The West Side Milling District
To the lower right, the Stone Arch Bridge curves across Upton Island, now the location of the Upper Lock and the activities of the US Army
Corps of Engineers. Minneapolis was still the country's top produce of flour when this aerial photograph was taken in the 1920s.
Minneapolis on the west bank of the river quickly overtook St.
Anthony on the east side. A major reason was more efficient
use of water power. In 1857 the Minneapolis Mill Company
started to build a canal along south First Street. Enlarged and
extended several times, it provided waterpower to a total of 25
assorted factories and mills by 1871.
As flour production boomed in the 1870s, other industries were
crowded out. From the 1880s through the 1920s, some two
dozen flour mills lined the canal on both sides. Grain elevators,
machine shops, barred factories, and other facilities clustered
around. Flour milling was not labor intensive. It depended
more on machines than men, and employees were generally
well paid. Although unions formed in other industries, they made
little headway among mill workers until after World War I.
After 1930 Minneapolis's fifty-year leadership in flour milling
passed to other places. One by one milling operations ceased.
An era ended in 1965 when General Mills closed its mills at
the falls and moved to Golden Valley. The St. Anthony Falls
Historic District was created in 1971, and the Washburn A
Mill became a National Historic Landmark in 1983. Devastated
by fire in 1991, it survives as a dramatic ruin. Most of the
other mills have been torn down or adapted to different uses.
Under the ground there remains an intricate system of
canals, water gates, raceways, and turbine pits, along with
foundations of many mills.
Looking south along First Street during reconstruction of the
waterpower canal in 1885. The canal ? is being covered with
a plank roadway for wagons. In the background, a second-story
railroad trestle is being rebuilt.
Barrel-making was an important industry at the falls, with over two
million barrels produced in 1880. Flour was stored and shipped in
wooden barrels until the turn of the century when cloth sacks came
into use. The picture shows empty barrels being loaded into the
Washburn A Mill.
Flour produced at the Washburn Mill won a gold medal at the International
Millers convention in ?, and Gold Medal Flour became a brand name
known worldwide. The Washburn-? Company became General
Mills, Inc. in 1926, and the company still produces Gold Medal Flour.