Mill City Museum

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Mill City Museum
Mill City Museum logo 2color.png
Mill City Museum-20070704.jpg
Location704 South 2nd Street
Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
Coordinates44°58′46″N 93°15′26″W / 44.97938°N 93.25711°W / 44.97938; -93.25711
TypeHistory Museum
DirectorDavid Stevens
Public transit accessBus Routes 3, 7 and 22, METRO Blue Line, METRO Green Line
Washburn A Mill Complex
Washburn A Mill 2014.jpg
The Washburn A Mill Complex from the Stone Arch Bridge
Location1st St. S. at Portland Ave.
Part ofSaint Anthony Falls Historic District (ID71000438)
NRHP reference No.83004388
Significant dates
Added to NRHPMay 4, 1983[1]
Designated NHLMay 4, 1983[2]

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

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


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

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

Local artists[edit]

The work of local artists is featured throughout the building. Pieces by JoAnn Verburg, Tom Maakestad, Kim Lawler, Kathleen Richert, Paul Wrench and Becky Schurmann include murals, an art glass collage, a 15-foot (4.6 m) Bisquick box, and sculpture.

Mill City Live[edit]

Mill City Museum began an outdoor concert series named "Mill City Live" in the summer of 2004. The concerts are held in the museum's Ruin courtyard and feature Twin Cities bands of various genres. "Mill City Live" was originally held on the first and third Thursdays of June, July, August, and September, but in 2009 and 2010 concerts were held every Thursday in July and August. As of 2016, the concerts are held every Wednesday night in August.[3]

Washburn A Mill[edit]

Front of building

The first Washburn A Mill, built by Cadwallader C. Washburn in 1874, was declared the largest flour mill in the world upon its completion, and contributed to the development of Minneapolis. On May 2, 1878, a spark ignited airborne flour dust within the mill, creating an explosion that demolished the Washburn A and killed 18 workers instantly. The ensuing fire resulted in the deaths of four more people, destroyed five other mills, and reduced Minneapolis's milling capacity by one third. Known as the Great Mill Disaster, the explosion made national news and served as a focal point that led to reforms in the milling industry. In order to prevent the buildup of combustible flour dust, ventilation systems and other precautionary devices were installed in mills throughout the country.

By 1880 a new Washburn A Mill, designed by Austrian engineer William de la Barre, opened as the largest flour mill in the world, a designation it retained until the Pillsbury A Mill opened across the river in 1881. At the peak of the Washburn A Mill's production, it could grind over 100 boxcars of wheat into almost two million pounds of flour per day. An ad from the 1870s advertised, "Forty-one Runs of Stone. Capacity, 1,200 Barrels per Day. This is the largest and most complete Mill in the United States, and has not its equal in quantity and quality of machinery for making high and uniform grades of Family Flour in this country." Advertising hyperbole aside, the mill, along with the Pillsbury A Mill and other flour mills powered by St. Anthony Falls, contributed greatly to Minneapolis's development. The mill was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1983 for its technological innovations and its importance in the history of General Mills.[4]

Washburn later teamed up with John Crosby to form the Washburn-Crosby Company, which later became General Mills.[5]

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

In 1991 a fire nearly destroyed the old mill. Fires (and explosions) were a well know hazards for flour mills. The A-Mill had a serious fire in 1928. The mill had a good sprinkler system that very likely would have rapidly ended the fire. But the mill was vacant, thus not heated (expensive), and the sprinklers were not functioning. [6] During the late 1990s, the city of Minneapolis, through the Minneapolis Community Development Agency, worked to stabilize the mill ruins. After the city had cleared the rubble and reinforced the mill's damaged walls, the Minnesota Historical Society announced plans to construct a milling museum and education center within the ruins. Construction on the museum began in March 2001. Designed by Tom Meyer, principal for the architectural firm Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle, the museum is a new building built with the ruin walls of the 1880 Washburn A Mill. Efforts were made to retain as much of the historic fabric of the building as was possible. Many features of the Washburn A Mill were left intact, including turbine pits, railroad tracks, a train shed and two engine houses.



  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. March 15, 2006.
  2. ^ "Washburn A Mill Complex". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Archived from the original on June 6, 2011. Retrieved November 6, 2007.
  3. ^ "Mill City Museum Announces Mill City Live Summer Concert Lineup - Minneapolis Riverfront News - Minneapolis Riverfront Neighborhoods". Retrieved September 23, 2016.
  4. ^ George R. Adams and James B. Gardner (September 1978). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination: Washburn A Mill Complex" (pdf). National Park Service. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help) and Accompanying 7 images, including photos from 1978. (692 KiB)
  5. ^ "Falls of St. Anthony". A History of Minneapolis. Minnesota Public Library. Archived from the original on August 15, 2007. Retrieved August 2, 2007.
  6. ^ "Minneapolis Riverfront Redevelopment Oral History Project: Interview with Peter Nelson Hall". Minnesota Historical Society. February 28, 2009. pp. 11, 14. Retrieved September 1, 2022.

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