Mississippi River Aitkin County Survey Pilot Project

Project Details by Fiscal Year
2011 Fiscal Year Funding Amount
Fund Source
Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund
Maritime Heritage Minnesota
Start Date
July 2010
End Date
November 2010
Activity Type
Counties Affected
Project Overview

Maritime Heritage Minnesota completed a side and down imaging sonar survey of 104 miles of the Mississippi River in Aitkin County, as well as a small portion of Itasca County when the river meandered across the county line, in August 2010.

Upon the completion of the field portion of the survey Maritime Heritage Minnesota reviewed all 31 hours, 50 minutes of recorded data to determine which of the anomalies warrant further investigation - 40 - and to designate three new maritime archaeological sites (these sites are above and below the water and can therefore be designated as sites without diving on them first). Screen caps of the 40 anomalies, the three new archaeological sites, and the known steamboat wreck sites of the Andy Gibson and Swan in Aitkin were taken. The screen caps have been incorporated into a larger report that contains the vital statistics for each anomaly or site (possible site type, location, approximate size, and water depth as of August 2010).

This portion of the Mississippi River saw an abundance of waterborne commercial traffic between 1870 and 1921, with thirteen different steamboats plying this winding transportation route, with 1-3 boats working at any given time. Of these steamers, two of them are known steamboat wrecks near the City of Aitkin, the Andy Gibson and Swan - the only two known Mississippi River wrecks known within the borders of the State of Minnesota. Local historical lore indicated that there is a possibility that the nautical archaeological remains of at least five more steamers - City of Aitkin/George H. Houghton, Lee, Walter Taylor, Irene 2, and Fawn - are located in this stretch of the river.

Also on the river during this historical time period were wannagans (unpowered houseboats used as bunk houses for steamer crews), flatboat ferries used for river crossings, and small private craft. All of these forms of transportation required infrastructure in order to operate efficiently, and numerous landings, piers, and docks were constructed to serve these vessels.

Project Details
To conduct an underwater archaeological imaging sonar survey of the Mississippi River in Aitkin County to locate and identify submerged cultural resources.
Legal Citation / Subdivision
LAWS of MINNESOTA for 2009 Ch. 172, Art. 1, Subd. 4 (b), Statewide Historic and Cultural Grants
Appropriation Language

(b) Statewide Historic and Cultural Grants. (i) $2,250,000 in 2010 and $4,500,000 in 2011 are appropriated for history programs and projects operated or conducted by or through local, county, regional or other historical or cultural organizations; or for activities to preserve significant historic and cultural resources. Funds are to be distributed through a competitive grants process. The Minnesota Historical Society shall administer these funds using established grants mechanisms, and with assistance from the advisory committee created herein.

2011 Fiscal Year Funding Amount
Other Funds Leveraged
Project Manager
First Name
Last Name
Street Address
1214 Saint Paul Ave.
St. Paul
Zip Code
Administered By
Administered by

345 W. Kellogg Blvd.
St. Paul, MN 55155