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Mr. Pettingill’s Wonderful Water

Article by Michael Rainville, Jr.

1875 - Chalybeate Springs near Pillsbury A MillIn 1875, the Minneapolis Riverfront welcomed its first, and last, resort. Mr. Mannesseh P. Pettingill reached an agreement with the St. Anthony Falls Company to lease a portion of their land, where he would start a spring-fed resort and tourist attraction. This was not the first time people would visit the springs, as they have been a popular spot to unwind since pioneers settled in the area. However, during the Civil War, the springs fell out of popularity.

The visitors of Mr. Pettinghill’s resort descended a steep flight of stairs, which were located in present day Father Hennepin Bluff Park. At the base of the bluff, they were able to enjoy ice cream, cigars, great views of St. Anthony Falls, and relaxing natural springs, which he marketed it as his Wonderful Water. One of the main attractions of the resort was a cavern, advertised as “Chute’s Cave.” An August 1876 issue of the Minneapolis Tribune says that visitors were able to take a tour of the cavern. “For the moderate sum of ten cents you can take a seat in a boat, with a flaming torch at the bow, and with a trusty pilot sail up under Main Street a distance of 2,000 feet.” If you were not the adventurous type, they also provided live music along the banks of the Mississippi every Saturday, such as the East Minneapolis Cornet Band on the evening of August 26th. Mr. Pettingill eventually constructed a covered dancefloor as a “rendezvous for lovers of dancing, where they can trip the light fantastic whenever occasion admits.”

1875 - Chalybeate Springs near Pillsbury A Mill

The growth of the city eventually made it hard for Mr. Pettingill to continue to run his resort, and in Autumn of 1880, it closed for good. Everything that could have went wrong happened all at once. Milling continued to grow at a rapid pace, which chased away many visitors of the resort because of the noise pollution, it was discovered that the source of Mr. Pettingill’s Wonderful Water was a swamp, and to top it all off, the city connected its sewers to the tailraces of the mills that emptied into the river right next to the resort.

Lower Father Hennepin Bluff Park

Fortunately for us, that area has cleaned up quite nicely. If you want to check out the springs, wait until the snow melts and the river thaws, and wander down the trails of the lower section of Father Hennepin Bluff Park and rediscover the beauty that attracted many residences of the Twin Cities and beyond to Mr. Pettengill’s resort.

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About Michael Rainville, Jr.

A 6th generation Minneapolitan, Michael Rainville Jr. received his B.A. in History from the University of St. Thomas, and is currently enrolled in their M.A. in Art History and Certificate in Museum Studies programs.

Michael is also an intern at the Hennepin History Museum and a lead guide at Mobile Entertainment LLC, giving Segway tours of the Minneapolis riverfront for 7+ years.

He can be reached at

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