This project balances new urban use and park development with historic preservation. Working as part of a multidisciplinary team of architects, engineers, and historic preservation specialists, the 106 Group is providing cultural resources services, including the conducting of historical research, assessment of the conditions of existing archaeological and architectural resources, facilitation of compliance with regulatory requirements, preparation of archaeological treatment plans, and the conducting of Phase II and III archaeological studies.
The project area is located within the St. Anthony Falls Historic District. St. Anthony Falls is the only major natural waterfall on the upper Mississippi River. The falls were—and remain—a place of importance to Native peoples, including the Dakota, Ojibwe, and Ho Chunk. St. Anthony Falls also facilitated the birth and development of Minneapolis’s first industry, milling, which began at the falls in the 1820s. Originally, sawmilling was predominant along the waterfront. However, economic and technological changes, such as the rise of steam power, led the timber industry to relocate its sawmills away from St. Anthony Falls in the late 19th century.
The Columbia Flour Mill was built in 1882 at the beginning of Minneapolis’s flour boom. This mill was a six-story structure with a basement, 4- to 6-feet-thick limestone foundation walls set onto bedrock, and brick upper stories. The Columbia Mill had a reputation for producing some of the best flour to come out of Minneapolis. By the 1930s, the Columbia Mill had been converted to a grain elevator known as the Harbor Elevator. The upper floors of the Columbia Mill collapsed in January of 1941, and a spectacular arson fire destroyed the mill four months later.
In 1883, McAlister, Chase and Company constructed the Occidental Feed Mill, a two-story brick building with limestone foundations. The Occidental burned down in 1919. Portions of the limestone basement and subbasement walls of the Columbia and Occidental mills survived after the fires. Changes in land use between the 1930s and the present day have significantly affected the Water Works site. In the 1950s, the lower surviving stories of the destroyed mills were backfilled with a variety of materials ranging from used tires to demolition waste. The surfaces created by that backfilling have been used as parking lots through the present day.
Seventeen archaeological features were recorded, all corresponding with walls and other architectural elements of the lower stories of the Columbia and Occidental mills. In 2017–2018, MPRB began the “deconstruction” of the Fuji Ya restaurant building. This involved carefully separating the ca. 1960s–1970s FujiYa restaurant components from the underlying historic mill ruins and temporarily securing and protecting the mill structures in preparation for the construction of the Water Works project. The 106 Group conducted archaeological monitoring of the deconstruction and responded to unanticipated discoveries.
Through this process we identified and recorded 18 archaeological features in the basements and subbasements of the Bassett’s Second Sawmill engine house and boiler room structure. In the fall of 2018, controlled excavation was conducted in a portion of the project area. A backhoe was used to remove fill soils in approximately 1-foot levels across the site. Archaeologists exposed subsurface features using shovels and trowels. As a result, three archaeological features were identified. Two features were limestone-block wall segments, likely part of the foundation wall of Bassett’s Second Sawmill. The third feature consisted of two brick walls joined at an angle.
City tunnel maps indicate that the tailrace tunnels in this location are about 60 feet below the current surface level. Future stages of archaeological work will include the excavation and treatment of a previously identified subsurface railcar scale pit located adjacent to the Columbia Flour Mill. Based on previous documentation, this 55 x 15 x 9 feet brick- and cement-lined pit is known to contain in situ machinery, including a scale, ceramic light fixtures, an electric motor, and a blower. The scale pit and in situ machinery will be exposed and documented. The specific treatment measures for this feature will be determined based on the final project design. Interim reports are being prepared following each stage of fieldwork. At the end of the archaeological investigations, a final comprehensive report will be prepared that compiles the methods and results of all stages of Water Works archaeology into a single document.