The UHT site was part of the large area that was taken from the Dakota people by the U.S. Government through the 1851 treaties at Traverse des Sioux and Mendota. A Native American Context Statement and Reconnaissance Level Survey Supplement report was completed in 2016 for the City. This study indicated that a Native American trail along the River went through or past the UHT site; no other known site connections to Native American history were highlighted in the report.
Uses prior to development of the site as a barge terminal included lumber yards and mills and, later, commercial gardens. The portion of the site between Washington Avenue and I-94 had included some homes and small commercial/industrial structures before being acquired and cleared by the Minnesota Department of Transportation for construction of I-94. The cleared parcels subsequently were conveyed to the City as excess highway right-of-way and added to the UHT site.
Between 1968 and 1987, the Upper Harbor Terminal site was developed as an inter-modal barge shipping terminal located at almost the head of commercial navigation on the Mississippi River. The barge terminal remained in operation until the end of 2014 when barging ceased due to the planned closure of the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock in spring of 2015. The site operation then shifted to interim use to store commodities that are trucked to and from the site.
A historical survey that was completed in 2007 determined that the UHT site is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places as part of a much larger potential historic district that encompasses the larger Upper Mississippi Harbor all the way down to the central riverfront. The terminal also is eligible for listing as a local Minneapolis landmark. A subsequent 2017 study found that the UHT site alone (i.e., not part of a much larger district) is not eligible for National Register designation, but is eligible for local designation.
The site’s historic significance relates not to its architectural beauty or significance (although its concrete storage domes are architecturally and structurally unique), but to the role the site played relative to the City of Minneapolis’ decades-long effort to have two new river locks built that would make Minneapolis, not St. Paul, the head of navigation on the Mississippi River.
Additional research into the site's history will help inform historic interpretation on the site.