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Minneapolis in Hennepin County, Minnesota — The American Midwest (Upper Plains)
 

Sawmilling: The City's First Industry

 

— Saint Anthony Falls Heritage Trail —

 
Sawmilling: The City's First Industry Marker image. Click for full size.
By Cosmos Mariner, August 22, 2014
1. Sawmilling: The City's First Industry Marker
Inscription.  Long before farmers plowed Minnesota's western prairies, lumberjacks were felling pines in its northern forests. Beginning in the late 1840s, trees from Ojibway lands upriver were being cut into boards by sawmills at the Falls of St. Anthony. But the value of agriculture soon surpassed lumber throughout the state. The economic importance of flour milling pushed sawmills away from the falls, where space was at a premium. By 1890 most of the sawmills, by then powered by steam, were spread along the river in north Minneapolis. The industry peaked in 1899 with the frenzied cutting of Minnesota's remaining forests. For the next six years Minneapolis was the nation's largest sawmill center, but by 1910, with the timber gone, nearly all the mills had closed.

Nineteenth-century sawmilling was a dangerous and environmentally destructive business. Like trees, mill workers were plentiful and expendable. Safeguards were few and accidents frequent. Testimony to this was the city's thriving business in artificial limbs. Piles of lumber and sawdust also made fire an ever-present threat to the mills and nearby buildings.

The east channel became
Marker detail: Hennepin Island, East Side, 1860s image. Click for full size.
Minnesota Historical Society
2. Marker detail: Hennepin Island, East Side, 1860s
Water rushed over the falls on the east side of Hennepin Island in the 1860s. In the left foreground on Hennepin Island is the River Mill and a sluiceway for lumber. In the upper left background is the Winslow House, a favorite destination of southern tourists who came to see the falls. Some buildings on Main Street still stand and are part of St. Anthony Main.
crowded with dams, tailraces, flumes, and sawmill debris. The tailraces still functioning today are outlets for hydroelectric facilities operated by Northern States Power Company. These share Hennepin Island with the University of Minnesota's hydraulic laboratory, built in the 1930s. Hennepin Island and the east channel are now part of the Minneapolis Central Riverfront Regional Park.
 
Erected by St. Anthony Falls Heritage Board.
 
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: AgricultureIndustry & CommerceSettlements & SettlersWaterways & Vessels.
 
Location. 44° 58.861′ N, 93° 15.127′ W. Marker is in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in Hennepin County. Marker can be reached from 6th Avenue Southeast west of Southeast Main Street. Marker is mounted on the Stone Arch Bridge railing, overlooking Hennepin Island to the north, about 1/10 mile west of 6th Avenue Southeast. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Minneapolis MN 55414, United States of America. Touch for directions.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. The Stone Arch Bridge (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); Marcy~Holmes (about 400 feet away); Father Hennepin Bluffs (about 400 feet away); Portaging Around the Falls (about 400 feet away); Pettingill's Wonderful Water
Marker detail: The Nelson-Tenney Sawmill image. Click for full size.
Minnesota Historical Society
3. Marker detail: The Nelson-Tenney Sawmill
The Nelson-Tenney sawmill was one of many built upriver from the falls in the 1880s. Its tall smokestack signaled the new steam technology that made the move away from the falls possible.
(about 400 feet away); Lucy Wilder Morris (about 500 feet away); Stone Arch Bridge - Great Northern Railway (about 600 feet away); The Pillsbury A Mill (about 700 feet away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Minneapolis.
 
Also see . . .
1. Minnesota's First Sawmills. In 1849, after many agreements and treaties with the American Indian nations, the land that was to become Minnesota, was claimed as a territory. Of the 51.7 million acres the territory encompassed, 33 million acres were forested. Most of it was untouched by humans until settlers began to drift into the hardwood forest of the southeast in the beginning of the 19th century. (Submitted on August 31, 2020, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida.) 

2. Minneapolis Flour Milling Boom. While lumber sawmills arrived first in the 1840s, they were supplanted within decades by the flour mills. It was the extraordinary power-generating potential of the falls' 50-foot drop that brought the two industries to Minneapolis, though the heyday of flour milling outlasted that of saw milling by several decades. In 1880 and for 50 years thereafter, Minneapolis was known as the "Flour Milling Capital of the World." (Submitted on August 31, 2020, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida.)
Marker detail: Boom Island Fire, 1893 image. Click for full size.
Minnesota Historical Society
4. Marker detail: Boom Island Fire, 1893
A disastrous fire in the Boom Island lumber yards in 1893 destroyed much of northeast Minneapolis.
 
 
Marker detail: Falls of St. Anthony, 1887 image. Click for full size.
Minnesota Historical Society
5. Marker detail: Falls of St. Anthony, 1887
"The natural appearance of the falls is entirely obliterated by the means used for improving their power. The Falls of St. Anthony would hardly be recognized by those who had visited them when nothing but the rock, the foaming water and the trees were to be seen."
—James L. Greenleaf - Report on the Waterpower of the Mississippi River, 1887
Sawmilling: The City's First Industry Marker image. Click for full size.
6. Sawmilling: The City's First Industry Marker
(Mississippi River in background)
Hennepin Island, East Side, today (<i>view from marker</i>) image. Click for full size.
By Cosmos Mariner, August 22, 2014
7. Hennepin Island, East Side, today (view from marker)
 
 
Credits. This page was last revised on August 31, 2020. It was originally submitted on August 31, 2020, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida. This page has been viewed 49 times since then and 4 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. submitted on August 31, 2020, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida.
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Mar. 3, 2021