Saturday, June 10, 2017

Minnesota Historical Sites - The Mill City Museum

Erica Vetsch here:

On the tenth of each month, we're exploring sites administrated and operated by the Minnesota State Historical Society. Last month we learned more about the Minnesota State Capitol, and today I'd love to share with you about another of my favorite MNHS sites, The Mill City Museum.

Taken by Peter Vetsch, 2007.

The Mill City Museum is built into the historic ruins of the Washburn A Mill on the banks of the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis. For more than 50 years, Minneapolis was the Flour Mill Capitol of the World, known informally as "Mill City." 

The Washburn A Mill opened in 1874, and at peak production ground enough flour every single day to make TWELVE MILLION loves of bread! Tragically, in 1878, the mill suffered an explosion, (Flour dust is 50X more combustible than gunpowder!) eighteen lives were lost, and one-third of the city's milling capacity was destroyed in an instant. You can learn more about the explosion, as well as see a flour dust explosion demonstration by watching the video below.

The mill was rebuilt and reopened, but in 1928, it caught fire again. The entire mill was closed in 1965 and sat vacant, and in 1991, it caught fire again. 

Ten years later, the Minnesota Historical Society began construction of a museum on the ruins, and wherever possible, the museum's designer, Thomas Meyer, left intact features of the original mill including flour bins, milling machinery, the engine house, rail corridor, and a wheat house.

The museum tells the history of both the milling industry and the riverfront, from the first settlement to the creation of the river apron, to the history of the Washburns and Pillsburys and the creation of the Betty Crocker character. With interactive, hands-on exhibits for kids where they can direct river water through channels, float logs, activate mills, and more, test their baking skills in the Betty Crocker kitchen, and try their hand at operating milling machinery, the museum is a wonderful place to take your children.

One favorite attraction at the museum is "The Flour Tour" a multi-story, multi-media presentation of the history of the mill. With stories told by actual mill workers, video, light, and sound, you can experience flour milling through every stage of the process. 

The Flour Tour tour ends on an observation deck overlooking the River from the top of the mill. Beautiful views appear everywhere you look, including the James. J. Jill Arched bridge, the Pillsbury mills across the river, and the ruins courtyard several stories below.

Taken by Peter Vetsch, 2007.
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  1. Flour dust - 50 X more explosive than gunpowder? Wow! Who knew! I've never heard that before. That sounds like a really cool museum. I was in Minneapolis once for the ACFW conf, but there was no extra time to site see. I'll have to visit the mill if I ever get back up that way.

    1. I forgot to mention that I really enjoyed the videos.