Minneapolis–Saint Paul is a metropolitan area built around the Mississippi, Minnesota and St. Croix rivers. The area is commonly known as the Twin Cities or The Cities for its two largest cities, Minneapolis and Saint Paul, being the city with the highest population and state capital of Minnesota respectively, along with the surrounding suburbs. It is a classic example of twin cities in the sense of geographical proximity.
There are many different definitions of the region, many refer to the Twin Cities as the seven-county region which is governed under the Metropolitan Council planning organization. The United States Office of Management and Budget officially designates 16 counties as the Minneapolis-St. Paul–Bloomington MN-WI Metropolitan Statistical Area the 16th largest in the United States. The entire region known as the Minneapolis-St. Paul MN-WI Combined Statistical Area, has a population of 3,797,883 the 14th largest, according to 2013 Census estimates.
Despite the Twin moniker, the two cities are independent municipalities with defined borders and are quite distinct from each other. Minneapolis is somewhat younger with modern skyscrapers, while Saint Paul has been likened to a European city with quaint neighborhoods and a vast collection of well preserved late-Victorian architecture.
Minneapolis was influenced by its early Scandinavian and Lutheran heritage and hosts the largest Somali population in North America. St. Paul was influenced by its early French, Irish and German Catholic roots and currently hosts a thriving Hmong population.
The first European settlement in the region was near what is now known as the town of Stillwater, Minnesota. The city is approximately from downtown Saint Paul and lies on the western bank of the St. Croix River, which forms the border of central Minnesota and Wisconsin. Another settlement that began fueling early interest in the area was the outpost at Fort Snelling, which was constructed from 1820 to 1825 at the confluence of the Minnesota River and the Mississippi River.
Fort Snelling held jurisdiction over the land south of Saint Anthony Falls, thus a town known as Saint Anthony grew just north of the river. For several years, the only European resident to live on the south bank of the river was Colonel John H. Stevens, who operated a ferry service across the river. As soon as the land area controlled by Fort Snelling was reduced, new settlers began flocking across to the new village of Minneapolis. The town grew quickly, and Minneapolis and Saint Anthony eventually merged. On the eastern side of the Mississippi, a few villages such as Pig's Eye and Lambert's Landing developed and would soon grow to become Saint Paul.
The oldest farms in the state are located in Washington County, the eastern most county on the Minnesota side of the metropolitan area. Joseph Haskell was Minnesota's first farmer, harvesting the first crops in the state in 1840 on what is now part of Afton Township on Trading Post Trail.
At one time, the region also had numerous passenger rail services, including both interurban streetcar systems and interstate rail. Due to the width of the river at points further south, the Minneapolis–Saint Paul area was briefly one of the few places where the Mississippi could be crossed by railroad. A great amount of commercial rail traffic also ran through the area, often carrying grain to be processed at mills in Minneapolis or delivering other goods to Saint Paul to be transported along the Mississippi. Saint Paul had long been at the head of navigation on the river, prior to a new lock and dam facility being added upriver in Minneapolis.
Passenger travel hit its peak in 1888 with nearly eight million traversing to and from the Saint Paul Union Depot. This amounted to approximately 150 trains daily. Before long, other rail crossings were built farther south and travel through the region began to decline. In an effort by the rail companies to combat the rise of the automobile, some of the earliest streamliners ran from Chicago to Minneapolis/Saint Paul and eventually served distant points in the Pacific Northwest. Today, the only vestige of this interstate service comes by Amtrak's Empire Builder train, running once daily in each direction. It is the railroad's busiest long-distance train and is named after James J. Hill, a railroad tycoon who settled on Summit Avenue in Saint Paul at what is now known as the James J. Hill House.
Like many Northern cities that grew up with the Industrial Revolution, Minneapolis and St. Paul experienced shifts in their economic base as heavy industry declined, especially in the 1960s and 1970s. Along with the economic decline of the 60s and 70s came population decline in the central city areas, white flight to suburbs, and, in the summer of 1967, race riots on Minneapolis's North Side. By the 1980s and 1990s, however, Minneapolis and St. Paul were frequently cited as former Rust Belt cities that had made successful transitions to service, high-technology, finance, and information economies.