The mill in 2005, a hydroelectric station in the foreground
|Location||116 3rd Avenue SE, Minneapolis, MN|
|Architect||LeRoy S. Buffington|
|Part of||Saint Anthony Falls Historic District (#71000438)|
|NRHP Reference #||66000402|
|Added to NRHP||November 13, 1966|
|Designated NHL||November 13, 1966|
The Pillsbury A-Mill, situated along Saint Anthony Falls on the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, Minnesota, held the title of largest flour mill in the world for 40 years. Completed in 1881, it was owned by Pillsbury and operated two of the most powerful direct-drive waterwheels ever built, each generating 1,200 horsepower (895 kW). The mill still stands today on the east side of the Mississippi River and is being converted into artist lofts.
In 1879, after five years of secret planning, Charles Alfred Pillsbury announced to the public that he would build the largest and most advanced mill the world had ever seen. He had traveled to mills all over the world, searching for the best technique for milling flour on a large scale. Despite the convention of the time, Pillsbury decided that he wanted his new mill to be designed by an architect in order to make the building visually appealing. Architect LeRoy S. Buffington, with the loose advice of several engineers, carried out the design. Construction started in 1880 and was finished in 1881 under a contractor named George McMullen. The mill was built to put out 5,000 barrels a day when at a time when a 500-barrel mill was considered large. It attracted a lot of attention from many people who thought that there was no practical need for a mill to ever exist due to the demand of flour in the day. For some years the mill was not run at its intended capacity. Part of the building was used as a warehouse and other purposes.
Due to vibrations of milling machines and poor design in 1905 the mill was fortified and certain sections were rebuilt. To this day the walls bow 22 inches (560 mm) on the top. Unlike other similarly large mills in the area, most notably the Washburn A Mill, the Pillsbury A Mill never exploded or caught fire. And as a result, it still contains its original wood frame.
As the years progressed, mill output picked up due to technological advances in the milling industry. Other larger mills, however, were created elsewhere and the sparkle that once surround the great mill left.
On the outside the Pillsbury "A" Mill is a rectangular structure 175 feet (53 m) by 115 feet (35 m). The foundations are of Platteville limestone. The exterior wall thickness varies from 8’-0” (2.4 m) thick at the basement to 2’-0” (0.6 m) thick at the top of the building. The outside walls are of load bearing stone with heavy timber framing on the interior. (Timber was added after the completion of the building.) There are six chimneys on the roof of the building. The roof itself is flat with gravel.
When it was still in use, the seven floors and the basement of the mill all had specific purposes. The basement held a transformer vault, water inlets, and an electrical room. On the first floor there was a small floor-mounted sifter, a larger ceiling-hung sifter, and a pressure tank. On the second floor there were conveyor belts and a staff lunchroom. The third floor contained more belts and bins and the fourth floor held a dust collector, centrifugal machine, gyration shifter, grinder, scale, and a packing bin. The fifth floor held a sifter, separator, and a centrifugal machine. The sixth floor held flour bins and the seventh floor was an electrical room.
Future of the mill
In 2003, production in the mill ceased and the mill lay empty. The building was then acquired by local developer Shafer Richardson. In 2006 they launched plans to convert and preserve the A Mill complex into the rebranded East Bank Mills, a loft-style apartment complex containing 759 to 1,095 housing units. This re-development plan fell through due to financial matters.
In 2013, a Plymouth, Minnesota based developer, Dominium, gained approval for a $100 million renovations plan to transform the Mill into 251 affordable live/work artist lofts. The exterior of the mill will stay intact to preserve the historical architecture of the building, such as the silos. However, major changes will be made to the interior of the mill and the courtyard that connect the multiple buildings.
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2006-03-15.
- Pennefeather, Shannon M. (2003). Mill City: A Visual History of the Minneapolis Mill District. St. Paul, Minnesota: Minnesota Historical Society.
- Stephen Lissandrello (August 7, 1975), National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination: Pillsbury A Mill, National Park Service and PDF (830 KB)
- East Bank Mills website
- City of Minneapolis,Pillsbury A Mill Complex Project,http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/PLANNING/a-mill.asp
- "America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places 2011: Pillsbury A Mill". Retrieved 2011-07-23.
Historic American Buildings Survey, University of Minnesota School of Architecture (1934–1989). "HABS MINN,27-MINAP,3-". Retrieved 2007-05-03.
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