Internet Explorer 11 is not supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Powered by the Mighty Miss: Minneapolis' Flour Milling History

A sleek museum, built within the ruins of what was once one of the largest flour mills in the country, tells the story of how the city flourished thanks to its mills and the waterpower of the Mississippi River.

Mill City Museum, Minneapolis
Mill City Museum, Minneapolis
The history of Minneapolis can be found in the ruins of a flour mill along the banks of the Mississippi River. Built within the burnt brick ruins of the Washburn A Mill, the steel-and-glass Mill City Museum showcases the entwined stories of milling and Minneapolis. Starting in the mid-1800s as the city’s population was exploding, water-powered flour mills were built next to the river, eventually making Minneapolis the milling capitol of the world. 

For a time, the biggest was the Washburn A, which began production in 1880 and was able to grind enough flour to bake 12 million loaves of bread a day. But advances in technology eliminated dependence on waterpower and the giant mills by the Mississippi fell into disuse. The Washburn A was shut down in 1965 and sat empty and unused until it was nearly destroyed by fire in 1991. 

The Minnesota Historical Society, a nonprofit organization, saw potential in the rubble, stabilized the ruins, and opened the award-winning museum a dozen years later, leaving many features of the original mill intact. Visitors can stop by the Baking Lab, board the Flour Tower elevator ride and take in the view from 110 feet up on the observation deck. But they won’t be able to see the last operating water-powered mill in the state, 150 miles to the south.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the organization behind the museum. It is the Minnesota Historical Society, not the city of Minneapolis.

David Kidd is a photojournalist and storyteller for Governing. He can be reached at
From Our Partners