Minneapolis flour power

Owing to its state slogan “land of 10,000 lakes”, I never thought of Minneapolis as a river city. It always seemed like a lake kind of town.

But, born, as it was, on both banks of the Mississippi, a river city it is, and I love the history of American river cities, possibly because I grew up in one.

So, when our informal tour guide, Deanna, mentioned the Great Flour Mill Explosion of 1878, I was all ears.

According to a story that cited the Minneapolis Post May 2, 1878 edition, the Washburn Flour Mill blew up suddenly as the evening shift filed in.

“In a matter of seconds, a series of thunderous explosions—heard ten miles away in St. Paul—destroyed what had been Minneapolis’ largest industrial building, and the largest mill in the world, along with several adjacent flour mills. It was the worst disaster of its type in the city’s history, prompting major safety upgrades in future mill developments.”

As the fires continued to burn into the next day, the Minneapolis Tribune reported in its May 3, 1878 edition, “Minneapolis has met with a calamity, the suddenness and horror of which it is difficult for the mind to comprehend.”

Two mill stones had run dry, causing a spark that ignited the highly flammable flour dust. The fire, which killed 18 workers, wiped out nearly half of the city’s milling capacity. The Washburn Mill had employed 200 people.

The disaster might have decimated the young city, but Cadwallader Washburn, the building’s owner, who was at his home in Wisconsin when word of the fire reached him, rushed back to Minneapolis and vowed to rebuild. Two years later, a new, safer and more technologically advanced Washburn Mill opened and Minneapolis held its place as one of the top flour milling producers in the world.

Today, the whole flour district has been redeveloped and the area continues to thrive.

Hints of the city’s flour power remain. At Saturday’s Farmer’s Market, which takes place on the site of the Washburn Mill, I bought a delicious loaf of strawberry rhubarb bread from Heritage Breads, a chef-owned bakery that locally sources its flour from Sunrise Flour Mill. 

Next time you’re in Minneapolis, take a peek at the historic Mill District, best on a Saturday morning in July when the Farmer’s Market is in full bloom.

I just think this picture is hilarious. Vince suggested I climb up on that stoop to get a better shot of the flour mill ruins. Then he held out his arms as though he would catch me if I fell, a disaster that, though not on par with the Washburn Mill Explosion of 1878, would have humiliated us both. Thankfully, I emerged from the photo attempt with both of our dignity temporarily intact.
This is the shot I got, with Mississippi running behind the ruins of the old flour mill.
Signs of Minneapolis’ impressive flour mill history remain all over that district.
Since he was a tiny boy, my son Vinnie liked to jump into my photos.
This is him sneaking into my flour mill shot.
He’s here, too, in my shot of the Farmer’s Market under the Flour Mill Ruins. Can you spot him?
Oooo, that freshly milled bread though. Yum!
I had to look up Ceresota, too. Here’s what I found: It is believed that the Ceresota name was chosen from Greek mythology: “Ce-res”: Goddess of harvest. + “ota” = son. Ceresota: son of Ce-res. And this: The Ceresota Brand was born in the late 1800’s from the vibrant flour milling industry in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Mississippi River below the St. Anthony falls had the perfect conditions for water powered flour mills. By the later part of 1870 there were nearly 30 different flour mills built on the banks of Mississippi river.
I liked the look of this Gold Medal Flour tower at night.


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