St. Anthony Falls: The Birthplace of Minneapolis

Franklin Steele incorporated the town of Old St. Anthony in 1855 with a population of 3,000 people.  The area on the east bank of the Mississippi River was largely industrial with residential tucked in, taking advantage of both land and water transportation routes.  The area eventually became the most important milling complex in the nation.  As many as sixteen saw mills lined the river near the falls.  By 1872, St. Anthony was competing with Minneapolis in a way that was unproductive.  The two cities joined forces and merged into what is now the City of Minneapolis. By the 1860s, the Minneapolis milling industry shifted from saw mills to flour mills that harnessed the power of the falls using the first hydroelectric power plant.  An explosion took place on August 13, 1893 causing an historic fire destroying 160 homes and 6 sawmills spreading from Boom Island to Marshall Street.  The now Pillsbury A Mill building was re-constructed to continue flour milling operations.  What you see today as you look out along the river is a pattern of construction established after 1890.  Sawmills that once dominated the east side of the river were phased out, replaced by flour mills, warehouses, and commercial buildings.  The industrial nature of the district did not necessitate the construction of skyscrapers and instead created an interesting mix of building types and heights ranging anywhere from three to seven stories.

The St. Anthony Falls Historic District was listed as a local landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971 in an effort to preservation and enhance the long retired mill district.  Many redevelopment projects have occurred in the area, all guided by the St. Anthony Falls Design Guidelines, a document that provides guidance and instruction on creating meaningful rehabilitation and infill projects.  An instrumental part of the city’s growth, both at the turn of the century and still today, is St. Anthony Falls, the birthplace of Minneapolis.

author: Stephanie Rouse