Short Take: Flour power

  • Article by: LORI STURDEVANT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 19, 2011 - 8:22 PM

The Pillsbury A Mill, a National Historic Landmark

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

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In 1881, the Minneapolis,_Minnesota">Pillsbury A Mill was a shining new industrial castle that put Minneapolis flour milling on the global map. It was such a magnet that the company was compelled to hire doormen to keep curious tourists away from the steel rollers and the men who operated them.

Today the mighty A is an empty hulk -- but it's ripe for redevelopment. Last week's listing of the Pillsbury A as among the nation's "11 Most Endangered Places" by the National Trust for Historic Preservation advises would-be developers that they are asking to be entrusted with a treasure.

A city that values its roots must never let the Pillsbury A meet with a wrecking ball.

Fortunately, none of the plans on any drawing boards contemplate that kind of destruction. Those plans ought to proceed with an eye toward making the most of the structure that, more than any other, put Minneapolis on the world's flour-milling map.

The Pillsbury A was the largest flour mill in the world when it opened on July 5, 1881, and soon became emblematic of the St. Anthony Falls milling district, the economic heart of the Upper Midwest. It employed state-of the-art milling technology especially suited for the hard spring wheat of the northern prairie.

At its peak, it produced 17,500 barrels of flour per day and shipped them around the world.

It was the first building in Minneapolis to employ electric lighting -- well ahead of the rest of the city -- and one of the earliest to have telephone service. It contained the novelty of a passenger elevator for workers to use. Its employees were some of the best paid at the falls, and among the first in the country to enjoy annual profit-sharing benefits.

No other still-intact structure, save for those at Fort Snelling, affords this region a better link to its 19th-century roots. Good for the National Trust to remind Minnesotans about the need to safeguard it.

Lori Sturdevant is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist. She's also the author of  "The Pillsburys of Minnesota," with George S. Pillsbury, which released this spring by Nodin Press.

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