Mill City Museum in Minneapolis, Minnesota is built within the ruins of the oldest floor mill in the world on the banks of the Mississippi River. The museum showcases the history of Minneapolis as a great milling city with exhibits from local and regional artists.
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William de la Barre, an Austrian engineer designed the structure that houses Mill City Museum in 1880 as the world’s largest flour mill. In 1991, Washburn A Mill was almost completely destroyed by fire however, the City of Minneapolis cleared the debris with Minneapolis Historical Society taking charge of developing a milling museum and education center on the site.
The museum construction began in 2001 with preserving the ruins of the historic mill a top priority for architect Thomas Meyer who developed the concept to make the historic site modern while retaining the structural integrity of the ruins. The industrial concept uses limestone, brick and other earth elements along with steel to showcase the 8-story glass building of gallery space that overlooks the Mississippi River. A courtyard was also established fenced by the charred masonry walls left after the 1991 fire.
Mill City Museum features exhibits by local artists that convey the history of Flour Milling in Minneapolis and the significance of the Washburn A Mill as the largest flour mill in the world. Some of the highlights of the museum exhibit include:
Between Now and Then, Minnesota 2003- This 14’x25’ collage is featured in the space where trains ran through Washburn A Mill. Made of glass, photographs, and industrial materials, this collage reflects on the wheat, water, and natural elements that encompass milling. This work is designed by JoAnn Verburg.
Marine-on-St. Croix- Tom Maakestad painted this landscape that provides a panoramic view of a wheat field. This artwork is featured with a 10th century tractor that was used in harvesting wheat and is 10’x20’.
Other artists with works featured in the galleries include Kim Lawler, Kathleen Richert, and Paul Wrench with Beck Schurmann. The exhibits range from sculptures representing wheat products, paintings, photographs, found object art and many other mediums.
Touring Mill City Museum
Tours of the Mill City Museum are commonly self-guided with museum admission. However, special guided tours are available throughout the year that require additional ticketing and advance registration in many instances. Many tours include other historic landmarks on the riverfront. Tours are subject to change with more information online. Past tours have included family scavenger hunts, Hennepin Island, a walking tour of women’s history, and the railroad history in Minneapolis.
Gold Medal Walking Tours- This tour explores Minneapolis history beginning with the Mill City Museum and includes a 90-minute guided walk of 1.5 miles of Mississippi Riverfront sites.
Washburn A Mill Tour- Focusing only on the historic Washburn Mill, this one-mile tour highlights the lives of the people who worked in the mill and how flour milling impacted the economy of Minneapolis.
Engineering the Falls- A volunteer costumed as Willian de la Barre who developed the Washburn A Mill guides participants through the development of milling and hydropower. Visitors will also get to see the waterfalls that powered the mill.
Disasters of the Riverfront- A 1.5-hour tour that captivated audiences with the history of disasters and multiple fires on the Mississippi Riverfront including the damage to the Mill in 1991 and bridge collapses over the last decade that have shaped the landscape of the area.
Field Trips- Educators and their classrooms are welcome to participate in field trips, arranged in advance with the Mill City Museum. Schools, Youth and community groups can engage with kids of all ages through specially designed scavenger hunts and guided exploration of museum exhibits.
Mill City Museum is host to many community events, special exhibitions, and artist receptions. Cooking demonstrations, workshops, lectures, and storytelling tours happen throughout the year and are detailed on the events calendar on the Mill City Museum website. Special holiday programming is also presented annually such as cookie making competitions, and family baking workshops.
Christmas at the Mill- During the month of December costumed actors portray the Washburn Crosby famous holiday party that was held at the mill in 1920. Characters are derived from the company employee newspaper records and personal scenes are set forth for audience members 8 years old and up.
Mill City Oktoberfest- Mill City Museum is host to the annual Minneapolis Oktoberfest celebration. This festival honors German heritage with live performances, German food, activities inside the museum and courtyard, and a Farmers Market set up on the grounds. There are tours offered of historic sites, games, and historic player performances for families to enjoy.
704 South Second Street, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 55401, Phone: 612-341-7556