The Necessity for Ruins
Industrial vestiges recapture Minneapolis's milling past.
By Frank Edgerton Martin
Photo Courtesy Tim Blankenship, URS
Between 1880 and 1930, Minneapolis led the world in flour production.
A growing complex of flour millsPillsbury and WashburnCrosby
(later General Mills)-embraced the entire St. Anthony Falls area
with an interconnected system of canals, pipes, train tracks, and
immense masonry mills. It is unlike any other industrial district
in the world. By the 1950s, as Minneapolis strove to be a modern,
service-oriented city, its leaders began to demolish many surviving
retail and commercial buildings near the Mississippi riverbanks.
They saw shipping as a new industry to update the faded milling
past. In the 1950s, the Army Corps of Engineers undertook additional
demolition of 13 neighboring mills. Eventually, the entire complex
was almost completely covered with rubble. Today, few Twin Cities
residents have any idea of this extraordinary landscape's history
as a world-class industrial marvel.
Like the industrial vestiges of Germany's Ruhr Area (see "Reconstructing
the Ruhrgebiet," Landscape Architecture, April 2001), Minneapolis's
riverfront represents a technological triumph of the past that slipped
into near-total obscurity. "The milling area was very complex and
dense," says Rachel Ramadhyani, ASLA, who serves as the Minneapolis
Park and Recreation Board's project manager for the Mill Ruins.
"Not only was there the hydraulic systemthe tailraces and
the canalsthere was also an internal train network. Raw materials
would arrive on one side of the mills and the finished flour would
leave from the other."
Mill Ruins Parkthe latest chapter in the city's effort to
bring parks and urban life to the riverreveals a small piece
of the Mill District's footings. But when schematic planning began
for Mill Ruins Park in the early 1980s, the idea of excavating this
defunct industrial landscape was so novel that many locals thought
the project would never come to pass. "This is a project that's
been all about process," Ramadhyani observes, "about getting enough
money, about getting things approved, about making things safe."
For each of the phases of park construction, Ramadhyani says, "there
is a patchwork of funding sources, much of it from TEA-21 grants."
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