Why is Minneapolis called the Twin Cities? A surprising history.

What are the Twin Cities? And just why, exactly, is Minneapolis called the Twin Cities?

Ask any Minnesotan that question and they’ll look at you like you just asked them if Minnesota gets cold in the winter.

The Twin Cities are Minneapolis and St. Paul in Minnesota, duh!

Or are they?

Getting to the bottom of this quirky mystery is an interesting tale.

Gather round kids, for a quick story as unique as the Twin Cities themselves.

A weird history explaining why Minneapolis is called the Twin Cities

According to the Minnesota Historical Society, Minneapolis’s original nickname of “The Twin Cities” may not have had anything to do with St. Paul at all.

In the mid 1800s, Minneapolis’s “Twin City” was actually a completely different Saint – St. Anthony.

By the 1840s, gamblers founded a town east of St. Anthony Falls, near what is today Northeast Minneapolis. They called that town St. Anthony. Over the next few years, some St. Anthony residents jumped over to the west side of the Mississippi river and built a town they chose to call Minneapolis.

why is minneapolis called the twin cities
St. Anthony Falls – the O.G. Twin City

These two “Twin Cities” existed independently for twenty years, until they eventually joined to become the city of Minneapolis in 1872.

And it makes total sense that these were the “original” Twin Cities.

While St. Paul did exist in the 1840s (it was actually settled before both St. Anthony and Minneapolis, and by 1949 was declared the State Capital of Minnesota) it sat over 14 miles away. In the 1800s, that was a full day’s carriage ride away!

The Twin Cities Today

Today, we all know the Twin Cities as Minneapolis and St. Paul.

That’s because after Minneapolis absorbed St. Anthony, St. Paul remained the only nearby major city.

Over the next several decades, both Minneapolis and St. Paul grew independently.

From the late 1800s to the early 1920s, Minneapolis became the flour milling capital of the world aka “Mill City.” Not surprisingly, this brought huge companies and huge wealth into Minneapolis.

Meanwhile, St. Paul continued to grow, too – it remained the state capital and continued receiving profits from its major wholesaling and transportation businesses. In the early 1900s, the city even became a favorite hangout for gangsters, and St. Paul experienced a boom of dirty money from these prohibition-era bootleggers.

It wasn’t until 1968 that today’s “Twin Cities” were finally linked by an interstate. By that time, outside of Chicago, the area had become the largest urban metro in the Midwest.

Differences between the two cities

history of the twin cities name

Thanks to this isolated growth for so long, the two cities developed their own individual characters.

Today, St. Paul maintains an older, more historic feel than Minneapolis. The city’s architecture features tons of brick buildings from the late 1800s and early 1900s, not to mention the absolutely stunning St. Paul Cathedral (completed in 1915) and State Capitol (completed in 1905).

Ask any St. Paul resident, and they’ll brag about the city’s smaller, more friendly and more neighborly feel.

Meanwhile, Minneapolis features a sprawling urban setting of newly developed skyscrapers, trendy young neighborhoods, and bonafide big city living.

All this is why Minneapolis residents tend to the enjoy their larger selection of bars, restaurants, and true “downtown” vibe.

It’s a friendly rivalry that has its roots in serious, at times bizarre competition between the Twin Cities. (In the early parts of the century, both cities often cheated the census to make their Cities appear larger and more important than the other. In recent years, the “Minnesota Twins” were given their name to avoid upsetting either city.)

They’re definitely two cities though, right?

Absolutely. Today, both Minneapolis and St. Paul are still governed by independent municipalities with defined borders.

Except, if you ask Twin Cities locals to define those borders, most would struggle. The development and increased connection between the two cities has made it hard to determine where one city ends and the other begins.

In fact, in 2013 urban geographer Bill Lindeke tried his best to walk the official border between the two cities. He wrote up the quirky results in MinnPost; what he found was that much of the two cities’ official border was undefined, often split in two by what he described as “hobo camps, strange tramp trails, meaningless fences, artistic expanses, odd paths, vast open spaces, quizzical landmarks and the rear ends of warehouses.”

Final Thoughts on Minnesota’s Twin Cities

No matter which side of the Twin Cities border you fall, there’s one consistent truth:

Minneapolis and St. Paul have become a thriving metro area, which is undoubtedly why most of us live here.

In fact, nearly 60 percent of Minnesota’s population now lives in the Twin Cities metro area. Over twenty different Fortune 500 companies also call “The Cities” their home, which has led to a booming job market, strong infrastructure, and continued growth.

Has the long history of competition between The Twin Cities helped fuel that growth? If Minneapolis and St. Paul locals consider the weird history of these two great cities, maybe that’s one item the two can finally agree on. 🙂

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