "The Song of Hiawatha," even though Longfellow never actually visited the falls his poem made known to every schoolchild.
Minnesotans are proud of their state's natural beauty and are leaders in resource conservation and concern for the quality of life.