Minneapolis Street Names

This is probably more than anyone would ever want to know about Minneapolis streets, their names and why they run the way they do.

The city's plot originated in the downtown area closest to St Anthony Falls. This would come to be known as the Lower Loop and The Gateway District. Near the falls, the Mississippi runs from the Northwest to the Southeast. When the first plat for the city was commissioned by John Stevens and laid by Charles W. Christmas, they chose a plat based on the French longlot system and ran the streets parallel to the river in the falls area. They then divided up the blocks with a many lots that had very narrow frontages, but were very deep. This way they could get many lots on each block. More lots on a block meant more pieces of land to sell. Orientating this plat based on the orientation of the river is why most of downtown is oriented differently than the more usual, ordinal orientation of the rest of the city.

The longlot system was a popular method for platting streets in the middle of the 19th century. As the city grew, the grid pattern was swung around to the points of the compass. This created a ring of odd intersections around the periphery of downtown. Seven Corners was created this way, and this also created many opportunities for buildings and billboards to fill the view at the apparent end of the streets as one leaves downtown. Preexisting trails also influenced the downtown plat.

Another interesting feature of the area is the three major preexisting roads that were adopted into the lay of Minneapolis' streetscape. Hennepin Avenue through downtown and out to the lakes was an old Indian and settler's trail that led away from the logical fording place of the Mississippi River to an area of land between the chain of lakes where one could pass and continue west. Nicollet Avenue was an old trail that led from the fording place to the area that overlooked the confluence of the Mississippi River and Minnesota River that Fort Snelling was built on. Christmas Avenue, later renamed Broadway Avenue, was a trail that ran up the West Bank of the Mississippi, and then turned West, then to the Northwest and to points elsewhere.

Over the years, city planners have been trying to make Minneapolis easier to get around in. Originally, all the avenues in downtown had names, not numbers. Avenues like Second and Third had mundane city street names, but these were changed to numbers around 1872 when the city of St. Anthony merged with Minneapolis. Some avenues downtown were subsequently renamed again to honor historical figures for the city. Nicollet and Marquette acquired their names this way.

If you're wondering what differentiates a street from an avenue in this city, avenues are roads that cross the Mississippi in the downtown area and streets run parallel to the Mississippi in the downtown area. This gets confusing in South Minneapolis where the river turns right and is now flowing directly North and South. The avenues end up running parallel to the river and the streets end up crossing it. Remember, the only place this rule holds true is in the oldest part of the city.

Another handy tool for navigating in the city is the color coded street signs. Blue signs are posted on arterial streets with heavy traffic. Green signs are posted on streets that run North and South, brown signs are posted on streets that run East and West. Remember too that Nicollet is the East West divding line through South Minneapolis. Addresses have a directional orientation depending on which side of Nicollet it's on, and addresses numbers increase with distance from Nicollet.

If you want to know even more about streets in Minneapolis, follow one of the links below.

Alphabet Streets
President Streets
Other Street Names

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