Little Falls Dam and Ruins

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Little Falls Dam and Ruins

Little Falls Dam Today
Location of Structure: Little Falls, MN on the Mississippi River at mile marker 965.2
Little Falls, Minnesota, Minnesota
Morrison County, Minnesota County, Minnesota
State/province: Minnesota
Country: United States
Year built: 1888
Architect or source of design: Little Falls Water Power Company
Builder: Little Falls Water Power Company
Historic Function: Dam
Current Function of Structure: Dam
Part of the Site: Little Falls Dam and Ruins

Little Falls, Minnesota Morrison County, Minnesota County

Little Falls Dam and Ruins
(45.9749656° N, 94.3686137° WLatitude: 45°58′29.876″N
Longitude: 94°22′7.009″W
The Little Falls Dam located in Little Falls, Minnesota personifies the shift of industrialization for this quaint town. Although the dam received some modifications, it was considered to be the second best hydropower location in the Midwest subsequent to the well-known Saint Anthony Falls.



The Little Falls Mill and Land Company was formed in 1849 to build a dam and a sawmill to supply lumber for buildings at Fort Ripley; currently Camp Ripley, a training facility for the National Guard, Minnesota State Patrol, Minnesota DNR, and Foreign exchange programs. James Green, the owner of the first dam died in 1850 and everything surrounding the dam including the land and mill was sold. William Sturgis purchased this dam and collectively with the help of Calvin Tuttle and James Fergus and formed the Little Falls Manufacturing Company.

Their main vision for this dam was making lumber, grinding grain, cutting logs, selling goods, and creating a town. LFMC constructed a larger dam, sawmill, a two and a half story cabinet shop, and a bridge. Owning about 2,000 acres of land, LFMC hired S. M. Putman to survey the land and divide it into lots. By selling these lots and stocks of the company, people started to migrate to this area to reside and start their own business.

Little Falls started to grow thanks to the construction of the dam. Unfortunately the dam was washed away in a flood that occurred in 1860 due to poor construction techniques. After several attempts to rebuild the dam, a depression struck the town and efforts were weakening to revitalize this town. In 1887, decisions were made to reconstruct a more suitable dam. The Little Falls Water Power Company was formed and a new dam was finished in 1888. This dam supplied mechanical power to Gate House Light & Water Plant - Flour Mill.

The Mississippi River in Little Falls has been utilized for milling since 1848. It was first owned and operated by James Green who used damming to create a sawmill, which was eventually owned by the Little Falls Company in 1854. The Little Falls company built several other mills creating a small complex, but a flood destroyed it in 1860.

With the introduction of the industrial revolution the Little Falls Water Power Company built a new dam, canal, and powerhouse. The Hennepin Paper Company, which became ne of the largest paper milling companies, built a mill in the same vicinity in 1890. This mill was widely known for its rough grade construction paper.

In the 1890’s, electrical power was available for purchase. Residential customers were enticed with free wiring of their homes if they committed to the payment for at least six lights. The dam currently produces 4.5-megawatts of power. Generators 1, 2, and 3 are in the newer powerhouse and were installed in 1924. Generators 5 and 6 are in the older powerhouse, and date back to 1906. Unit 4 was put into operation in 1979. Electric power generated from this dam cost about 7 cents per kilowatt/hour back in the early 1900s. The price remains the same more than 100 years later. The complex today is in ruins after extensive exposure to natural elements and fire, but is culturally significant because of its historical use, and how it sustained the local economy of the Upper Midwest. While the paper mill in particular became obsolete, it symbolizes the historical use of the natural landscape as well as the application of industrial technology of the late 1890s. The ruins fulfill OUV criteria V: to be an outstanding example of traditional human settlement, land use, or sea use which is representative of a culture, or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change.

Little Falls currently holds a Dam Festival every summer that celebrates the history of the city.

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