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Mill City Museum

Mill City Museum
Established 2003
Location 704 South 2nd Street
Minneapolis, USA

44°58′46″N 93°15′26″W / 44.97938°N 93.25711°W / 44.97938; -93.25711

Type History Museum
Director Laura Salveson
Public transit access Bus: 3, 7, 16, 22, 50, 55, 94, Hiawatha Line

Washburn A Mill Complex
The Washburn A Mill complex in Minneapolis. The blue structure jutting out beyond the grain elevators is the skybridge from the new Guthrie Theater. The two buildings on the right are historic buildings that have been retrofitted for residential use.
Location 1st St., S. at Portland Ave.
Built 1879
Governing body Minnesota Historical Society
Part of Saint Anthony Falls Historic District (#71000438)
NRHP Reference # 83004388
Significant dates
Added to NRHP May 4, 1983[1]
Designated NHL May 4, 1983[2]

Mill City Museum is a Minnesota Historical Society museum in Minneapolis. It opened in 2003, built in the ruins of the Washburn "A" Mill next to Mill Ruins Park on the banks of the Mississippi River. The museum focuses on the founding and growth of Minneapolis, especially flour milling and the other industries that used water power from Saint Anthony Falls.

The mill complex, dating from the 1870s, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is part of the St. Anthony Falls Historic District and within the National Park Service's Mississippi National River and Recreation Area.


The museum features exhibits about the history of Minneapolis, flour milling machinery, a water lab and a baking lab. The centerpiece of the exhibit is the multistory Flour Tower, where visitors sit in the cab of a freight elevator and are taken to different floors of the building, each designed to look like a floor in a working flour mill. Voices of people who worked in the Washburn A Mill are heard throughout the show. Visitors exit on the 8th floor, where extant equipment is interpreted by staff, and are then lead to the ninth-floor observation deck to view St. Anthony Falls.

The Gold Medal Flour sign still shines at night atop the adjoining grain elevator. Across the river, the former competitor Pillsbury A Mill is topped with a sign reading "Pillsbury's Best Flour."

Local Artists

The work of local artists is featured throughout the building. Pieces by Joann Verburg, Tom Maakestad, Kim Lawler, Kathleen Richert, Paul Wrench and Becky Schurmann include murals, an art glass collage, a 15' Bisquick box, and sculpture.

Mill City Live

Mill City Museum began an outdoor concert series named "Mill City Live" in the summer of 2004. The concerts are held in the museum's Ruin courtyard and feature Twin Cities bands of various genres. "Mill City Live" was originally held on the first and third Thursdays of June, July, August, and September, but in 2009 and 2010 concerts were held every Thursday in July and August.

Washburn A Mill

The first Washburn A Mill, built by C. C. Washburn in 1874, was declared the largest flour mill in the world upon its completion, and contributed to the development of Minneapolis. On May 2, 1878, a spark ignited airborne flour dust within the mill, creating an explosion that demolished the Washburn A and killed 14 workers instantly. The ensuing fire resulted in the deaths of four more people, destroyed five other mills, and reduced Minneapolis’s milling capacity by one third. Known as the Great Mill Disaster, the explosion made national news and served as a focal point that led to reforms in the milling industry. In order to prevent the buildup of combustible flour dust, ventilation systems and other precautionary devices were installed in mills throughout the country.

By 1880, a new Washburn A Mill, designed by Austrian engineer William de la Barre, opened as the largest flour mill in the world, a designation it retained until the Pillsbury A Mill opened across the river in 1881. At the peak of the Washburn A Mill's production, it could grind over 100 boxcars of wheat into almost 2,000,000 pounds of flour per day. An ad from the 1870s advertised, "Forty-one Runs of Stone. Capacity, 1,200 Barrels per Day. This is the largest and most complete Mill in the United States, and has not its equal in quantity and quality of machinery for making high and uniform grades of Family Flour in this country." Advertising hyperbole aside, the mill, along with the Pillsbury A Mill and other flour mills powered by St. Anthony Falls, contributed greatly to Minneapolis's development.[3]

Washburn later teamed up with John Crosby to form the Washburn-Crosby Company, which later became General Mills.[4]

After World War I, flour production in Minneapolis began to decline as flour milling technology no longer depended on water power. Other cities, such as Buffalo, New York became more prominent in the milling industry. Later on in the mill's lifetime, General Mills started putting more emphasis on producing cereals and baking mixes and shifted away from flour milling. The mill was shut down in 1965, along with eight other of the oldest mills operated by General Mills, and left in disuse.

In 1991, a fire nearly destroyed the old mill, but during the late 1990s, the city of Minneapolis, through the Minneapolis Community Development Agency, worked to stabilize the mill ruins. After the city had cleaned up the rubble and fortified the mill's charred walls, the Minnesota Historical Society announced plans to construct a milling museum and education center within the ruins. Construction on the museum began in March 2001. Designed by Tom Meyer, principal for the architectural firm Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle, the museum is a new building built with the ruin walls of the 1880 Washburn A Mill. Efforts were made to retain as much of the historic fabric of the building as was possible. Many features of the Washburn A Mill were left intact, including turbine pits, railroad tracks, a train shed and two engine houses.



External links

  • Mill City Museum Homepage
  • Mill City History Portal
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