Ruth & I didn’t make it to Prince’s home and recording studio, our main objective while in the Minneapolis area, but we made good use of our time by seeing other attractions and eating Minnesota’s so-called best sandwich at Lu’s. There’s a large Somali community in this city and we tried to visit a museum devoted to their culture, but there was no one to show us around. We went instead to the Mill City Museum where there were plenty of eager-to-please staffers and many tourists around. Overall, the tour of the Mill City Museum was a 4 Compass experience.
When Minneapolis was Flour City, General Mills and Pillsbury were across the Mississippi River from each other. Between them were St. Anthony Falls. Their 50-foot-drop created waterpower for saw, textile, and flour mills. Sawmills were on the scene first. The flour-producing Washburn A Mill went into operation in 1874 and exploded 4 years later killing 18 people. Rebuilt 2 years later, it officially became General Mills in 1928 when the iconic General Mills sign was already 18 years old. The explosion that caused Washburn’s roof to rise hundreds of feet into the air and its walls to collapse was caused by flour dust, and 1/3 of its capacity to make flour was destroyed. There was no warning. There was a serious fire in 1991 that displaced a lot of homeless people. The mill had already been closed for 26 years. What was left of Washburn A became Mill City Museum in 2003, the year that Pillsbury closed it riverside mill for good.
There are 5 rewarding experiences that made the Mill City Museum an OK attraction. Everybody gets to ride a huge elevator to the top of the Flour Tower for a dramatic view of the falls, a stone arch bridge, the River, and the city below. While we rose, we were cleverly shown a multimedia show featuring former employees making and handling flour. I had experienced nothing like this before. Secondly, the old Washburn A has been exposed as much as possible and seamlessly incorporated into new structures. This is a masterful repurposing. Thirdly, in the Museum Gallery we got to watch a woman make artisan bread that we were invited to taste. The recipe was available. Fourthly, we got to reminisce about Betty Crocker, Bisquick, and Poppin’Fresh, who has starred in more than 600 commercials.
On the negative side, a lot of the exhibits in the Museum Gallery were about making flour, which is simple and not that entertaining. I don’t enjoy brewery and winery tours for the same reason. There are many grist mills, millstones, and roller mills to check out that are historic but yawn inducing. The 2nd film, 19 Minutes Flat, is getting dated. The 13 hand carved from white pine figures are a bit spooky and easy to overlook. A lot of the activities are geared toward entertaining children, which is fine as long as they are entertained. The info about insects that devour stored grain and cause $300,000,000 in annual losses highly entertained me.
A tour of what was once the largest flour mill in the world was mostly interesting, but I never got past my sense of duty to honor Mill City’s industrial past. These mills, after all, began declining by 1930.
ps The painting of St. Anthony Falls above was done in 1842