This Minneapolis landmark once held the largest timepiece in world

It’s hard to miss the distinctive clock tower on the historic City Hall and County Courthouse in downtown Minneapolis. When the clock was added in 1916, it was heralded as the largest public timepiece in the world (yes, bigger than London’s Big Ben)!

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Groundbreaking for the building itself took place in 1889 and construction didn’t officially end until 1909. This Richardsonian Romanesque building (same style as the James J. Hill House in St. Paul) has always fascinated me but I never visited it until last week, when our granddaughter’s class sang in the rotunda… I was thrilled at the excuse for the visit!

A researcher at heart, I was delighted to learn that…

  • The clock tower was the tallest structure in the city until the Foshay Tower was completed in 1929
  • Granite for the building was hauled by cart and horse from Ortonville, MN, over 160 miles away, with many blocks of granite weighing more than 20 tons!
  • Architecture firm of Long and Kees won a design competition and modeled their design after the Allegheny County Courthouse in Pittsburgh, built by Henry Hobson Richardson
  • The distinctive green roof is not original; the original roof was slate tiles, which started leaking and occasionally fell to the street below causing a safety hazard; a copper roof was installed over the original roof in 1950, which has since acquired its green patina

When originally built, there were row houses across the street, which emphasized the massive size of this building which takes up an entire city block. Now there is a light rail metro stop at the site, with a large plaza across the street at the Hennepin County Government Center.

City hall composite1

At the entrance on the side of the building opposite the light rail (4th Street, under the clock tower) is a stunning 4-story atrium. The space is beautiful, but what really surprised me was the massive statue of MISSISSIPPI, Father of Waters, which dominates the rotunda. It reminded me of Italy’s famous fountains, which totally dominate their plazas. It made sense when I learned that sculptor Larkin Goldsmith, although American, was living in Florence, Italy at the time he created it. This sculpture was donated in 1904 and was said to have been sculpted from the largest piece of marble taken from the famous Italian Carrara quarries. MISSISSIPPI weighs over 14,000 pounds!

Unlike most buildings in downtown Minneapolis, this building is not accessible via skyway… thank goodness!  Instead, they built underground tunnels to connect to the Hennepin County Government Center… where you can connect to the skyway. I love the view of the government center as you enter the tunnel… and the view of historic city hall from skyway level in the US Bank building.

City hall composite3

Contact us to check out downtown Minneapolis condos for sale to take advantage of the light rail, skyway system, the river, public spaces, and the city vibe.

Sharlene Hensrud, RE/MAX Results – Minneapolis Realtor

The team at HomesMSP – Sharlene, John, Angela


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I love what I do! Highly insightful, analytical and creative, there is nothing I love more than helping you find the right solution for your real estate transition. My mission is to serve my clients with honesty and integrity, exceeding their expectations in service and support… and to help others by donating a portion of every transaction to Habitat for Humanity.

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