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Vol. 49, No. 1-2                                1990



Scott F. Anfinson
Minnesota Historical Society

© 1989 Minnesota Archaeological Society

Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Archaeology In and Of the City
Chapter 2 Site Formation
Chapter 3 Survey, Excavation, and Monitoring: 1983-1990
Chapter 4 Interpretive Potentials
References Cited
Historical Figures and Photographs  (big thumbnails)   (medium)   (small)

Chapter 2 Site Formation

Prior to the industrial period, 10,000 years of human habitation in Minneapolis left only a relatively thin scatter of cultural debris. No large aboriginal sites have been recorded along the central Minneapolis riverfront and few aboriginal remains have been encountered during archaeological testing. While significant aboriginal archaeological sites may exist deeply buried beneath modern fill, any aboriginal sites are apparently relatively small and diffuse.

The creation and survival of archaeological sites along the central Minneapolis riverfront are largely factors of industrial-related developments during 100 years of intensive use dating from the mid-nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century. In order to assess the archaeological potentials of the central riverfront, it was necessary to not only predict where sites would be located (Anfinson 1989), but what kinds of archaeological features would be uncovered. In order to properly interpret the features and artifacts that were encountered, familiarity with historic materials and building techniques was required as well as familiarity with specialized aspects of the various industries and activities of the industrial riverfront.

The archaeological features of the central Minneapolis riverfront were principally produced and altered by sawmilling, flour milling, and railroading. During the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, the men who controlled these industries to a large degree controlled the economic and social life of the city. A number of other industries also flourished, among which were ironworking, brewing, and fiber processing.

The industrial development of the central riverfront was initially directly related to waterpower. No location east of Minneapolis except Niagara Falls offered the water volume and fall of the Mississippi River at St. Anthony Falls. The several square blocks adjacent to the west side power canal in Minneapolis at one time made up one of the most concentrated industrial areas in the world. At that time Minneapolis led the world in the production of flour and lumber.

The people who worked in these industries lived in a number of discrete neighborhoods along the central Minneapolis riverfront. These neighborhoods were initially interspersed between industries, commercial districts, and transportation facilities, but by the turn of the century residences were limited to peripheral areas. Today only the north Nicollet Island neighborhood survives.

The activities that produced the principal archaeological aspects of the central Minneapolis riverfront have been divided into five basic categories: industries, utilities, transportation, commercial, and residential. Most American archaeologists are most familiar with residential activities as they bear the closest relationship to the anthropological orientations that predominate traditional archaeological training and have the closest theoretical and methodological links to the aboriginal archaeology which most American archaeologists pursue. Thus most archaeologists lack not only the training to identify artifacts and features encountered during archaeological work in cities, but lack the theoretical background to deal with nineteenth century urban and industrial systems.

In order to better understand the processes resulting in the formation and alteration of the riverfront archaeological sites, this chapter presents overviews regarding the major activities that took place along the central riverfront in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Each activity can leave particular kinds of artifacts and features.



    Waterpower Development

The city of Minneapolis is where it is because of the waterpower potentials of St. Anthony Falls. When the American midwest was being settled in the early nineteenth century, steam power was in its infancy and hydroelectricity was a half-century in the future. The tremendous power of St. Anthony Falls was a magnet attracting settlers, entrepreneurs, and workers. By the mid-nineteenth century, the waterpower was being used to drive sawmills, flour mills, iron works, textile mills, and a multitude of miscellaneous industries.

The construction of the government sawmill in 1821 and the government grist mill in 1823 began the development of waterpowered industry at St. Anthony Falls. The government mills were built on the land immediately adjacent to the west end of the Falls at the foot of what is now 7th Avenue S. The sawmill was a frame structure, while the smaller gristmill had stone walls. These mills employed an inefficient technology utilizing a wooden sluiceway (flume) which supplied water to a waterwheel. Water was taken directly from the river above the Falls; no dam was used.

The actual type of waterwheel used in the government mills is poorly documented. The grist mill wheel has been described as a "flutter wheel" in the Northwestern Miller (8/22/1879). Flutter wheels were commonly used in sawmills of the early nineteenth century because the broad yet small diameter wheels did not require additional gearing to power to up and down saws. A breast or overshot wheel would have been more appropriate for the grist mill which required higher velocities, especially considering the considerable fall (head) that was available at St. Anthony Falls. Figure 2 shows possible waterpower and mill arrangements in the government mills.

The commercial harnessing of the waterpower at St. Anthony Falls began in 1848 with the construction of a dam across the east channel at the head of Hennepin Island. This created a shallow pocket in the river and resulting in a drop of six feet (Greenleaf 1887:165). Mills were then built directly over the dam on a platform. Waterwheels apparently supplied power to the mills on the dam. As in the case of the government sawmill, a flutter wheel was probably used prior to the introduction of turbines and rotary saws.

Most millwrights of the mid-nineteenth century were still relying on the instructions first published by Oliver Evans in 1795. Evans' book, The Young Mill-wrights and Millers Guide, went through 15 editions, the last one appearing in 1860. This was a guide to pre-turbine waterpower technology and fell out of vogue as turbines became more popular.

Turbines were first introduced into the United States in the 1840s (Frame 1977:34). During the 1850s and 1860s, many turbines were manufactured in the United States and they quickly replaced the inefficient and high maintenance waterwheels. The waterwheels on the government mills and at the first east side platform may have been the only ones ever used at St. Anthony Falls. All of these waterwheels were apparently fully enclosed and therefore do not appear in photographs.

In 1857 a "V-shaped" dam was built across the main channel, forcing the rivers flow to both banks. A year later, a sawmill platform was built over the west end of the main channel dam. The east side sawmill platform remained at the original east channel dam location off the southern end of Nicollet Island.

The waterpower development that was to play the most significant role in the success of the new city - the 1st Street Canal - was also started in 1857. The west side canal system was directly modeled after highly successful systems in use in the eastern United States at such cities as Lowell, Lawrence, and Holyoke. The construction of a canal allowed intensive mill development on either side of the canal. Within 15 years of the canal's construction, the west side had 13 flour mills, 3 textile mills, an ironworks, a sawmill, and a paper mill along the canal, while the east side, which lacked a canal, had only 2 flour mills, 4 iron works, a sawmill, and a paper mill. Both sides had extensive platform sawmills built over the waterfall.

The west side waterpower canal was continually improved from its initial construction in 1857 until its gradual abandonment in the mid-twentieth century. The system eventually consisted of a maze of tunnels and canals. Water entered the main canal at the rivers edge immediately above the dam (Figure 3). The flow was controlled by a massive masonry gate structure capped by a gatehouse. A small triangular area immediately downstream of the gatehouse was open, but after the canal intersected 1st Street, it was covered with a wooden deck. This deck extended for two blocks downstream along 1st Street parallel to the river; parts of the deck were eventually replaced with reinforced concrete. Above the deck south of 6th Avenue was a railroad trestle.

Along the canal near each mill, a headgate let water into a flume leading to vertically set turbine tubes (Figure 4). Mills not immediately on the canal were connected to the main canal through the use of smaller spur canals or tunnels (see Figure 3). Once inside the mills, the water fell down the draft tubes, turning the turbines, and then entered the tailrace system 40 to 50 feet below the street level. The tailrace system brought the water back to the river below the Falls.

Two attempts at expanding the waterpower system on the east side failed. The Chute Tunnel beneath Main Street encountered a large natural cave near the foot of 4th Avenue SE and was abandoned in 1864. The Eastman Tunnel to Nicollet Island collapsed in 1869, destroying the Summit Mill near the tunnel mouth on lower Hennepin Island and almost destroying St. Anthony Falls.

The waterpower at St. Anthony Falls was not only threatened by attempts to divert the waterflow, but by the constant battering of logs which escaped the booms. This hastened the natural process of their destruction since the limestone ledge disappeared near the southern end of Nicollet Island. In order to stop the upriver migration of the Falls, a wooden apron was built over the cataract in 1866. A year later, however, a flood washed the apron out. The V-shaped dam also exposed the riverbed above the Falls to frost action during low water in the winter which further accelerated the destruction of the limestone.

The 1869 Eastman Tunnel collapse had almost destroyed the waterfall and the break had only been temporarily plugged after a month-long struggle by both cities. Over the next several years, the Falls were saved by the Army Corps of Engineers by placing a permanent plug in the Eastman Tunnel, building a concrete dike beneath the limestone above the Falls to prevent undercutting, and constructing a new apron over the Falls.

The original east side platform sawmills just southeast of Nicollet Island burned in 1870. They were rebuilt downstream east of Hennepin Island over a new dam which became the east end of the main dam. This created a large millpond between upper Hennepin Island and the east bank (Figure 5). With the construction of the lower east channel dam, the St. Anthony Falls dam complex has the same basic configuration today as it did in 1870.

William Eastman succeeded in bringing waterpower to Nicollet Island in 1879 through the use of an overhead cable which was powered by turbine on the east side platform. A short canal was finally completed in 1880 on the east side supplying efficient waterpower to the Phoenix and Pillsbury A flour mills.

East side waterpower development was somewhat haphazard during the mid-nineteenth century. Each user was free to develop their own system. As the system existed in 1880, prior to the completion of the east side headrace tunnel, a series of turbine pits were centered around the east end of the main channel dam (Figure 5). Some of the turbine pits were embedded in the limestone shelf beneath the riverbed with a series of tailrace tunnels excavated below the limestone (Figure 6). Power was transferred to the various industries through the use of long line shafts or overhead wireropes. One line shaft extended 600 feet along Main Street to power a variety of industries between 1st and 2nd Avenues S. The large east side flour mills had individual headrace tunnels leading to turbine pits directly beneath the mills.

Besides the industrial growth on the two banks of the river, there was also extensive waterpower development on Hennepin Island. While this had been a center for initial east side development in the 1850s, after the Eastman Tunnel collapse in 1869, Hennepin Island's industrial activity waned. The principal industry on the island in the late nineteenth century was the Farnham and Lovejoy Sawmill. A long, narrow millpond extended along the west side of upper Hennepin Island formed by the shore of the island and a wing dam (Figure 5). A tailrace emptied into the main river channel. The turbines utilized 22 feet of head. The mill pond was replaced by a wasteway in 1897.

The waterpower on the west side was controlled by the Minneapolis Mill Company and, along with its counterpart of the east side, the St. Anthony Falls Water Power Company, maintained the main channel dam and apron. The maximum waterpower potential at the Falls was initially estimated at over 100,000 horsepower, but a more accurate assessment made by William De la Barre in the 1880s was 35,000 horsepower taking into account seasonal fluctuations. De la Barre managed the Minneapolis Mill Company in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries becoming one of the world's most prominent hydropower engineers.

Waterpower was leased to industrial users on the basis of millpowers with one millpower theoretically equaling 75 horsepower and limited to 16 hours of use per day. In the early days of industrial development at St. Anthony Falls, one millpower required an average of 30 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water. After De la Barre's improvements in the 1880s increasing the fall, or head, along the west side canal from 22 to 36 feet, only about 20 cfs was required per millpower. (Currently only 13.5 cfs is required on a maximum fall of almost 50 feet.)

Before the Mississippi headwaters reservoirs were built in the 1880s, only in April, May, and June would the flow of water to St. Anthony Falls average over 10,000 cfs while in January and February the flow would average 2,000 cfs. The construction of the reservoirs somewhat stabilized the warm-season flow, but flows of over 10,000 cfs still only occur consistently in the spring.

During the height of the direct-drive hydropower industries at the Falls in the late nineteenth century, a maximum of about 13,000 horsepower of hydropower was utilized, 10,000 on the west side and 3,000 on the east side. The sawmills built on the platforms over the Falls were the least efficient users of the water, having a head of less than 15 feet. De la Barre considered the maximum industrial potential of the Falls should use no more than 6,000 cfs of water, but it was difficult to measure and control the exact amount of water each plant used. During droughts, power shortages were common and priority was given on the basis of when millpowers were leased with the earliest leasees having first access to the available water supply.

There were constant efforts to improve the efficiency of waterpower at St. Anthony Falls. In 1885, the west side canal was widened and deepened and the tailraces lowered. The dam and apron were constantly being repaired and strengthened. In the 1890s, two large spillways were built on Hennepin Island in order to reduce the threat of destruction caused by high water. Despite these efforts, the waterpower was still susceptible to low water, ice, and jamming caused by lumber refuse, so most of the industries at St. Anthony Falls added auxiliary steampower in the late nineteenth century.

The west side platform mills were torn down in 1887 and a year later the east side platform mills burned. By the end of the decade, the Bassett Sawmill at the head of the canal was the only waterpowered sawmill on the west side and there was only one remaining sawmill on the east side. Flour mills continued to use waterpower into the mid-twentieth century, although steam and finally electricity became the principal motive forces.

By the late nineteenth century, the age of electricity was dawning in Minneapolis. One of the first hydropower generating plants in the nation was built in 1882 on Upton's Island just south of the platform sawmills. Although this early hydroelectric plant lasted only two years, it foreshadowed the ultimate waterpower development at the Falls. In the 1890s there was a major expansion of hydroelectric facilities. In 1895 Minneapolis General Electric built a hydroelectric facility at the foot of 3rd Avenue SE near Main Street. The Lower Dam and Hydropower Station were built just south of St. Anthony Falls in 1898. In 1908, a hydroelectric plant was built on lower Hennepin Island.

The start of construction on the Upper St. Anthony Lock and Dam in 1959 was the death blow to the old waterpowered mill district, shutting off waterpower to the canals on either side of the river. In 1960, the west side canal was filled-in and the gatehouse torn down. A cement bulkhead was placed at the entrance to the Pillsbury canal on the east side. With the collapse of the Lower Hydrostation in 1987, waterpower is currently used only at the Hennepin Island plant, although there are plans to rebuild the Lower Hydrostation.

The features and artifacts of waterpower facilities should include building foundations, dam foundations, headraces, tailraces, draft tubes, turbines, control gates, trash racks, penstocks/flumes, and power transfer assemblies (gears, line shafts, pulleys). Because most turbines were actually set in the bedrock beneath the mills, there is little doubt that extensive remains of the waterpower system still exist. Figure 7 shows the location of waterpower installations in the St. Anthony Falls vicinity.


In 1821 U.S. government soldiers built a small, frame sawmill on the west side of the Mississippi River near the brink of St. Anthony Falls. This sawmill provided lumber for the construction of Fort Snelling several miles downstream. Exactly one hundred years later, the last sawmill in Minneapolis shut down. In the intervening century, Minneapolis sawmills laid the economic foundations of the city. They provided hundreds of jobs for new settlers, produced the raw materials for building houses and factories, spawned a wide assortment of related wood product industries, and provided capital for the growth of flour milling and railroad construction.

Minneapolis was in an excellent geographic location to fulfill the immense timber demands of the booming Midwest in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The pineries of northern and eastern Minnesota were nearby and logs could easily be floated down the Mississippi and Rum rivers. The Falls of St. Anthony offered a power source of great potential for sawing and finishing the lumber. Once processed, the Mississippi River below the Falls provided an excellent transportation route to the rapidly growing cities downstream.

The efficient production of timber was initially dependent on several factors: effectively harnessing the waterpower at the Falls, the ability to catch and sort the logs floated down the river, and quickly moving the finished lumber to market. Developing the waterpower was the first priority as discussed above.

The government sawmill on the west side of the Falls had sawn the first lumber in 1821 using a primitive waterpower system. Franklin Steel's sawmill at the east end of the first east channel dam and began the commercial production of lumber when Caleb Door sent the first large drive of logs down the river from Fort Ripley in 1848. Within several years, rows of sawmills lined the dams on both sides of the river. Circular saws replaced the slower up and down saws. Waterpowered sawmills were also built on Hennepin Island and one was even built near the head of the west side canal. Figure 8 shows waterpowered sawmill locations at St. Anthony Falls.

The formation of several boom companies in the 1850s fulfilled the second necessity of commercial sawmilling. These companies would catch the logs floating down the Mississippi River, sort the logs according to ownership stamps, and then deliver them to the appropriate sawmills.

Once the lumber had been sawed, it was transported to the calm waters just below the Falls by means of sluiceways. These were wooden troughs about four feet wide which gradually sloped down the river from the platform mills. With the coming of the railroads in the mid-1860s, it was no longer necessary to raft the lumber down the river and by 1873 the sluiceways had been removed. Some unsawed logs were also sent over the Falls through a sluiceway at the west end of the apron built by United States Government in 1879.

The growth of sawmilling in Minneapolis was rapid. A year after the construction of Steele's first mill on the east side dam platform in 1848, two additional sawmills were built on the platform adjacent to Steele's mill. In 1850, a fourth sawmill was built at the west end of the east channel dam.

In 1858, platform mills began to be built over the Falls on the west side. These platform mills were not the first private sawmills to operate on the west side, however, as the old government sawmill had been leased by Robert Smith in 1849 and a small steam sawmill had been built at the mouth of Bassett's Creek in 1856. Although the steam sawmill operated for only three years, burning in 1859, it was a portent of things to come; in its J.B. Bassett ownership, its use of steam power, and its northern riverbank location.

The most efficient use of the waterpower at the Falls resulted from the building of the west side canal in 1857, but only one sawmill (J.B. Bassett and Co.) ever utilized this power. The mill district soon became congested leaving little room for large sawmills which required extensive storage and handling areas. The sawmills also filled the waterpower intakes with trash and were a constant fire threat.

By the mid-1860s sawmill construction at the Falls had reached its peak. The arrival of railroads and efficient steam engines made non-waterpowered sawmilling practical and the congestion of the mill district at the Falls made a different location desirable. In 1866 with the construction of the Pacific Mill at the foot of 1st Avenue North, the migration of the sawmilling industry to north Minneapolis began in earnest. During the next fifty years, both banks of the Mississippi River from just below Bassett's Creek to just above Shingle Creek became almost the exclusive domain of sawmilling. This is graphically portrayed on the Yerkes Map of the Lumber Milling Districts of Minneapolis (1894). In 1887 the west side platform mills were torn down and the east side platform mills burned.

The production of the Minneapolis lumber mills and the attendant wood product industries steadily increased into the late nineteenth century. In 1856, 12,000,000 board feet of lumber came out of the Minneapolis and St. Anthony sawmills. By 1880 Minneapolis ranked third in the nation in lumber production with 179,585,182 board feet. Over half of this lumber was still produced by the east side platform mills and the Hennepin Island mills, while the north Minneapolis steam mills produced only 32,608,000 board feet.

By 1890 Minneapolis led the nation in lumber production with almost all of the 325,629,000 board feet produced in the north Minneapolis center. The peak production years were the last decade of the nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth century when almost a half billion board feet of lumber were produced each year (Figure 9). In the peak year of 1899 Minneapolis mills produced 594,400,000 board feet. The record daily production for a single mill was set in 1891 when the Backus-Brooks Mill produced 804,470 feet of lumber, 91,000 lath, and 53,500 shingles.

In addition to the lumber mills, there were numerous other wood product industries in Minneapolis, many of them along the riverfront. Planing mills smoothed the rough-sawn lumber. Sash, door and blind factories turned the planed lumber into the finishing materials for houses and factories. Millions of shingles and strips of lath were produced. Utensil factories made wooden buckets and tubs. Wooden casks for shipping flour were made by the thousands. Fuel companies marketed the sawdust and slabs for heating homes and running steam plants. Cedar block sawmills provided paving materials for city streets.

The Minneapolis economy in the city's first half century to a large part followed the lumbering cycle and the scenery was dominated by logging sights:

As crews departed for the pineries each fall, the streets were crowded with slow-moving ox teams. Merchants hustled about their stores assembling supplies to send north for the winter's work. After the loggers departed, quiet settled over the city. By November or December the saws stilled their music, and until spring the community heard only the soft rumble of the flour mills. When the water once more ran free in the Mississippi, the city again stirred to life. By late April or early May, the advance guard of logs from the northern pineries floated into the millponds. Soon the river was filled with logs as far as the eye could see, and the streets echoed to the shouts of loggers returning from a winter of solitude in the woods. With a fresh log supply on hand, the mills began a new sawing season. (Kane 1966:58)

Entire city blocks with lumber piles up to 60 feet high bracketed the Falls on both sides of the river. The brick smoke stack of the Pacific Mill towered 140 feet above the river bank. The air smelled of woodsmoke and fresh cut pine.

While wood product industries provided the economic backbone of the infant city, they had their drawbacks. The mills fouled the river with sawdust and wood chips, forcing the municipal waterworks to move from the Falls to Shingle Creek in 1897, and clogging the water-driven turbines of the flour mills. The noise and air pollution from the steam mills as early as 1870 forced the abandonment of the Bassett's Creek residential area by the more well-to-do citizens that had settled there (e.g., J.B. Bassett). Logs escaping the booms rammed into the protective wooden apron over the falls requiring frequent repairs.

Fire was the greatest threat the sawmills brought to the mill district. The platform mills on the east side burned in 1870, 1887, and 1892. The Farnham and Lovejoy sawmill on Hennepin Island burned in 1873. The Bassett Sawmill on the west side canal burned in 1897. Fires in the north Minneapolis steam sawmills were numerous and massive. The spectacular fire of August 13, 1893 destroyed several sawmills on the upper east side.

The decline of sawmilling in Minneapolis was even more rapid than its growth (Figure 9). In 1890 only two water-powered sawmills were operating at the Falls, but the north Minneapolis steam mills were leading the nation in production. As the pine forests became depleted, the Minneapolis lumber industry sagged. By 1915 lumber production had fallen to 65,000,000 board feet. In 1921 the last sawmill in Minneapolis, the Carpenter-Lamb Mill at the foot of 30th Avenue NE, closed. Ironically, the last year's production at this mill was sustained by timber cut along the river below Fort Snelling and shipped to the mill by rail. As the lumber industry died, the flour milling business peaked, and the adverse effects on the city's economy of falling lumber production were easily made up by the increasing production of flour.

The visual legacy of the sawmilling era on the central riverfront is almost nonexistent. While five of the flour mills still remain, all of the sawmills have been torn down. On the east side, a possible logslide hidden in the trees on Hennepin Island is the only above-ground feature.

The best potentials for locating remnants of the sawmills lies with archaeological exploration. The large steam sawmills were sprawling complexes with large storage yards and numerous outbuildings (Figure 10). Logs floating down the river entered the storage booms and then entered the sawmills on wooden slips carried by chains. They were then placed on a log carriage and sawn to the appropriate thickness after the bark was removed. The rough sawn boards passed to the edgers and the trimmers. They then were sorted, hauled to yards, and stored in immense piles for drying. In the late nineteenth century, kilns were used to speed curing. Shingle and lathe machines processed smaller boards. The bark slabs and sawdust were burned in the steam engines or discarded along the riverbank.

Sawmilling was basically a linear operation. Early and mid-nineteenth century sawmills were only one story buildings, but later sawmills had two levels with the lower levels containing power equipment and machinery bases, while more complex equipment was on the second level. Most sawmill buildings were built of wood with foundations on pilings or stone. The heavy machinery (e.g., gang saws, boilers) used in the steam sawmills needed to be supported on stone or concrete pedestals.

The technology of sawmilling changed greatly through the later half of the nineteenth century. Up and down saws driven by waterpowered flutter wheels were the rule prior to 1850. In the 1850s, gang saws, circular saws, and steam engines were introduced, although they may not have been universally accepted. In the 1870s, steam "niggers" for turning logs for sawing were introduced. Bandsaws were perfected in the 1880s. Kiln drying became common in the 1890s.

Archaeological remnants of sawmilling may include not only building and machine foundations, but parts from the various types of saws as well as other machinery such as trimmers, edgers, lathe machines, shingle machines, log carriages, and live rolls. Even the wooden logslides and posts of the sawmills can be preserved deeply buried in wet riveredge sediments. Other artifacts of log handling such as cant hooks could be recovered.

    Flour Milling

While lumber laid the economic foundations of Minneapolis, flour built the superstructure that was to bring the city international recognition. Once again, geography played the key role in the city's industrial success. Located intermediate between the vast grain fields of the Great Plains and the lucrative Eastern markets, railroad construction through Minneapolis in the 1860s linked the two. The water power potential of St. Anthony Falls put the city in an excellent position to process the grain into flour prior to its shipment east.

These geographic advantages were not enough in themselves, however, to insure a dominant position in flour milling. Innovative management, extensive capital, and technological improvements were needed to make Minneapolis competitive with a number of other cities such as Kansas City and Buffalo.

All of the necessary elements came together in Minneapolis. Lumber provided the capital. The Pillsburys, Washburns, Christians, and several other businessmen provided the leadership. Technological innovation even appeared locally both within the St. Anthony Falls mill district and in outstate Minnesota.

The first flour mill in Minneapolis was built by the United States Government in 1823 next to the frame sawmill on the west side of St. Anthony Falls. It had two run of stone and ground the wheat grown in the Fort Snelling fields. This mill later became the first privately run mill in the city when it was leased to Robert Smith in 1849. The first flour mill built by private interests was on the east side in 1851 when Richard Rogers constructed a grist mill at the end of the sawmill row. Three years later the first large merchant flour mill, the Island Mill, was constructed on Hennepin Island.

The west side gained early prominence in flour milling due to the excavation of the canal along 1st Street S. in 1857. The canal allowed for efficient use of the waterpower with mill sites available on either side. The first mill on the canal, the Cataract, was built in 1859. Rapid development along the canal soon took place with the building of the Union Mill in 1863, the Minneapolis Mill in 1865 and the Alaska (Pillsbury B), People's, Arctic (St. Anthony), and Washburn B mills in 1866. By 1880, 23 flour mills as well as the city waterworks, a lumber mill, a woolen mill and a paper mill were running off the canal's waterpower.

The construction of the Washburn B Mill in 1866 was critical to the success of the flour milling industry in Minneapolis. Built of limestone, three stories high with 12 run of stone, it was the largest mill west of Buffalo, New York. More than its size was significant, however, for in 1871 the first installation of "middling purifiers" revolutionized milling.

Prior to 1870, Minneapolis flour was not highly regarded due to the discoloration of the flour caused by the presence of "middlings", a hard layer found in the locally grown spring wheat. Grinding only partially broke up this layer leaving dark specks in the flour. George Christian, a partner in the Washburn Mill, along with several other local millwrights invented a way to remove the middlings. The installation of middling purifiers in the Washburn B Mill made Minneapolis flour as good as any flour on the international market.

The use of the middling purifier, coupled with the introduction of iron rollers to replace mill stones, provided the technological means for the expansion of the Minneapolis flour industry. The construction of new mills in the 1870s made Minneapolis the nation's leading flour producer by 1880. The rapid rise to prominence was only temporarily slowed by the explosion of the Washburn A Mill in 1878 which destroyed not only the largest of the Minneapolis mills, but five other mills as well (Pettit, Zenith, Galaxy, Humboldt, Diamond). The size of the rebuilt Washburn A Mill was doubled and the other destroyed mills, excepting the Diamond, were rebuilt within a year. On the east side, the mammoth Pillsbury A Mill was built in 1881 and soon became the largest waterpowered flour mill in the world.

Minneapolis flour production continued to increase dramatically (Figure 9). In 1889 Minneapolis mills produced 2,051,840 barrels of flour; this figure tripled by 1890. Waterpower alone could no longer fulfill the needs of the Minneapolis mills, so auxiliary steam engines were added to most of the mills in the mid 1880s. The Pillsbury A Mill alone could produce 2,000 barrels of flour a day.

Flour milling gradually consolidated into just a few companies. As early as 1880, the C.A. Pillsbury Company and the Washburn-Crosby Company controlled half of the Minneapolis flour production. In 1889 three companies (Washburn-Crosby, Pillsbury-Washburn, and Minneapolis Flour Manufacturing) controlled 60% of the flour production, with one company, Pillsbury-Washburn, controlling 30% by itself. In 1891 Northwestern Consolidated Milling united most of the remaining independent mills.

While flour milling had been a noisy, labor intensive industry in the mid-nineteenth century, by the end of the century numerous technological improvements, many of them locally developed, had greatly changed the environment inside the large automated mills. This basic system is still in operation today.

A modern flour mill has been described thusly:

The layman visitor to a large flour mill invariably leaves in a daze. He expects machinery, lots of it, and is ready to be puzzled, but not quite so mystifying as he is. So little appears to be going on, and so few people are involved. He looks over an entire floor of roller assemblies, all externally alike, with nothing visibly in motion if the power belts are enclosed, and perhaps with no human being in sight except his guide. Only a low hum and a sweetish odor hint that work is going forward - there is no outside evidence of the many delicate varieties of grinding being accomplished inside the machines. Another floor, perhaps also deserted, is covered with immense, solemnly twisting, cratelike boxes - the sifters - served by a forest of chutes from above and below; once more there is nothing to indicate the diverse separations being achieved inside the boxes. On yet another floor stand the purifiers, silent, monotonous, and alone; through their windows the visitor can watch the enigmatic dance of the lighter particles over the vibrating sieves. Up near the roof is row on row of dust collectors with their tubes arranged like the spokes of a wheel, turning and resting, one step at a time. Here and there the visitor will meet a miller, but only in the packing room will anyone seem to be doing much to further production. Almost everywhere overhead and under the machines he will see chutes passing from floor to floor. Many other conveyers running horizontally from machine to machine or inside machines will escape his notice, and he may miss even the elevators that carry stock to the upper floors. There will be little to indicate the plan according to which work is being carried on, what system governs the multitude of machines, why they are arranged as they are. - Storck and Teague 1952:288-289

Flour milling is basically a vertical operation, hence the need for multi-story buildings (Figure 11). Layers of equipment made up each mill transferring grain from elevators to the top of the mill where it flowed by gravity into screens for cleaning and then into the stones or rollers for grinding. The flour then passed through bolting chests and sifters to remove impurities and separate the flour into various grades. Some of the ground material was returned for additional grinding. Throughout the flour mill, line shafts and belts drove the machinery.

Minneapolis flour milling peaked during the First World War. In 1916 Minneapolis produced 18,541,650 barrels of flour. Production then began to decline, mainly due to a tariff on Canadian wheat favorable to eastern millers. In 1930 Minneapolis produced only 10,797,194 barrels of flour and Buffalo took over the lead in flour production, a lead Minneapolis had held for fifty years. In 1931 several of the west side mills were torn down and their turbines converted to produce electricity. In 1965 the Washburn A Mill shut down, ending flour production of the west side.

Today, the Pillsbury A Mill on the east side is the only riverfront mill that still makes flour. Minneapolis is still third overall among flour producing cites, however, with the two large Archer Daniels Midland mills on Hiawatha Avenue accounting for most of the production. Minnesota as a state ranks first in flour production with major mills in Hastings, Mankato, Winona, Wabasha, Lake City, Freeport, Fergus Falls, New Prague, and St. Paul. None of the Minnesota flour mills are run by General Mills, although General Mill does have several cereal mills in the state.

Of the 37 flour mills that have operated at St. Anthony Falls, five still remain, with only the Pillsbury A still producing flour. The Crown Mill has been converted into an office building and the Standard Mill is now the Whitney Hotel. The Washburn A Mill burned in early 1991, gutting the interior of the mill and destroying a valuable and perhaps irreplaceable assemblage of milling equipment. The adjacent Humboldt Mill escaped the fire, as did other important buildings in the A mill complex. The Humboldt Mill and the Washburn A Mill buildings are owned by the city of Minneapolis and are currently vacant with development plans in process.

Besides the flour mills themselves, there are potentials to archaeologically investigate the grain handling facilities and flour packaging facilities that were located nearby. Major improvements in grain storage were made in Minneapolis. In the early nineteenth century, grain was taken directly to mills by farmers who packed the grain in cloth bags. While this may have been suitable for grist mills that involved no middleman, large merchant flour mills needed to deal with bulk grain in order to operate efficiently. With the expansion of railroads in the mid-nineteenth century, a method was available for bringing large shipments of grain directly to the Minneapolis mills. The concurrent development of mechanically driven vertical handling and a uniform pricing/grading system led to the development of large grain elevators.

Elevators were initially built of wood and soon evolved to contain multiple square bins (Figure 12). Elevators are tall not only to make use gravity flow at the bottom, but because grain stored in high, narrow chambers does not place exceptional stress on either the base or the walls due to inherent properties of the grains interacting with each other (Riley 1977:51). Grain was transported to the top of the bin by dumping it through a grate into a hopper at the base of the elevator (Figure 13). Cups on a conveyer belt then picked up the grain from the hopper and emptied out in the head house or loft where it was directed to individual bins by spouts. Tapered bases in the elevators allowed the grain to flow by gravity directly into flour mills or into horizontal conveyers. Wooden elevators were susceptible to fire both from steam driven locomotives and their own power plants.

At the turn of the century, Frank H. Peavey, who owned numerous elevators throughout the midwest, and Charles F. Haglin, a Minneapolis construction contractor, collaborated to built the world's first cylindrical concrete grain elevator just west of Minneapolis (Heffelfinger 1960). Known today as the Peavey-Haglin Elevator, the single tower is used to advertise Nordic Ware, but its historical importance is acknowledged by it being on the National Register of Historic Places. Impressed with the success of concrete, Peavey built a multiple tower concrete elevator in Duluth in 1902 that could hold one million bushels of grain.

Once grain had been ground into flour, it had to be packed and shipped to markets. In the mid-nineteenth century, it was packed in wooden barrels that could hold 196 pounds of flour. Minneapolis mills needed millions of barrels each year so several large cooper shops were built along the central riverfront. A large coopering center developed at the south end of the west side mill district in the vicinity of the 10th Avenue S. bridge. The Hall and Dann Barrel Company moved from this location to the foot of the 3rd Avenue S. bridge in 1880.

As cotton flour sacks began to replace barrels in the 1880s, some of the cooper shops, including Hall and Dann, also entered bag manufacturing. The barrel remained in limited use until World War II. After the war, the demand for smaller sacks of flour led to the widespread use of paper bags. Today, most flour is either shipped from the flour mills in paper bags of under 10 pounds or in bulk tanks carried by rail or truck.

Archaeological remains of the flour mills and associated buildings are extensive especially on the west side of St. Anthony Falls (Figure 14). The ruins of the Cataract, Holly, St. Anthony, Union, Columbia, and Occidental Mills are visible north of Portland Avenue. South of Portland and east of 1st Street, two blocks of mill ruins are present although largely covered by gravel. The ruins of the Washburn B and C mills are present beneath parking lots. On the east side, the ruins of the Phoenix Mill should be in place in next to St. Anthony Main. Foundation remains of several mills may exist on Hennepin Island.

The remains of the flour mills should not be limited to foundation walls. The mills had basements and sub-basements containing the turbine rooms and other machinery to power the mills. Draft tubes for the turbines were cut through the bedrock to the tailraces below; turbines may still be in place in these tubes. Some the subterranean rooms of the flour mills may even remain unfilled.

The actual artifacts of flour milling may not be common on the riverfront as much of the equipment was dismantled and used elsewhere. Occasional mill stones may be buried in fill, however, as well as pieces of roller stands, dust collectors, purifiers, sifters, and grain handling equipment. The recent fire in the Washburn A Mill destroyed a large collection of milling equipment, but important artifacts may still exist in the rubble.

Many turn of the century elevators still survive in the mill district, although foundations of earlier elevators are included in the ruins along the west side canal. The 1880 Hall and Dann Barrel Factory buildings at the foot of the 3rd Avenue Bridge also survive, but the remnants of earlier barrel factories should exist in the southern part of the west side mill district.


Ironworking, an important industry of the central Minneapolis waterfront, was not directly based on a favorable geographical location like sawmilling and flour milling, but on the needs of the other two industries. While ironworking never gained the national reputation of the other two, it was critical to their success and the specialized milling items produced and perfected by Minneapolis ironworking firms were marketed and imitated nationwide.

The first ironworks at St. Anthony Falls were built on the east side of the river. Elisha Broad started an edged tool factory in St. Anthony in 1855 and a year later Scott and Morgan built the first foundry. On the west side, H.C. Butler built the first ironworks in 1857 for the manufacture of mill picks used to re-groove mill stones. Butler's shop was destroyed by the 1878 Washburn A Mill explosion.

The east side continued to dominate the ironworking industry along the riverfront in the 1860s. In 1865 the St. Anthony Ironworks were built, followed by the North Star Ironworks in 1866 and the Union Ironworks in 1867. All of these were waterpowered.

In 1865 the first foundry was built on the west side by Lee and Hardenburg. Named the Minnesota Iron Works, it was located just west of the canal entrance where the Crown Roller Mill stands today. The firm manufactured steam engines, saw and grist mills, turbines, gears, shafts and miscellaneous castings such as the locally designed water pumps for the municipal water works. Another important ironworks started on the west side in the mid-1860s was the Minnesota Central Railroad shops on 2nd Avenue South between 6th and 7th Streets which were located where the Milwaukee Road yards are today west of the Washburn A Mill.

The premier ironworker of the west side was Otis Pray who began his work in Minneapolis as a foreman on the main channel dam construction in 1856-57. In 1859 he built the first flour mill on the new canal, the Cataract Mill, for William Eastman. In 1866 he built the Washburn B Mill for C.C. Washburn. By the mid-1870s Pray had become a noted specialist in furnishing flour mills and built his machinery at the Minnesota Iron Works (where the Crown Mill is today) which he initially leased and eventually bought (Figure 15). His business grew so rapidly that he built a new factory just north of the Minnesota Iron Works in 1878 which he called the Minneapolis Iron Works. Pray eventually expanded into sawmilling equipment and his company did such a booming business in the early 1880s that he made several major additions to his factory (Figure 16).

Another major foundry of the west side riverfront was the North Star Iron Works which moved over from the east side in 1868. An extensive plant was built between the feet of 2nd and 3rd Avenues North. The North Star Iron Works manufactured a variety of products including steam engines, furnaces, and saw and flour milling equipment. In 1885 it was described as the largest foundry northwest of Chicago.

Besides the foundries, there were an assortment of machine shops and implement factories near the riverfront in the latter half of the nineteenth century. In the west side mill district, firms such as H.C. Butler, J.E. Lockwood, Willford and Northway, and N.F. Griswold supplied specialized milling equipment to the flour mills. Willford and Northway even provided machinery for the Grain Belt Brewery. Along North 1st Street, farm implements were produced by the Monitor Plow Works and the Minneapolis Plow Works. On the east side of the river, the Northwestern Fenceworks operated a factory powered by an overhead cable from the Tower Mill. Steam increasingly provided the power for most of these industries and, like the sawmills, they were never as dependent on the waterpower as the flour mills.

The heyday of the ironworks along the riverfront lasted only twenty years, from the mid-1860s to the mid-1880s. The Minnesota Iron Works was torn down in 1879 for the construction of the Crown Roller Mill. The financial failure of Pray Manufacturing in 1886 shocked the city. A year later the North Star Iron Works property was purchased by the railroads and the firm moved to Chicago. The Phoenix Ironworks moved to St. Cloud in 1887. The Northwestern Fenceworks relocated off the riverfront in 1890. In 1892 Willford and Northway moved their shops to Jordan.

The increasing importance of flour in the economy eventually forced out most machine shops near the canal so flour mills could take their place. North of Hennepin Avenue, the congestion due to the sawmills and the expansion of the railroad yards encouraged implement manufacturers to move out of the inner city. By 1895 the iron working industry of the central riverfront was largely extinct. A few small companies continued to occupy the area into the 1930s, but the flour mills increasingly relied on out-of-state companies for their equipment.

Only one ironworks building still stands along the riverfront; the Martin-Morrison Block on Main Street housed the Union Ironworks from 1883 to 1930. Archaeological remnants of other ironworks were once plentiful, but are fast disappearing as new buildings are constructed on the sites. For example, the Pray Ironworks site was largely destroyed by the Riverwest Apartments construction in 1988.

Like the flour mills, most of the ironworks had basements and, like the sawmills, the ironworks required large machinery pedestals. Broken tools and manufacturing byproducts may be include in artifact inventories. Foundational remnants and machinery bases should be preserved at selected locations that are currently undeveloped. Although originally centered at St. Anthony Falls (Figure 17), ironworks soon spread throughout the city. The North Star Ironworks along the northern west side riverfront may offer the best archaeological potential as the land was taken over by railroad tracks in the late nineteenth century and has not subsequently been developed.

    Fiber Processing

Fiber processing industries along the Minneapolis riverfront are of three basic types: woolen milling, cotton milling, and paper milling. While paper milling seems to be the most expected of the three considering Minnesota's natural resources, the city of Minneapolis was initially envisioned as a important textile center. This vision was never realized, although at least one textile mill - the North Star Woolen Mill - became nationally known.


Paper Milling

Paper milling was one of the earliest industries at St. Anthony Falls. In 1859, Chase and Secombe built the Island Paper Mill on the east side of upper Hennepin Island. The plant expanded into the nearby Rogers, Stimpson, and Kent sash and door factory in 1866. The original building was torn down in 1874 during the government dike construction, but operations continued in the expansion until it burned in 1880.

On the west side canal, the Minneapolis Paper Mill was built in 1867 (see Figure 3). It was taken over by the Hennepin Paper Company in 1889 who closed the operation after only a few years.

North of St. Anthony Falls, on the east channel at the foot of 4th Avenue NE, a strawboard paper box plant was built in 1882. It was purchased by the B. F. Nelson Paper Company in 1888 and expanded to include the manufacture of tarpaper and wall boards. The operation lasted until 1975.

Paper milling has several basic operations. The first step is removing the tree bark. The fibers are then separated by either abrading the fibers from the wood using a lengthwise grindstone or by using chemicals after the wood has been chipped and cooked. The pulp is then washed, bleached, and screened. The processed pulp is further refined by beating, brushing, and cutting the fibers to uniform lengths. Rag fibers can be added to make a better quality paper. To actually make paper from the processed pulp, water is added and it is them rolled out and dried. Modern papermaking is less labor intensive than nineteenth century processes and relies almost entirely on machines.

The two-story paper mill on the west side canal was easily distinquishable from the neighboring tall flour mills; paper making is a horizontal process while flour milling is a vertical process.

While paper milling was limited on the central Minneapolis riverfront, remnants of building foundations may be present both adjacent to St. Anthony Falls and to the north. Pieces of pulping or rolling machinery may be present as well as specialized tools.


Woolen Milling

Woolen milling started on the east side of the river in 1861 when David Lewis set up a carding and spinning operation just south of the Tremont House on Main Street. The plant burned in 1862, but was soon rebuilt over a nearby planing mill.

In 1864, the North Star Woolen Mill was built just west of the west side canal (Figure 18). It was first building to use waterpower on that side of the canal. The company gradually gained a national reputation for making high quality blankets. By 1925, it was the nation's largest manufacturer of wool blankets. Operations were moved to Lima, Ohio in 1949.

Behind the North Star Woolen Mill, M. Hilliard operated a carding mill from 1865 to 1868. The operation was moved to a nearby machine shop in 1869. On the east side of the canal, directly opposite the North Star Woolen Mill, Clapp and Company built a woolen mill in 1865. It ceased operations in 1872 and the building was converted into the Empire Flour Mill.

The woolen milling process begins with sorting the wool into various lengths and qualities by touch and sight. The wool is then washed prior to carding and spinning. The spun yarn is woven into fabrics by power looms.

The remains of the early woolen industry in Minneapolis are limited. The original North Star Woolen Mill was completely rebuilt in the same location in 1925 using a innovative method that allowed reconstruction of the exterior walls from the top down allowing manufacturing to continue. Expansion of the North Star complex may have destroyed remains of earlier adjacent woolen operations. Foundations at the Clapp Woolen Mill location are still visible at the foot of Portland Avenue, but subsequent development of the site as a flour mill and then an elevator may have destroyed or obscured features of the woolen mill. Some associated artifacts may exist in adjacent fill.


Cotton Milling

While the manufacture of cotton flour bags became a major activity in Minneapolis in the later part of the nineteenth century, only one cotton mill that produced cloth ever operated on the riverfront. Dorilus Morrison built the Minneapolis Cotton Mill on the east side of the west side canal in 1870 (see Figure 3). Major additions were made to the mill in 1872. It manufactured seamless bags, carpet warps, and cotton bats. The machinery was moved to the back of the west side sawmill platform in 1877 and continued to operate into the early 1880s.

Once at the mill, raw cotton was first cleaned and the fibers formed into a rope. The rope was then drawn, combed to arrange the fibers, twisted to make a firm thread, and spun into yarn. The yarn was woven by a loom into cloth. The cloth was then bleached and dyed prior to manufacturing finished products.

When the original cotton mill location on the canal was redeveloped as the Excelsior Flour Mill in the 1870s, many of the features unique to the cotton mill may have been destroyed. The second location of the cotton mill on Upton's Island at the rear of the platform sawmills was completely destroyed by the construction of the Upper Lock and Dam in the early 1960s. Some artifacts of cotton milling may survive buried along the riverbank.


Minneapolis was never a brewing center and today has no active commercial breweries. In the late nineteenth century, however, at least a dozen breweries operated in the city, most of them located along or near the central riverfront. Minnesota's first brewery was built on the St. Anthony side in 1850; John Orth's brewery stood where the abandoned Grain Belt Brewery is today. Thirty years later in 1880, Minnesota had 103 breweries of which only four were in Minneapolis.

One of the first breweries established on the west side was the Minneapolis Brewery founded by John Kranzlein and John Mueller in 1866. Located at the southern end of the river flats, it was built into the sheer bluffs just behind the municipal boat landing (Figure 19, top). John Heinrich eventually acquired the Minneapolis Brewery in 1884 after several years of partnership with Mueller. At the north end of the flats another brewery, the City Brewery, was started in 1870 by Anton Zahler (Figure 19, bottom). A year later, he was joined by two Prussian brothers, August and Frederick Noerenberg. In 1880 Frederick Noerenberg became sole owner of the brewery.

These two breweries dominated the landscape of the river flats into the early twentieth century. They shared many traits besides their location. Both had numerous employees living in Bohemian Flats and both added large malthouses in 1885. Eventually, they joined forces, and along with two other Minneapolis breweries, Orth's and the Germania, they founded the Minneapolis Brewing and Malting Company in 1891 which proceeded to build the Grain Belt Brewery in 1892. Ultimately, the Minneapolis and the City breweries shared similar fates, being torn down in 1903.

There are few records regarding the two riverbend breweries. Certainly, they added an old world flavor to the new city in their architecture and in the German voices that directed and carried out the daily work. They played an important role in the social atmosphere of Bohemian Flats, providing employment, familiar surroundings to homesick immigrants and even the beer for frequent parties. Today there are no visible traces of their presence, and their legacy, the old Grain Belt Brewery, broods in north Minneapolis waiting for prosperity to once again move up the river.

The archaeological features left by these breweries are potentially various. Breweries were often sprawling complexes with numerous buildings and the Minneapolis and City breweries were good examples of this. As in flour milling and sawmilling, the increasing use of steam power and technological improvements in the late nineteenth century required extensive enlargements and rebuilding.

Breweries in the latter half of the nineteenth century typically contained a brewing house, an elevator with grain bins and malt bins, a boiler house with a chimney, a hop chamber, a fermenting room, ice houses, and a malting house. Like flour milling, brewing is a vertical process (Figure 20). The heaviest equipment was usually at the top. The riverfront breweries were built into the side of the bluff thus the heavy equipment could be supported without the need for massive walls. Much equipment at the lowest levels was supported by stilts to control temperatures and maintain cleanliness.

The brewmaster often had his residence as part of the complex. The river flats' breweries had the advantage of the local geological structure, carving storage tunnels into soft sandstone of the bluffs. Most of the main buildings were substantial structures built of stone or brick, while the outbuildings were generally built of wood.




The success of the industries along the west side riverfront was ultimately based on the ability to move raw materials to the factories and the finished products to market. Because of the cataract, only the sawmills could effectively use the river for transportation and even that was haphazard due to floods or low water. It became crucial early in the city's history to obtain railroad connections to supplies and markets. Railroads with facilities near the Falls had the potential of developing a two-way traffic of goods, shipping out finished lumber and flour, while shipping in timber and wheat.

A number of land grant railroads were chartered by the Minnesota territorial legislature in the mid-1850s, but it was not until the mid-1860s that trains began arriving in Minneapolis. In 1863, the St. Paul and Pacific Railroad built a line to the east side of St. Anthony. In 1865 the Minnesota Central Railroad (later to become the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul) began operating, entering the city from the south via Faribault and running just west of the Mill District. The St. Paul and Pacific made an important link in 1867 by building a railroad bridge across the Mississippi River using Nicollet Island as a stepping stone.

In 1870 the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railroad, a local enterprise financed by mill owners, was founded to link the Minneapolis mills with the wheat growing regions to the south and the shipping facilities on Lake Superior to the north. It began operation in 1871 and ran through the heart of the mill district along 2nd Street and then along the river flats through the Gateway area, connecting with the St.Paul and Pacific Mississippi River bridge.

The late 1870s and early 1880s witnessed the great expansion of railroads on and behind the west side waterfront. The Minneapolis and St. Louis Railroad built a trestle over the canal from the south in 1878 and the Minneapolis Eastern Railroad built a similar trestle on the east side of the canal mills from the north in 1879. These trestles allowed the flour mills to directly unload grain from, and load flour into railroad cars. In 1880 the Chicago, St. Paul, Milwaukee and Omaha Railroad built a depot and yards just south of Bassett's Creek giving the sawmills in the area a more direct link. Perhaps the most notable event in Minneapolis railroad history took place in 1883 with the opening of the stone arch bridge which carried James J. Hill's St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railroad over the Mississippi. Two years later Hill's Union Depot was completed adjacent to the Hennepin Avenue bridge.

By 1890 extensive railroad yards existed between the commercial interior of Minneapolis and the industrialized waterfront. The yards expanded north of Bassett's Creek and soon took over the sawmilling districts north and south of the flour mills. Roundhouses, freighthouses, and various support facilities were interspersed among the tracks. A new Milwaukee Road depot was built just west of the Mill District in 1898 and a new Great Northern depot replaced the Union Depot in 1913. At the turn of the century, the Wisconsin Central built extensive yards on Boom Island and in 1907 constructed a large brick freighthouse in the Gateway just north of Hennepin Avenue.

As flour milling began to decline late in the second decade of the twentieth century, railroad expansion of the west side waterfront was peaking. Nine major and several minor railroads served Minneapolis and hundreds of freight and passenger trains entered the city each day. Railroad services to the milling district, however, decreased with the falling flour production. Railroading, in general, began to decline after the stock market crash in 1929.

In 1936 the Minneapolis Western trestle over the canal was torn down and five years later most of the Minneapolis Eastern trestle east of the canal mills was torn down. In 1952 the Minneapolis Western bridge over the Mississippi River (built in 1887) was removed to facilitate the construction of the Lower Lock and Dam. Railroading along the river continued to decline in the 1960s and their maintenance soon became unprofitable. In 1971 the C, SP, M and O Bassett's Creek yards were torn up. The Great Northern Depot on Hennepin Avenue was demolished in 1978 and the Burlington-Northern tracks along the riverfront and across the stone arch bridge were removed in 1981.

Today the only active tracks along the waterfront lead over the Burlington Northern bridge and across Nicollet Island north of Hennepin Avenue. Notable among the remnants of the riverfront railroad complex are three bridges over the Mississippi: the stone arch bridge, the Burlington-Northern bridge (in the same location as the 1867 St. Paul and Pacific bridge), and the old Northern Pacific bridge near the University (originally built in 1887 slightly to the south and moved to its present location in 1921). Other notable railroad remnants still visible are the Milwaukee Road depot and trainshed, the 1880 freight depot of the C, SP, M and O just north of 4th Avenue North (recently converted into the Riverwalk Apartments), and the Wisconsin Central freight depot northwest of the Hennepin Avenue Bridge.

Archaeological remnants should be extensive since there were once so many railroad yards all along the riverfront. While the tracks and ties were salvaged after abandonment, many buildings were leveled leaving foundational remains (Figure 21). Roundhouses were present in the Bassetts Creek area, on Boom Island, and west and south of the West Side Mill District. Archaeological remnants would include turntable footings and subterranean repair bays. Passenger depots were present in several locations near the mill district and north and south of the west side of the Hennepin Avenue bridge. Foundational remnants of all of these depots may exist.

    Roads and Street Cars

The earliest streets in the cities of Minneapolis and St. Anthony were not paved. As the city rapidly grew, major streets and intersections became quagmires when it rained. By the 1870s, it became necessary to pave the busier streets.

The earliest paving method utilized cedar blocks. Cylindical cedar slabs were laid on planks, the spaces between filled with sand, and then cemented together with coal tar (see Figure 22). Later in the late nineteenth century bricks and granite paving stones were used. In 1892, there were forty miles of paved streets in Minneapolis of which 33 were still of cedar blocks (Atwater 1893:416). In the late 1890s, asphalt streets appeared on concrete foundations.

Street cars made their first appearance in Minneapolis in 1875. The cars were horse drawn along narrow gauge tracks (Figure 22). The first line extended down Washington Avenue from 4th Avenue N. to Hennepin Avenue then east across the Hennepin Avenue Bridge to 4th Street SE and then south to 14th Avenue SE.

Electric streetcars appeared in the early 1890s, necessitating the construction of a number of power plants exclusively for the street railway. Some of the plants were built along the riverfront and used both hydroelectric and steam power. The street car system was abandoned in 1952 in favor of the current bus system.

Archaeological remnants of early streets and the street car system are probably extensive since a common practice in street repair is simply to lay asphalt over the existing surface, at least in the case of granite and brick pavers and even street car rails. At the beginning of the West River Parkway study in 1983, many streets in the mill district area were still paved with granite pavers, but redevelopment of the area of the last few years has removed most of them.


The first bridge ever built across the Mississippi River was constructed between Minneapolis and St. Anthony. Using Nicollet Island as a stepping stone, the Hennepin Avenue suspension bridge linked the two sides of the river in 1854. Bridges at Broadway (Christmas) Avenue and 20th Avenue S. were also built in the 1850s, but they only lasted a few years. The St. Paul and Pacific Railroad bridge also utilized Nicollet Island in 1867 to bridge the Mississippi. The Upper (Plymouth Avenue) and Lower (10th Avenue S.) bridges linked the newly consolidated cites of St. Anthony and Minneapolis in 1874.

Other early bridges of importance along the central riverfront that are now gone include the Second Hennepin Avenue Suspension Bridge (1876-1890), the Hennepin Avenue Steel Arch Bridge (1889-1989), the east channel Hennepin Avenue Stone Arch Bridge (1878-1965)), the Minneapolis Western Railroad Bridge (1891-1952), and the First Washington Avenue Bridge (1884-1965). Historic bridges still in place include the Stone Arch Railroad Bridge (1883), the 3rd Avenue Bridge (1917), and the Northern Pacific Railroad Bridge (1887).

The remnants of early bridges along the riverfront may be extensive. Some are visible such as one of the mid-channel piers of the 10th Avenue South bridge. Abutments and pier bases may be deeply buried beneath riverfront fill or below riverbed mud.



Utility development in Minneapolis, as well as manufacturing and transportation, was initially concentrated along the central riverfront. The river was not only the major source of water for the city, but the pumps were run by waterpower at the Falls. The generation of electrical power started at the Falls of St. Anthony and may soon again become an important industrial feature. The manufacture of gas from coal benefited from accessibility to both rail and water transportation. Unlike flour milling, sawmilling, and railroading, the utilities have not abandoned the central riverfront, although the waterworks was forced to move upstream because of the pollution from the sawmills, the gasworks is just a distributing and maintenance center, and electrical generation is making a comeback after a brief hiatus.


The initial residents of Minneapolis directly used the river or several springs along its banks for their water supply. As the buildings spread back from the riverfront and the river became increasingly polluted with debris from the sawmills, the residents built cisterns to catch rainwater and drove shallow wells. As the town grew into a city, public utilities were needed to provide proper sanitation, fire protection, and a reliable supply of drinking water. In 1867 a small pumphouse was erected between the Cataract and Union mills on the east side of the 1st Street canal. Two Holly pumps were installed in the building. Water mains of wood or riveted sheet iron encased in cement were laid along Washington and Hennepin Avenues.

Even before the waterworks became fully operational in 1871, it was apparent that the system was woefully inadequate due to the inefficiency of the pumps, the difficulty in making connections to the main and the shallowness of the main which froze in the winter. In 1870 the city began switching to iron pipe, but the Holly pumps still could not maintain sufficient pressure. The city bought the Bassett Sawmill across the canal from their first pumping station in 1871 and equipped the new plant with a pump designed by James Waters, the waterworks superintendent, and built by the adjacent Minnesota Iron Works. To turn the pumps, the city received three millpowers from the Minneapolis Mill Company in return for assistance in saving the Falls after the collapse of the Eastman tunnel in 1869-70. The original waterworks was sold to Cahill, Loring, Fletcher and Hineline who built the Holly Flour Mill there in 1873.

By 1880 even the "Waters" pumps had become inadequate to serve the needs of the rapidly growing city so new pumps were installed in an expanded waterworks in 1880. Additional capacity to the system was provided in 1885 when the city built another water power pumping station on Hennepin Island at the site of the old paper mill.

In 1889 a steam powered plant was built in Camden, five miles above the Falls in order to escape the pollution caused by the north Minneapolis sawmills. A reservoir system was adopted in the late 1890s and an associated waterworks was built in Columbia Heights in 1904 leading to the abandonment of the canal waterworks. The new riverside plant in northeast Minneapolis was finished in 1913.

Remains of the early water utilities of Minneapolis exist not only as building foundations and artifacts at the pumping stations, but the actual remnants of water lines that were laid down as early as the 1860s. The early water lines are especially susceptible to destruction as sewer and water line replacement are constantly ongoing and even today such construction rarely reviewed for possible adverse archaeological impacts.


At the same time the city was establishing its first waterworks, private interests were attempting to provide gas for lighting. In 1870 the Minneapolis Gas Light Company was chartered. By the end of that year a coal gasification plant had been built at the foot of 13th Avenue South and gas was flowing through wooden mains running down Washington and Nicollet avenues. Initially, the gas was relatively expensive, but improvements in production and distribution and competition from electricity brought prices down considerably in the mid-1880s. The first use of gas was lighting, notably along the city streets, but as electricity came into service for lighting, gas was principally used for heating and cooking. A few gas street lights managed to survive until 1924.

The gasworks gradually sprawled over several acres and its numerous buildings smoke stacks, storage tanks, and coal piles came to dominate the west side bluff at the river's bend. The view of the gasworks from across the river was of a grimy, industrialized landscape akin to that of the steel cities of the East with slumping cinder piles covering the bluff in front of the plant and eroding into the river.

The gasworks provided the main supply of gas to Minneapolis until 1934 when natural gas was introduced. The plant continued to be used for emergencies and extremely cold weather into the late 1950s. The old plant was torn down in 1961 after almost a century of use. A new Minnegasco maintenance and storage facility was then built just north of the original plant.

Detailed plans of the gasworks show a complex facility made up of many different structures (Figure 23). There are gas storage tanks, oil tanks, purifiers, scrubbers, retorts, storage yards, boilers, and engine rooms. A maze of pipelines existed at the plant itself with supply pipelines once extending throughout the city. Archaeological investigations of such complexes could not only be very confusing, but dangerous with buried hazardous wastes.


Minneapolis was a pioneer in the development of electric power. One of the first central hydropower generating plants in the nation was built on Upton's Island at the foot of St. Anthony Falls in 1882. Just prior to this, several industries in the city, such as the new Pillsbury A Mill, had installed individual dynamos to provide interior lighting. The Upton Island plant was built by a number of prominent local businessmen including W.D. Washburn, J.B.Bassett, and O.A. Pray who named their firm Minnesota Brush Electric. The plant was a small frame building with five generators run by a waterwheel. Overhead wires were strung to, and then along Washington Avenue.

Fierce opposition from the politically powerful gas company slowed early development somewhat, but enterprising electricity supporters erected a 257 foot tall tower at Bridge Square with eight electric arc bulbs at its top. When this was lit in early 1883, the citizens of Minneapolis were soon convinced of electricity's superiority over gas for lighting. Within the next few years, electric lights burned along the city's main streets and avenues, replacing most of the dimmer gas lights.

Because the waterpower at the Falls was affected by seasonal fluctuations, a number of the Minnesota Brush stockholders built a steampowered plant at the foot of 3rd Avenue North under the name of West Side Power. It burned the waste sawdust from the nearby sawmills. In 1884 the generators from the Upton Island hydro-plant were moved to the steam plant and it became the first steam powered electric generating plant in Minneapolis. In 1895 generating equipment was moved from the West Side Power plant to the new Main Street plant on the east side of the Falls.

While the first hydro-powered electric plant lasted only two years, it foreshadowed perhaps the ultimate industrial use of the Falls. The first large hydroelectric plant in Minneapolis was the Main Street facility. In 1897 another hydro-powered plant was built on the newly completed lower dam east of the gasworks. In 1908 a hydroelectric plant was built on Hennepin Island.

The first west side expansion of hydropower occurred after Northern States Power (NSP) purchased the Minneapolis Mill Company and the St. Anthony Water Power Company from Pillsbury in 1923. NSP gradually converted many of the former flour mill turbines into hydropower generators as elements of its Consolidated Hydro Plant, headquartered in the old canal gatehouse building. At the time the canal was closed off in 1960 for the construction of the Upper Lock and Dam, 6,068 horsepower were being used by Consolidated Hydro to generate electricity.

The collapse of the Lower Hydrostation in late 1987 left only a single operating hydroelectric facility at St. Anthony Falls. Currently 12.4 megawatts of electricity are generated at the Hennepin Island plant. There is a proposal to construct a new Lower hydroelectric plant in the same location of the collapsed structure.

Two hydroelectric plants are still standing along the central riverfront, the Hennepin Island plant and the abandoned Main Street Station. The steam-powered Twin Cities Rapid Transit is also standing.

Archaeological remnants of hydroelectric plants are present on both sides of the river and include foundation walls, machinery supports, and water-control features. Steam-powered plant remnants should also be present and would include boiler and dynamo supports as well as building foundations. Early underground conduits may also be of interest. The city required power lines in the core area to be buried as early as 1890 (Atwater 1893:416).



Archaeological potentials to explore commercial activities along the west side riverfront are limited. Commercial development immediately on the west bank was not extensive. The commercial heart of early Minneapolis was the Gateway at the west end of the Hennepin Avenue bridge, but this area was just off the river. North of Hennepin Avenue, assorted small businesses such as fuel yards and stone yards were present on the riverfront in the mid-nineteenth century, but were soon displaced by the expanding railroads.

On the east side, commercial development along the riverfront has been continuous since the 1840s extending from Hennepin Avenue through the mill district. The most intensive commercial activity was initially on either side of the mill district along Main Street. The area between Hennepin and Central Avenues began to develop as a commercial center after 1880 and has continued active for over 100 years.

Central Nicollet Island is the other commercial district along the central riverfront. Small wooden stores were built along Hennepin Avenue soon after the completion of the first suspension bridge in 1854. By the turn of the century, brick buildings were replacing the wooden structures. The Nicollet Island commercial district survived until the late 1960s when Hennepin Avenue was reconstructed.

The survival of archaeological features associated with commercial activity should be represented by artifacts and features. Many of the east side features have been destroyed by recent developments including Riverplace and the Winslow House apartments. Building foundations may survive along Hennepin Avenue on Nicollet Island, but are probably deeply buried by roadway fill. On the west side, most early riverfront buildings were small wooden structures that probably did not have substantial foundations.

Artifact scatters perhaps represent the most extensive remnants of riverfront commercial activity. These scatters would not only be in the immediate vicinity of a particular commercial establishment, but scattered along the riverfront as refuse deposits.



In the mid-nineteenth century, the entire central riverfront excepting the core of the mill district contained a scatter of residential areas. The histories of these areas have been described in Part 1 of this study (Anfinson 1989). Moving north to south on the west side, the residential areas are referred to as: the Washington House, Bassett's Creek South, Gateway, Gasworks Bluff, and Bohemian Flats. On the east side, they are referred to as: North Nicollet Island, Upper Town, Lower Town, and East Side Flats.

The residences in these areas were by in large small frame dwellings. With the intensification of industrial and commercial activity in the 1860s and 1870s, residential use of the riverfront was increasingly excluded from the areas near the Falls, although a number of large mansions were built nearby. Intensive railroad development in the 1880s further limited residential development. By 1890, the only residential areas of the central riverfront were north Nicollet Island and Bohemian Flats.

Today, residential use of the central riverfront has dramatically increased, although it now large apartment buildings rather than single family dwellings. Two of the earliest riverfront houses in Minneapolis have been preserved; the Ard Godfrey house and the John Stevens house have both been moved from their original locations, but at least the Godfrey House is still on the riverfront.

Because so many of the early houses along the riverfront were small frame structures lacking basements and because many sites have been extensively developed, architectural remains surviving as archaeological features are probably limited. The exception to this is northern Nicollet Island which remains a rich archaeological resource to study nineteenth century ways of life. In other areas, residential activities remain largely as artifact scatters. This should be especially true on the northern west side and in the Bohemian Flats (Figure 24) where fill and concrete pads have sealed the deposits. Features may include builder's trenches, cisterns, trash/outhouse pits, and artifact concentrations.


Vol. 49, No. 1-2  © 1990 The Minnesota Archaeological Society

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Updated 29 Jun 1999