Pillsbury A Mill, 301 Main Street South East, Minneapolis, Minnesota
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Pillsbury A Mill
|Address:||301 Main Street SE|
|Neighborhood/s:||Marcy-Holmes, Minneapolis, Minnesota, St. Anthony Main, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Historic Mill District, Minneapolis, Minnesota|
|Hennepin County, Minnesota|
|Historic Function:||Manufacturing facility|
|Architect or source of design:||Leroy S. Buffington|
|Material of Exterior Wall Covering:||Limestone|
|Material of Foundation:||Limestone|
|First Owner:||Charles A. Pillsbury|
|Part of the Site:||Pillsbury A Mill|
|National Register of Historic Places Information|
|Certification date:||November 13, 1966|
|Level of significance:||National|
Alternative addresses for this site include 100 3rd Ave SE (City of Minneapolis) and 116 3rd Ave SE (National Register Nomination).
The Pillsbury A Mill, constructed in 1881, was once the largest and most advanced flour mill in the world. Situated on the east bank of the Mississippi in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the mill took advantage of the power produced by St. Anthony Falls to produce 17,500 barrels of flour per day. Pillsbury A Mill was added to the list of National Historic Landmarks in 1966. Of the four large flour mills in the city during the peak of Minneapolis’s reign as the milling capital of the country, the Pillsbury A Mill is the only one remaining.
On June 4, 1869, Charles Pillsbury bought a broken-down flour mill and though he knew nothing of the industry, he began making improvements on the middlings purifier, which cleaned and graded the middlings from cracked wheat and retained more value in the wheat berry. In 1871, Pillsbury bought a second mill and formed C.A. Pillsbury & Company. In 1881, the massive A Mill was constructed, measuring 175ft by 115ft and 6 stories high (187ft). The structure of the building is heavy timber, and the Platteville limestone walls range from 8 ½ to 2 ½ feet thick. (Platteville limestone is local to the site.) Charles Pillsbury continued his mechanical improvements to the milling industry, and the A Mill had the best equipment and methods: the plansifter, perfect steel rollers, middlings purifier, and the first electric light bulbs in industry in what was then known as the Northwest. For decades, the Pillsbury A Mill was the most productive mill in the world. The building operated as two separate mills (“East A” and “West A”), each with its own workers, wheat streams, and machines. In December of 1881, just five months after the mill had begun operation, a fire destroyed much of the complex, leaving only the East A Mill to continue work until July 1882. Also in 1882, the mill gained 90 plansifters that replaced reels, gears, conveyers, scalpers and graders, and centrifugal reels. This increased the capacity of the mill and saved energy. The productivity of the mill steadily increased from 4,000 barrels per day in 1882 to a daily average of 17,500 barrels after 1905. The railway serviced the mill, running behind the A Mill and down the middle of the complex, parallel to the river and halfway between Main St and 2nd St. From there, the rail ran east, eventually toward St. Paul. Though the mill was converted to electricity from water power in the 1950s, the old mill race and water power machinery still exist in the subbasement. In 1975, the A Mill was being phased out of operation. The vibration of the machinery had weakened the structure, with the front (river-facing) side of the building bowing as much as 22 inches. Buttresses were constructed on the back of the building, and steel cables, secured to beams across windows, braced the front. At this point, the mill was only being used for special orders of course flour, which modern sifters could not produce.
Memories and stories
The size of the Pillsbury A Mill site is shown on the National Register Nomination to stretch 150 feet along Main Street east from the corner of Third Ave, and north along Third Ave 200 feet to the edge of the neighboring machine shop. The site is nearly rectangular, sans a 50 foot by 50 foot area subtracted from the northeast corner. The entire Pillsbury A Mill Complex, however, is a much large site of 7.9 acres between 2nd Street (to the north) and Main Street (to the south), and between Third Ave (to the west) and Sixth Ave (to the east). In addition to the A Mill, the Complex also includes several other newer buildings and a large block of grain elevators, as well as tunnels underground.
The Pillsbury A Mill building was added to the National Register under the Industrial area of significance for the period 1800-1899. If the Mill is considered under UNESCO’s World Heritage Criteria, it may be found to have significance under criteria ii and iv. Criterion ii states that the site must “exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design.” The Pillsbury A Mill exhibits the development in both architecture and even more so in technology. Though the industry of flour milling has now disappeared in this district, the mill stands as a reminder of what once was and the important developments that occurred on the site. The Pillsbury A Mill, in particular, is an exceptional testimony because of its great size and its unique position as the leader in flour milling during its day.
Criterion iv states that the listed site would “be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history.” The Pillsbury A Mill is an outstanding example of a mill building and the associated milling technologies that illustrate an important stage in industrialization. The flour milling industry in Minneapolis represented by the Pillsbury A Mill is certainly significant to the city, but is also significant to the world in terms of the innovations that were produced there. Flour from this mill was shipped far and wide, and the advances made at this mill reached even further. The Pillsbury A Mill also represents the stage in history in which water power was the driving source for many types of mills. This stage of industrialization based on riverways has now passed, but the Pillsbury A Mill and its intact race mills bear unique testimony to this period and technology.
Pillsbury wanted a mill of the best architectural design, and therefore hired the architect LeRoy S. Buffington. The A Mill was the first mill to be designed by an architect, rather than an engineer. While Buffington may be applauded for the aesthetics of the building, it unfortunately did not hold up structurally as it should have. Charles Pillsbury had studied famous European mills, particularly those in Budapest, in order to know the best architectural and mechanical features for his own. The building was significant architecturally at the time for its utilitarian form, adhering to the principle of “form follows function,” which was a rather new idea at that time. Its style also prepared the way for the acceptance of the Richardsonian Romanesque style. W.F. Gunn was the milling engineer for the project, and designed the mill’s internal processes.
Machinery & Power
As mentioned above, the A Mill had the best equipment and methods of the time: the plansifter, perfect steel rollers, middlings purifier, and the first electric light bulbs in industry in the Northwest. The A Mill also was home to the first installation of the Humphrey Manlift, which was developed by Seth K. Humphrey, himself a flour mill employee, as a way to avoid the tiring process of continually going up and down the many stairs of a mill. Humphrey sold his first manlift to Pillsbury for the A Mill in 1887.
Milling first became prominent in St. Anthony and Minneapolis because of the power created by the waters of the Mississippi River at the Falls of St. Anthony, the only significant natural waterfall on the Mississippi. The mills were powered by turbines at the base of the drop shafts under the mill. Water was diverted from the upper portion of the Mississippi River into the head races leading to the mill, was dropped underneath the mill to generate power, and then was sent back to the lower part of the river through the tail races. In 1914, the Journal of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers reported that the Falls of St. Anthony produced 60,000 horsepower over a fall of 47 feet, on average. Most of this power was used, at that time, by the flour mills. This power was leased out to each mill, at a certain cost per year.
Present & Future
The Pillsbury A Mill site was purchased by Mill Development LLC, a subsidiary of developer Schafer-Richardson, Inc. There were plans to reuse the entire Pillsbury A Mill Complex, including the A Mill itself, into a mixed use, commercial and residential development called East Bank Mills. Shafer-Richardson has proposed a plan to retain seven historic buildings on the site (all of the current structures except for the grain elevators). In order to financially support the rehabilitation of these structures, new residential towers were also proposed for the site. Space in the historic A Mill would mostly be commercial. In total, there were to be approximately 1000 units of housing in eleven buildings, plus 100,000 square feet of commercial space in the $500 million project. Schafer-Richardson has worked with the city, historic preservation groups, and the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood to address concerns about the height and density of the proposed development and about the treatment of the A Mill. Shafer-Richardson also developed Phoenix on the River, which has 79 condos and commercial space, across the street from the Pillsbury site. However, the recent downturn of the housing market has delayed the East Bank Mills project, and now Mill Development LLC faces foreclosure of the buildings. David Frank of Schafer-Richardson reported that the company is still trying to recapitalize the project and though looking for additional investors, wants to stay involved. Currently, plans for the project have been downsized to a proposal of 500-600 residential units, and the commercial portion of development is being pushed for the first phase. Recently there has also been a study of the tunnel system, drop shafts, and races under the mill to investigate the possibility of using that infrastructure for hydrothermal heating and cooling and hydroelectricity . Schafer-Richardson has proposed testing flat-plate heat exchangers in the head race tunnels, among other technologies. The system could potentially generate enough heat for 4.6 million square feet of buildings and result in 13.360 fewer tons of carbon emissions and 9.2 kilowatt hours of electricity per year by using the heat exchangers as well as turbines at the base of the dropshaft under the mill.
- Christison, Muriel. “LeRoy S. Buffington and the Minneapolis Boom of the 1880’s.” Minnesota Historical Society. <http://collections.mnhs.org/MNHistoryMagazine/articles/23/v23i03p219-232.pdf>. Accessed 3 November 2010.
- “The Criteria for Selection” World Heritage. UNESCO. <http://whc.unesco.org/en/criteria>. Accessed 3 November 2010.
- Geiger, Bob. “Schafer-Richardson floats hydrothermal power proposal for A Mill project in Minneapolis.” 26 September 2009. Finance & Commerce. <http://www.allbusiness.com/government/government-bodies-offices-regional-local/13071336-1.html>. Accessed 3 November 2010.
- Gilyard, Burl. “Foreclosure looms for East Bank Mills.” 22 September 2010. Finance & Commerce. <http://finance-commerce.com/2010/09/foreclosure-looms-for-east-bank-mills/>. Accessed 3 November 2010.
- Hennepin County Property Information website. Hennepin County, Minnesota, 2010. < http://www16.co.hennepin.mn.us/pins/>. Accessed 3 November 2010.
- “Historical and Cultural Heritage Grant to Fund the Study of A Mill’s Historic Tunnel System as a Possible Energy Center. Community Planning and Economic Development Department News Release. City of Minneapolis <http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/cped/docs/100614_Legacy_Grant_Release.pdf>. Accessed 3 November 2010.
- “The History of Humphrey Manlift Company.” Humphrey Manlift Company, Inc. 2010. <http://humphrey-manlift.com/store.asp?pid=27481>. Accessed 3 November 2010.
- Lang, Chas. “Minneapolis Flour Milling.” The Journal of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Vol. 36. The New York: The American Society of Mechanical Engineers, 1914.
- Lissandrello, Stephen. National Register of Historic Places Inventory – Nomination: Pillsbury A Mill. 7 August 1975. National Historic Landmarks Program website. National Park Service.
- “Pillsbury A Mill Complex Project” City of Minneapolis. <http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/cped/a-mill.asp>. Accessed 3 November 2010.
- “Pillsbury A Mills” National History Landmarks Program. National Park Service. <http://tps.cr.nps.gov/nhl/detail.cfm?ResourceId=279&ResourceType=Building>. Accessed 3 November 2010.
- Saint Anthony Falls rediscovered : the architectural heritage of Minneapolis's St. Anthony Falls historical district. Minneapolis (Minn.). Riverfront Development Coordination Board. Minneapolis : Minneapolis Riverfront Development Coordination Board, 1980.
Description of the Milling process at the Pillsbury A Mill from 1883
David Frank of Schaefer Richardson on the Pillsbury A Mill's history - YouTube
Richard Ferrell Collection
HABS 1930s Documentation
National Register Nomination
 Minnesota Communities - Hydropower