Archaeologists to begin digging up historic Minneapolis mills

The last one was torn down in 1941.

It's sort of hard to see it now, but Minneapolis was once the "flour milling capital of the world," and at one point in the late 1800s, there were over two dozen mills churning out flour near the St. Anthony Falls. 

Almost all those mills are long gone, but now, three of them will be making a comeback thanks to the city's new riverfront park project. 

The Minneapolis parks board has announced the start of "new archaeological work" to explore and unearth remnants of the Bassett, Columbia and Occidental mills, which stood near what is now the corner of 1st Street and 5th Avenue S

The plan calls for the ruins to be incorporated into "Water Works," a proposed public gathering space that will be added to the Mill Ruins Park area.

"These mills helped build Minneapolis into an industrial powerhouse and soon they’ll rejoin the Central Riverfront as part of its revitalization into a world-class cultural attraction,” MPRB Superintendent Jayne Miller said in a news release.

The archaeological work is set to begin this month, and will soon include the "careful deconstruction" of the Fuji Ya building (a former restaurant), which is on the former site of the three mills. 

For a ton of information on the Water Works project, including how the mill ruins might be featured in the new spaces, check out this pdf presentation from the city.

It's scheduled to be complete and open to the public in 2019.

The mills beneath Minneapolis

The three mills being dug up, Bassett, Columbia and Occidental, were all founded in the latter half of the 19th Century and operated next to each other on S. 1st Street through the decades. 

According to, the Bassett Sawmill opened in 1870 and was the "only water-powered sawmill left on the west side (of the Mississippi River) when it burned in 1897."

The Occidental Mill, meanwhile, operated from 1883 until 1919, when it also burned down, FromeSitetoStory says. Most of the site is now beneath an asphalt parking lot. 

The Columbia Mill was the largest of the three and had the longest life of all. According to the website, it opened in 1882 and had to be demolished in 1941 because of structural issues. 

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