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Vol. 48, No. 1-2                                1989



Scott F. Anfinson
Minnesota Historical Society

© 1989 Minnesota Archaeological Society


Table of Contents
Historical Background
Archaeological Site Inventory

- Bassett's Creek
- Gateway
- West Side Mill District
- Gasworks Bluff
- Brewery Flats
- Milwaukee Road
- Boom Island
- Hennepin-Central
- Nicollet Island
- East Side Mill District
- Interbank

Historical Figures and Photographs  (big thumbnails)   (medium)   (small)
References Cited
Chronology Chart

Archaeological Site Inventory
Brewery Flats

At 20th Avenue South, the Mississippi River makes a 90 degree change of course and begins to once again flow south after an eastern traverse of the Falls of St. Anthony (Figure 29). This bend in the river is lined by 80 foot cliffs of limestone and sandstone forming a relatively narrow gorge that characterizes the valley throughout its length in south Minneapolis. Along the base of the cliffs on the west bank of the bend is a broad terrace that narrows below the bend. At the time of white settlement, this terrace was covered with a dense growth of aspen, birch, elm, and oak.

Because the river above this terrace was a rock-strewn rapids caused by the retreat of St. Anthony Falls, the river flats were the northernmost head of navigation on the Mississippi, although only shallow draft steamboats could reach the area in times of high water. The southern half of the terrace was reserved as a municipal levee early in the city's history. The northern half was initially owned by several influential citizens, but was left undeveloped due to frequent spring flooding.

In the 1860s a few, frame shanties began to appear on the northern half of the terrace, interspersed among the trees. About the same time, the Kranzlein and Mueller Brewery (later Heinrich) was built into the bluff at the southern end of the flats. Limestone quarries eroded the bluff face westward and the quarrying debris spilled out onto the lower terrace enlarging an intermediate terrace at the base of the bluff along the north half.

By the mid-1880s the northern flats were covered with small frame dwellings built by poor emigrants mainly of eastern European heritage. The area became known as the Bohemian Flats. Many of the flats residents worked at the Heinrich Brewery at the south end or the Noerenberg Brewery (1870) at the north end of the flats. Others worked in the sawmills and flour mills farther upstream. The St. Paul and Pacific Railroad bridge (1887) and the original Washington Avenue bridge (1884) went over the flats with houses directly beneath.

In 1891 the Noerenberg and Heinrich breweries joined two other Minneapolis breweries to found the Minneapolis Brewing and Malting Company and built the Grain Belt Brewery in northeast Minneapolis. By the turn of the century the two river flats breweries were largely abandoned and were soon torn down.

After the turn of the century the city also had a renewed interest in establishing a river terminal that could be used throughout the year, not just in times of high water. Eviction notices were issued to some Bohemian Flats residents in 1915 in anticipation of the completion of Lock and Dam No. 1 in 1917. By the early 1930s the small houses on the lower terrace were gone, being replaced by a barge terminal and coal storage yard. The houses on the intermediate terrace were removed shortly after.

Railroad spurs soon crisscrossed the flats, and in the late 1940s large oil storage tanks were built along the base of the bluff behind the municipal levee. The tanks were removed in the early 1980s. Today, the flats are part of the most recently constructed portion of the West River Parkway.

    BF-1. City/Noerenberg Brewery (1870-1903/1910)

In 1870 Anton Zahler built the City Brewery into the bluff at the intersection of Bluff Street and 20th Avenue South. On the upper terrace was the frame and stone brewery complex with an attached frame dwelling and the intermediate terrace had a stone and frame bottling building (Figure 30). An illustration of the original City Brewery appears in the 1874 Andreas Atlas (Figure 31).

In 1875 August Noerenberg joined Zahler and in 1880 August's brother Frederick Noerenberg became sole owner of the brewery. A large, stone malt house was built southeast of the original brewery in 1885. It was seven stories high, 90 x 50 feet. A one story, brick boiler/engine house was added on the northwest corner of the malt house in 1886. By 1890 the brewery complex consisted on the multiple attached buildings of the main brewery, the malt house with the adjoining boiler/engine house, a small pitch house, a beer bottling building on the middle terrace, and a barn complex on the other side of 21st Avenue South across from the brewery.

In 1891 Noerenberg joined his City Brewery and his north Minneapolis Germania Brewery with Orth's Brewery and Heinrich's Minneapolis Brewery to form the Minneapolis Brewing and Malting Company. This company built the Grain Belt Brewery in northeast Minneapolis in 1892. The brewing operations of the City Brewery were moved to the new facility, although the malt house continued to operate as Minneapolis Brewing Company Branch Three. In 1903 the City Brewery, excepting the malt house, was torn down. The malt house was torn down about 1910 and by 1912 a stone quarry had removed most of the site.

Much of the site has probably been destroyed by the quarry or by recent housing construction, although some lower terrace foundations and artifact scatters may remain. Cooling caves are also probably present in the sandstone bluff.

References: Andreas (1874:78); Warner et al. (1881:421,605); Sanborn (1885, 1885/90, 1912); Rascher (1892, 1892/1906); Minneapolis Real Estate Atlas (1903); Minneapolis Industrial Exposition Handbook (1886:104); Writers' Program of the WPA (1986:22-23); Rich (1903:514); Bull et al. (1984:143).

    BF-2. Bohemian Flats (ca. 1865-1931)

By the mid-1860s cheap land in central Minneapolis was scarce. New immigrants with little money were forced to settle where they could on what long-time residents considered undesirable land. The river flats below the Falls on both sides of the river were such a location due to the spring flooding that often inundated much of the area. The owners of this property tolerated squatters on the flats as they were a ready source of labor for the nearby factories.

By 1885 the west side flats were covered with small, frame dwellings from the foot of 2 1/2 Street South to the foot of 20th Avenue South. The settlement became known as Bohemian Flats due to the predominance of people of eastern European extraction, although the earliest settlers there were of Scandinavian heritage and in early settlement times the area was called Danish Flats. Bohemian Flats was largely on the lower terrace, but some houses were also perched along the narrow intermediate terrace. These upper houses were much in demand because they escaped the spring flooding.

Many of the early settlers of the flats had to transport soil to their small lots for gardens since broken rock from nearby quarries littered the area. Picket fences surrounded many of the lots and by 1892 formal streets had appeared (Figure 32) which were named Wood, Cooper, and Mill reflecting the occupations of many of the residents. The men also worked in the breweries at either end of the flats, while some men, women, and children made a living gathering wood that floated down the river having escaped from the sawmills. Local artists also favored the flats as a place to live.

All of the houses on the lower levee were single story frame structures with no basements. Photographs clearly show water marks a third of the way up the faded whitewashed walls attesting to the spring floods which the residents came to expect and stoically accept. A church was even built on the lower flats just south of the St. Paul and Pacific Railroad bridge. Initially, several wells supplied water to the residents, but a typhoid epidemic at the turn of the century forced the city to extend watermains to the area.

In 1915 the city of Minneapolis started condemnation proceedings against some flats owners in anticipation of completion of the "High Dam" (Lock and Dam No.1) which would bring regular traffic upriver. There was little movement from the flats, however, until the early 1930s when the city wanted to increase its barge terminal facilities. In 1931 all of the lower terrace residents were evicted, leaving only 14 houses along the intermediate terrace. These, too, were soon torn down. A coal barge terminal and storage yard were built on the lower flats. Prior to construction of the West River Parkway, the northernmost portion of the flats was used for parking or to store dredge spoil, while the southernmost portion was largely abandoned.

Archaeolgical testing in 1983 failed to find any features or artifacts that could be directly associated with Bohemian Flats. Only limited testing was undertaken, however, due to the presence of a thick concrete pad that covered most of the site. Most of the area is still undeveloped, although the West River Parkway segment at the south edge of the site was completed in 1990.

References: Writer's Program WPA (1986); Bromley (1890:125); Stevens (1890:161,204); Sanborn (1885, 1912); Wood (1984); Tordoff (1984).

    BF-3. Municipal Levee (1821-1974)

The limestone strewn river below the Falls of St. Anthony usually prohibited steamboat traffic so when the soldiers from Fort Snelling built the first mills at the Falls in the early 1820s, they were forced to travel overland or take shallow draft boats to the flats below the Falls. In 1847 a ferry was established by William Cheever which ran from the foot of Essex Street on the east bank to the foot of 3rd Street South on the west bank. The ferry was taken over by Edward Murphy in 1853. A ferry ran there until 1889 when the Franklin Avenue bridge was finished.

The east side flats became the initial public landing known as Cheever's Landing while the west side was Government Landing since it was part of the Fort Snelling Military Reservation until 1852. Edward Murphy claimed the west side after it was opened to settlement, reserving the old Government Landing from the foot of 2 1/2 Street South to the foot of 4th Street South for a public steamboat landing (Figure 33). It was initially known as Murphy's Landing.

The first steamboat to reach the area was the Anthony Wayne in 1851. The first attempt at improving the navigation in the vicinity of the river flats was in 1852 when John Rollings was hired to blast out large rocks in the channel. In 1855 a local company built a steamboat called the Falls City which made its first trip to the flats landing that same year. Two years later, Captain John Reno introduced four more steamboats to the river south of Minneapolis. Fifty-two steamboats landed below the Falls in 1857.

That was the peak year, however, and the financial panic of 1857 and the Civil War virtually ended steamboat traffic to the flats. After the war, emphasis was placed on railroad construction and it was not until 1870 that a large steamboat again docked at the Minneapolis municipal levee. A small frame warehouse was built at the edge of the levee in 1870. Traffic soon slumped again due to numerous obstructions in the channel and low water. In the late nineteenth century, only small steamers made the hazardous trip.

In the early twentieth century there was renewed interest in river navigation to the foot of the Falls. A plan for a lock and dam near Meeker Island just north of the Lake Street bridge originally suggested in the 1860s was once again proposed. The Meeker Island Lock and Dam was largely completed in 1909, but a new "High Dam" (Lock and Dam No. 1) was then built in 1917 inundating the Meeker Island structure. (The top of the Meeker Island lock can still be seen on the east side of the river north of the Lake Street Bridge.)

The city built a concrete retaining wall at the Municipal Levee and dredged the river in 1915 anticipating greatly increased river traffic. In 1916 the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railroad built a spur to the levee. World War I then interrupted plans for a large terminal at the municipal levee and only a small, stone warehouse was constructed at the edge of the concrete river wall.

Finally, in 1931 the city evicted the residents of Bohemian Flats just north of the municipal levee and built a coal barge facility. In 1935 a brick terminal building was built at the northern end of the municipal levee with an adjoining railroad yard. A concrete grain loading facility was constructed near the southern end of the levee by Archer, Daniels, Midland Company. Four large oil storage tanks were also built behind the levee in the late 1940s.

With the completion of the Lower Lock and Dam in 1956 and the Upper Lock and Dam in 1963, the old municipal levee was no longer the head of navigation. The facility was abandoned in the mid-1970s and a small park constructed at the north end. The oil storage tanks were dismantled. The site is now part of the West River Parkway.

References: Sanborn (1912, 1912/27, 1912/48); Rascher (1892/1906); Bromley (1890:32, 146-147); Shutter (1923:96); Stevens (1890:161,204,211,239); Smith (1838); Brunson (1848); NW Miller (7/4/17); Minneapolis Magazine (1-1:3-7); Minneapolis Journal (1/20/24); Atwater (1893:34,779); Kane (1987:92-97,174-175).

    BF-4. Minneapolis/Heinrich Brewery (1866-1903)

The Minneapolis Brewery was built by J.G. Kranzlein and J.B. Mueller in 1866. It was at the foot of 4th Street South built into the bluff (Figures 30 and 34). The original structure was built of stone and was 40 feet x 60 feet. It had a storage capacity of 2,800 barrels. In 1869 Kranzlein took over sole ownership, but he sold the brewery to Mueller and J. Heinrich in 1873. In 1875 a stone, 30 foot x 40 foot, two and one-half story brewing house was added and in 1876 a brick 30 foot x 40 foot three-story boiler house was built along with a malt house, a malt kiln, and three ice houses. A boiler house was added in 1880.

Heinrich became the sole owner of the Minneapolis Brewery in 1884 and proceeded to rebuild much of the complex. The original brewery and several of the additions were torn down in 1885 and a large, four-story, stone brewing and malting house was built. By 1885 the complex contained numerous outbuildings on the lower terrace including warehouses, barns, and a brick dwelling for the head brewer. Several more sheds were built by 1890 and an extensive system of caves for cooling beer were excavated into the bluff.

In 1891 Heinrich formed a partnership with Frederick Noerenberg and John Orth to start the Minneapolis Brewing and Malting Company. The firm built the Grain Belt Brewery in 1892 and the operations of the Minneapolis Brewery were soon suspended, although the malthouse continued to be used until the turn of the century. The complex was known as Minneapolis Brewery and Malting Branch 2. It was torn down in December of 1903.

Archaeological excavations in 1983 and 1989 uncovered extensive remains of the brewery. Most of the site is still preserved in parkland, although the eastern part of the site is now buried beneath the West River Parkway.

References: Stoner (1879); Warner et al. (1881:421,599); Sanborn (1885, 1885/90); Rich 1903:514); Atwater (1893:671); Minneapolis Journal (12;17;03); Minneapolis Industrial Exposition Handbook (1886:111); Bull et al. (1984:142); Tordoff (1984); Szondy and Clouse (1990).

Vol. 48, No. 1-2  © 1989 The Minnesota Archaeological Society

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