In the late 19th century, if you owned a flour mill or two in Minneapolis, or were part of that industry’s executive class, the chances were quite good that you built a mansion somewhere along or near 10th Street.
To be sure, the city’s flour-dusted elite also built homes elsewhere downtown before migrating to Lowry Hill, Park Avenue or the Washburn-Fair Oaks neighborhood. But for a time, 10th Street had the greatest concentration of millers’ mansions in the city.
At least 20 mansions once stood on 10th Street between Nicollet and Park avenues, and millers made up a substantial portion of the street’s homeowners in the 1880s and 1890s. The largest of these mansions reached 10,000 square feet in size and occupied lots that took up half a block.
One of the first millers to build a home on 10th was Curtis Pettit. In 1871 he completed a massive, towered house at 10th Street and 2nd Avenue S. Pettit had a hand in many businesses, but flour milling was one of his chief enterprises. He established the Pettit Flour Mill (which is long gone) at St. Anthony Falls in 1875, and it remained in operation well into the 20th century.
Pettit’s stone mansion — an impressive specimen of the weighty French Second Empire style — featured 16-foot ceilings, black walnut trim and many luxurious details. Pettit died in 1914, but his widow stayed in the mansion for some years thereafter. It was razed in 1926, one of the many downtown mansions lost during that period.
William Dunwoody, a prominent miller who founded the College of Technology in Minneapolis that still bears his name, was also a 10th Street resident in the 1880s and 1890s. He and his wife, Kate, built their first home at 52 S. 10th St. in 1883. The Dunwoodys moved in 1905 into a much larger mansion on Lowry Hill. That home is now gone, as is the house on 10th, which stood until 1964.
But it was members of the Pillsbury clan who established the biggest colony of mansions on 10th Street. Three members of the family — George A. Pillsbury and his sons Charles A. and Frederick C.— once occupied mansions within eyeshot of one another along 10th between 2nd and 4th avenues.
The most intriguing of the trio, at 303 S. 10th St., belonged to Frederick. Completed in 1888, it was a triple-towered Romanesque Revival affair designed by noted Minneapolis architect Leroy Buffington. The brick-and-stone mansion was elaborately finished in all manner of fine woodwork and included, among other wonders, an enormous dining room fireplace set within a surround of Mexican onyx and Tiffany tiles.
Frederick, unfortunately, had only a few years to enjoy his grand new house. He died in 1892 at age 40 after contracting diphtheria while on a business trip.
All three Pillsbury houses were gone by 1920, when commercial expansion transformed much of the neighborhood. Frederick’s mansion was razed in 1916 to make way for an addition to the Curtis Hotel, which came to a spectacular ending of its own in 1984 when it was demolished by explosives.
While Frederick Pillsbury’s 10th Street home may have been the most sumptuous of its era, what was surely the street’s strangest mansion was built in 1885 for milling magnate John Crosby.
From severe to stylish
Like most Minneapolis mill owners, Crosby hailed from New England. When the time came to build a new house that might remind him of his native Maine, Crosby hired William Channing Whitney, a young architect trained on the East Coast, for the job.
The house Whitney produced, at 624 S. 10th St., was a three-story brick box that looked as though it would have been more at home in Bangor than in Minneapolis. Its rather severe Colonial Revival styling made it a genuine oddity, unlike anything else of its day in the city. In fact, it was very probably Minneapolis’ earliest example of the Colonial Revival style.
As with Frederick Pillsbury, Crosby lived only a brief time in his mansion. He died in 1887, and the mansion later became home to the Murray Institute, a private treatment center for battling alcohol and drug addiction. The institute was gone, however, by the time the mansion finally succumbed to the wrecker in 1957.
Today, the only surviving mansion in the vicinity, located directly across from where the Crosby House stood, also has strong connections to flour milling. The Hinkle-Murphy House at 619 S. 10th St. was built in 1887 for William H. Hinkle, who at the time owned the Humboldt Mill at St. Anthony Falls.
Whitney also designed Hinkle’s mansion, and its suave Georgian Revival style — the first of its type to appear in Minneapolis — is far more sophisticated than the rather crude architecture of Crosby’s house.
The second owner of Hinkle’s mansion, incidentally, was not a miller. William J. Murphy owned the Minneapolis Tribune for years and later endowed the School of Journalism at the University of Minnesota.
Today, the Hinkle-Murphy House is used as offices, and it stands as an elegant reminder of 10 Street’s lost grandeur.
Larry Millett is an architecture critic and author of 14 nonfiction books and eight mystery novels. He can be reached at larrymillett.com.