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Image of: Painting of Washburn A Mill

Go to Forests, Fields and the Falls

Forests, Fields, & The Falls

Explore the stories of four real people, as their lives are intertwined through Minnesota's lumber mills, saw mills, farms, and flour mills.

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Beginning in 1880 and for 50 years thereafter, Minneapolis was known as the “Flour Milling Capital of the World.” At the industry’s peak, the Washburn A Mill was the most technologically advanced and the largest in the world. At peak production, it ground enough flour to make 12 million loaves of bread in a day.

The city grew up around the mills, which received grain via rail lines stretching across the Northern Plains grain belt into the Dakotas and Canada. Trains also carried the milled flour to Duluth and to eastern U.S. destinations both for export and domestic distribution. In 1870, the city’s population was 13,000. Twenty years later it had grown to nearly 165,000.

After World War I the milling industry in Minneapolis began to decline. As the industry moved out of Minneapolis, the old mills fell into disuse. The Washburn A Mill closed in 1965. In 1991 the mill was nearly destroyed by fire.

Working through the Minneapolis Community Development Agency, the city cleaned up the rubble and fortified the charred walls of the mill in the late 1990s. Shortly thereafter, the Minnesota Historical Society announced plans to develop Mill City Museum.

Our publications tell the Flour Power Story, read on...

St. Anthony Falls Heritage Trail

Explore the only falls on the Mississippi River and the industrial ruins of the flour-milling district, once the largest in the world. View the falls from the restored Stone Arch bridge. The two-mile loop trail offers a self-guided walking tour along the Minneapolis riverfront within the St. Anthony Falls National Register Historic District. Trail markers tell the stories of the people related to the falls as well as the geological, engineering and industrial history of the district. Maps of the trail are located on trail markers.

First Bridge Across the Mississippi

On January 23, 1855 a suspension bridge opened in Minneapolis from Nicollet Island to what is now the downtown side of the Mississippi River at Hennepin Avenue. Combined with an 1853 bridge from Nicollet Island to the other side of the river, this suspension bridge completed the very first permanent span across the Mississippi along its entire length.

In recognition of the 150th anniversary of this historical milestone, the Minneapolis Riverfront District will host a year-long celebration in 2005 of the many wonderful bridges in the District. Minneapolis has more bridges across the Mississippi River than any other river community, and those bridges represent a wide variety of styles including suspension, stone arch, steel truss, and concrete-arch bridges.

Visit the Minnesota Historical Society's Photo & Art Database for historic images:

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