Monday, October 26, 2009

In Plain Sight | Mill Ruins Park

Near St. Anthony Falls, there is no shortage of vistas looking down into the river valley: Water Power Park, Gold Medal Park, the Guthrie, and Mill City Museum, just to name a few. While spectacular in their own ways, these designs nonetheless seem to compete with one another to be the newest, highest, or cantilevered-est (do your worst, spell check!) place to look down at the Mississippi. However, a less common but perhaps more significant view is only found at the waters edge--at the basement level of the mills which were built here.

Opened in 2001 (and expanded in years since), Mill Ruins Park offers a subterranean peek at how Minneapolis industry harnessed—and was nearly drowned by—the force of St. Anthony Falls. While this natural feature catapulted our city to milling fame, so pervasive was the industry's network of gates, canals, waterwheels, and more than 12 miles of tunnels that it weakened the layer of limestone that had made everything possible in the first place. The catastrophic collapse of the Eastman Tunnel, 140 years ago this month, nearly disintegrated the falls and the entire milling industry with it.

While a system of aprons, locks, and dams begun by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1869 preserved the falls, the old milling infrastructure wasn't so lucky. New hydroelectric dams eliminated the need for direct water power and allowed that industry to be buried by a new one: gravel storage. Thanks to archaeological excavations by the Minnesota Historical Society, we can now see glimpses of our how our city survived unyielding nature, changing commerce, and itself.


Anonymous said...

Nice photo. How did you get that intensity with the light?

Brandon Stengel, Associate AIA, LEED AP said...

It was about a 30-second exposure, and fortunately the lights down in the park are pretty well balanced with those up near the mills.