The City of Little Falls was named for the largest natural waterfall on the Mississippi River above St. Anthony Falls. Early settlers understood the importance of the site in generating power for industry. The first Little Falls dam was built in 1848-49 by several co-partners, including James Green; Henry Rice (Rice Park in St. Paul is named for him); John Irvine (also has a park in the Cities); J.B.S. Todd (Todd County named for him); and N.J.T.Dana. Todd and Dana were responsible for building Old Fort Ripley, which is now within the borders of Camp Ripley. The dam and attendant sawmill were needed to create building materials for Fort Ripley.
The first dam washed out and a second was put in. The second one broke in 1859, was repaired and broke again. It was left in disrepair because of the economic depression of the 1860s. In the 1880s, M. M. Williams, a railroad man, saw the waterfall area and the potential for producing power for industry. He encouraged a group of Kentucky businessmen to invest in a new dam, which was built in 1887-1888. By 1890, business was booming around the dam.
Hennepin Paper Mill, which has a direct connection to a business operated near St. Anthony Falls just outside the Mill City Museum, opened as a pulp mill, supplying paper for newspapers all over the state. Pine Tree Lumber Company started in 1890 in Little Falls due to the new dam. The company was operated by Charles Weyerhaeuser and Richard Drew Musser. The Weyerhaeuser and Musser families have been huge supporters of nonprofit, social organizations, such as MHS and Minnesota Public Radio. These two businesses alone caused a major boom in population in Morrison County. Doubled the population of Little Falls in 5 years. The mills employed hundreds of people. The Pine Tree Lumber Company also employed lumberjacks in the northern pine forests and river rats for the boomage operations on the Mississippi River and her tributaries.
The dam affected the flow of the river, allowing it to become wider and deeper above the spillway. The dam currently at the waterfall site is the fourth one, constructed in the 1920s, I think, and it still supplies power.