The Mississippi River has been used as a great resource for a variety of reasons whether it be for wildlife, transportation, recreation and power production. One of the major materials that became a huge production in Minneapolis was flour. It started really growing in the 1860’s growing from 30,000 barrels produced to 256,000 barrels produced annually. There were two big mill companies that stood above all the others on both sides of the Mississippi River. The Washburn A Mill built in 1866 on the West side of the river and just across from it was the Pillsbury A Mill built in 1880 on the East side.

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St. Anthony Falls and Milling District in 1900

Overall there were around 20 different milling companies including Pillsbury and Washburn that made up the milling district along the Mississippi in Minneapolis. Eventually by 1884 Minneapolis alone led the world in flour production reaching a peak production in 1915 at 20,443,000 barrels annually. One of the main reasons this was possible was due to the Mississippi River and Saint Anthony Falls.

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Minneapolis skyline now with Saint Anthony Falls and Mississippi River

Flour mills used the river as a key resource for creating power in their mills. The mills would tunnel water from above Saint Anthony Falls into their mills. This tunneling or waterways were often called the headrace or millrace. From there the water would drop to hit a turbine or wheel of some sort causing that mechanism to turn creating power. The power would be used to operate various mechanisms within the mill helping create the flour. The water would flow out through the tailrace, a tunnel or waterway that exits the flour mill, flowing into the river downstream from the falls. This would return the water gradually into its natural flow with little to no disruption of the river.

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Water would fill these tunnels to the bottom of the archway

The two major flour mills that were mentioned previously, Washburn A Mill and Pillsbury A Mill, are both no longer in production of creating flour. Instead they are being conserved, restored, and used for a multitude of purposes. The Washburn A Mill is now called the Mill City Museum, which is built inside the old ruins of the mill. Here you can learn all about the flour mills when they were in operation.

 

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Old Washburn Mill & New Mill City Museum

The Pillsbury A Mill has recently been converted to studios and apartments for people with a passion for the arts. There is a dance studio, multiple paint studios, pottery studio and more. They have kept the outer structure and many parts of the factory and left them within the building or integrated the parts into the new complex.

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They now use the tunnels for hydropower electricity through piping the water in and out of the tunnels. This site will eventually be open to the public for historical tours just like the Mill City Museum.

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CVA’S Regan & Melissa in Pillsbury A Mill Tunnel

Go out explore and help conserve our nations historical sites and historical monuments, as well as nature, and see what new things you can learn!

Published by Regan Baker