Meeker Island was the site of the first and northernmost lock and dam on the Mississippi River. Built to extend navigation from St. Paul northward to Minneapolis, it is also became a symbol of the economic and political rivalry between St. Paul and Minneapolis.
The geologic retreat of St. Anthony Falls northward created a nearly insurmountable navigation barrier north of St. Paul. Here the river ran through a rock-strewn, island-dotted gorge, now known as the Mississippi River Gorge.
Saint Paul, laying at the foot of the rapids, became the “head of navigation” for the Mississippi River and an important port for goods arriving or leaving the area. A dam built at Meeker Island would inundate the rock-strewn rapids below St. Anthony Falls permitting steamboats to reach Minneapolis, but also reduce St. Paul’s importance as a port.
Engineers built the Meeker Island Lock and Dam (formerly known as Lock and Dam 2) in 1907 and had nearly completed the Lock and Dam 1 downstream when Congress agreed to replace these two low dams with a single high dam capable of generating hydroelectric power at the location of the Lock and Dam 1.
The resulting pool not only inundated the dangerous rapids but also the Meeker Lock and Dam, forcing its abandonment only five years after its completion. Engineers removed the upper five feet of the dam to further reduce its threat to navigation. Parts of the lock system may still be seen on the east side of the river during low water.