From Gunflints to Moon Rocks: History of the Bureau of Mines Twin Cities Research Center


Explore the history of Coldwater Spring through this series of mini-stories.

Eastman painting of the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers.
Minnesota Historical Society

A Confluence of Histories

Dakota Indians frequented the Coldwater Spring area long before Europeans arrived. The strategic importance of the place to both the Dakota and Americans focused on the Mississippi/Minnesota Rivers confluence as a cross-roads for Indians and traders. Read more about the history of Coldwater Spring.

A black and white map of Coldwater Spring known as the Smith map.
Minnesota Historical Society

Minnesota’s First Settlement

Soldiers had finished and moved into Fort Snelling by 1824. Drawn by the fort’s presence, squatters established the community of Camp Coldwater around the spring and northwest along the Mississippi.

Buildings sit beside Coldwater Spring in this black and white photograph.
Minnesota Historical Society

Water for 100 Years

On June 8, 1857, the U.S. Army sold Fort Snelling to Franklin Steele for $90,000 but bought it back only four years later with the start of the Civil War. Soldiers from Fort Snelling located initially at Coldwater Spring in 1820 for the fresh water supply.

An aerial view of the Bureau of Mines (Coldwater) taken in 1959.
Minnesota Historical Society

From Deep in the Earth to High on the Moon

As the American frontier closed and Americans realized the country’s natural resources were not infinite, Congress responded to the concern over dangerous mining conditions and the waste of natural resources by establishing the Bureau of Mines at Coldwater Spring.

Building 1 with its blue facade behind a screen of trees.

A New Chapter

After the closure of the Bureau of Mines, Congress authorized the Secretary of the Department of Interior to convey the Bureau of Mines property to a university or government entity as the “Secretary deems appropriate.” The most appropriate entity was the National Park Service.

An artist's rendering of what the reservoir area should look like.
2011: Landscape Renderings of Coldwater Spring (PDF; 2.18 MB)

Landscape renderings were created in 2011, showing plans to restore the landscape to an oak savanna prairie and turn it into a public park.

Last updated: November 23, 2022

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

111 E. Kellogg Blvd., Suite 105
Saint Paul, MN 55101


This is the general phone line at the Mississippi River Visitor Center.

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