A number of questions I’ve posed on Ask Little Falls are attempts to determine how we define our town. Is there some identity Little Falls can adopt that people can get behind? An identity that creates community pride and draws new people in?
One slogan that’s been used in the past is “A Place to Call Home.” Because so many places can be called home, this isn’t particularly distinctive. And it’s also not true in terms of the numbers of young people who leave and never return.
“Where the Mississippi Pauses” is another slogan that has been used. This is a lot more accurate in terms of the town’s history. Little Falls is so named because we used to have a water fall here. Our falls was small in comparison to St. Anthony Falls on the river at Minneapolis. It was the Little Falls that brought industry to the community because the falls could be harnessed to provide water power. The first dam was constructed in 1849 to power a sawmill, which was used to supply Old Fort Ripley with building materials. The third dam, built in 1887/88, was the one that led to massive growth in Little Falls, both in terms of industry and population. Pine Tree Lumber Company, Hennepin Paper, and numerous other manufacturing businesses moved to the city to take advantage of the power from the new dam. The population of the city doubled between 1890 and 1895, going from 2,354 to 5,116 in that time.
So, then, is Little Falls a manufacturing town? Is this an identity we can hang our hats on?
Probably not anymore. After Pine Tree Lumber Company ceased operations in 1920, Little Falls continued to be strong in manufacturing, particularly with the boat works in town. Hennepin Paper remained a viable operation until the 1990s. While Larson Boats continues on, many of the large manufacturers have folded or left. Manufacturing isn’t as strong as it used to be.
We have a lot of farms in Morrison County. Could Little Falls be an agricultural town?
To a certain extent, we’re still known as a farming community, however, Little Falls has been swept up in larger societal trends, wherein there are fewer farmers managing larger industrial farming operations. It hasn’t paid for lots of people to remain in the business of farming. The Little Pig Market is long gone, although there are regular Farmers’ Markets. There has also been a revival in cooperative agricultural efforts with community gardens in town.
Could Little Falls be a tourist town? Perhaps. For the city’s population base, we have a lot of tourist attractions, plus we’re close to a number of recreational opportunities. Little Falls is attractive and has an interesting history, so tourism feels like a natural fit. The problem with depending on tourism for the town’s identity is that this industry tends to provide service sector jobs that don’t pay well. It’s not great for building a strong, stable economy.
What sort of identity would you ascribe to Little Falls? Do any of the aforementioned identities still fit? Does the town have a different identity? What could or should it be?