Museum recalls milling heyday
By Gregg Aamot
MINNEAPOLIS -- The walls of the old flour mill point like ancient ruins into the blue sky, jagged and charred from forgotten fires, their windows cracked or missing.
It might not seem like a place to gather, but the burned-out hull of what was once the Washburn-Crosby A Mill is the courtyard of a new museum that recalls Minneapolis' flour milling heyday.
For half a century, from 1880 until the Great Depression, Minneapolis was a flour milling giant -- the Silicon Valley of its age. Two dozen mills once lined the banks of the Mississippi River to tap its power as it wound through the city.
The Washburn-Crosby mill -- once the world's largest flour mill, and part of what was to become General Mills -- burned in 1991, but the Minneapolis Community Development Agency spared it from demolition. The Minnesota Historical Society decided to make it a museum.
The mill ruins are only a part of the Mill City Museum, which opens to the public Sept. 13. Visitors can split their time between the indoor exhibits and an outdoor space created around the ruins.
One floor of exhibits traces the life cycle of wheat. An interactive room for children includes a model of the Mississippi River powering through the canals built near the mill and onto the pistons that drove the millstones. The Flour Tower takes visitors on an eight-story elevator ride.
Visitors venturing outside will walk alongside railroad tracks and a boxcar, and by a massive concrete grain elevator built in the early 1900s.
The driving force behind the mills, of course, was the grand river and the coveted natural engine that provided great power to the early industrialists: the St. Anthony Falls.
After browsing through the exhibits, visitors can stand on a rooftop observation deck for a good look at the river and the falls, the Stone Arch Bridge and the urban landscape of northeast Minneapolis.
Year round: Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.
Memorial Day through Labor Day: Monday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The first Thursday of each month: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Holidays: Closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year's Day; open on Martin Luther King Day and President's Day
Adults 18-64: $7
Seniors 65 and older: $5
College students: $5
Students 4-17: $4
Groups of 10 or more: $6 each
Children 3 and younger: free
Minnesota Historical Society members: free
704 South Second St., Minneapolis.