Society for Industrial Archeology Conference Recap Part 1: Friday’s Geology of the Twin Cities Tour

Upper St. Anthony Falls, Minneapolis, MN
Upper St. Anthony Falls, Minneapolis, MN

Even I can admit the tardiness of this post, but summer adventures prevented me from sitting down and drafting a thorough recap of my trip to St. Paul, Minnesota for the Society for Industrial Archeology Conference. However, it’s better late than never, so, without further ado… I’m going to break up this recap into two posts – one for Friday & one for Saturday.

Prior to this trip, I’ve never spent much time in Minneapolis, save a few trips through the MSP Airport. I’ve always heard the most wonderful things about the Twin Cities, but this time I got to experience them for myself. This I can definitively say: Minneapolis & St. Paul are GREAT cities. However, what made this trip even better was the conference itself. The Society for Industrial Archeology is an absolutely great organization that puts on a really informative and engaging conference. From the SIA website:

The mission of the Society for Industrial Archeology (SIA) is to encourage the study, interpretation, and preservation of historically significant industrial sites, structures, artifacts, and technology. By providing a forum for the discussion and exchange of information, the Society advances an awareness and appreciation of the value of preserving our industrial heritage.

I was able to meet so many interesting and friendly people at this conference, ranging from archaeologists, students, historians, and engineers. I would recommend attending this conference to almost anyone, primarily because of the great conversation and programming provided by the SIA. Speaking of programming…

The Geology of the Twin Cities

I signed up for the Friday tour titled “The Geology of the Twin Cities.” The tour started in downtown Minneapolis at St. Anthony Falls and the Water Power Park. St. Anthony Falls is located on the Mississippi River and includes a natural falls system that was improved by the US Army Corps of Engineers. The falls sit adjacent to downtown Minneapolis and are absolutely beautiful in contrast to the downtown skyline.

Upper St. Anthony Falls with downtown Minneapolis in the background.
Upper St. Anthony Falls with downtown Minneapolis in the background.

From the falls, we drove into downtown Minneapolis and headed over to the Mill Ruins Park. Historically, this area was the home to Minneapolis’ large flour milling industry and heavily relied on the mighty Mississippi River. The decline of the mill industry led to the closure and abandonment of many of the mills in the area. As described by the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board:

The park tells this story through the now exposed historic walls and waterpower features long buried beneath many feet of sand and gravel. With the reopening of the historic tailrace canal, which carried water from the mill turbines back to the river, visitors have the opportunity to interact directly with an exciting water feature.

This creatively reused industrial area is really a gem in the downtown Minneapolis area. I could’ve spent hours taking photos of all the details.

Overall, Mill Ruins Park, downtown Minneapolis
Overall, Mill Ruins Park, downtown Minneapolis
Mill Ruins Park, Minneapolis
Mill Ruins Park, Minneapolis
Our tour group at the Mill Ruins Park
Our tour group at the Mill Ruins Park

At the Mill Ruins Park, we also got a view of the iconic Stone Arch Bridge (1883), a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. The bridge was constructed by the Minneapolis railroad tycoon James J. Hill for his Great Northern Railway.

Panoramic shot of the Stone Arch Bridge (1883).
Panoramic shot of the Stone Arch Bridge (1883).

From the Mill Ruins Park, our bus driver took us through some of the historic neighborhoods to the southeast of downtown Minneapolis. We drove along West River Parkway, passing by numerous bridges over the Mississippi, including the replacement bridge for the collapsed I-35 bridge. We ended up down river at the Lock and Dam No. 1.

Lock & Dam No. 1
Lock & Dam No. 1
The locks with the dam in the background, with the hydro power station in the center of the image.
The locks with the dam in the background, with the hydro power station in the center of the image.
The lock system at Lock & Dam No. 1.
The lock system at Lock & Dam No. 1.
A closer look at the dam with the power station on the right.
A closer look at the dam with the power station on the right.
Selfie in front of the Mississippi.
Selfie in front of the Mississippi.

Across the river from the Lock & Dam is the former Ford Motor Company complex, which closed in 2011. The complex included a historic hydro plant and power house, both situated on the river, while the plant was located up on the bluff overlooking the river. Our next tour stop included an absolutely phenomenal tour of the historic Ford hydroelectric plant. The hydro plant is now owned and operated by Brookfield, a Canadian power company. They provided a great explanation of how hydro plants work and I’ll do my best to explain it a little through these photographs.

The Ford Hydro Plant at the Lock & Dam No. 1
The Ford Hydro Plant at the Lock & Dam No. 1
Historic Sign on the Hydroelectric Power House
Historic Sign on the Hydroelectric Power House
The north side of the hydroelectric plant, where the water enters the facility (above the dam), also known as the "penstock." The water is screened here to remove any foreign objects.
The north side of the hydroelectric plant, where the water enters the facility (above the dam), also known as the “penstock.” The water is screened here to remove any foreign objects.
The top parts of the generators, in the main room of the power house.
The top parts of the generators, in the main room of the power house.
The turbine generator shaft. The turbines are rotated by the force of the water to generate electricity. Here is a great shot of our group in one of the concrete walled shaft.
The turbine generator shaft. The turbines are rotated by the force of the water to generate electricity. Here is a great shot of our group in one of the concrete walled shaft.
The north wall of the hydro power house.
The north wall of the hydro power house.
Great ornamentation along the top of the exterior walls.
Great ornamentation along the top of the exterior walls.

After the tour of the hydro plant, we headed to the Metropolitan Waste Water Treatment Plant. The treatment plant is located to the southwest of downtown St. Paul and was initially constructed as Minnesota’s largest Public Works Administration (PWA) project. The plant was operational by 1938 and retains a few original, historic buildings. I was able to snag a few detail photos of the historic buildings before we were told we couldn’t take any more photographs.

PWA Administration Building
PWA Administration Building, Metropolitan Waste Water Treatment Plant
PWA Administration Building
PWA Administration Building, Metropolitan Waste Water Treatment Plant
PWA Pump and Blower Building
PWA Pump and Blower Building, Metropolitan Waste Water Treatment Plant

The last stop on our tour took us to the Omaha Road Bridge Number 15. The Omaha Road Swing Bridge is unique for a couple of reasons, primarily because the swing span is asymmetrical. The concrete counterweight on the south end was added because the owner of this land did not want the swing span crossing his land. The bridge dates from 1915 and serves as a railroad bridge over the Mississippi.

Originally, we had been told we would not be able to stop at the bridge, but we were pleasantly surprised when we were able to hop off to take some great photos. We were gifted with a great surprise when, upon reaching the banks of the river, this unique swing bridge on the Mississippi River started to open!

Details inscribed in the top of the concrete counterweight.
Details inscribed in the top of the concrete counterweight.
Right when the Omaha Road Bridge Number 15 started to open.
Right when the Omaha Road Bridge Number 15 started to open.
The Omaha Road Bridge Number 15 all the way open. The bridge opens to allow boat traffic along the Mississippi River.
The Omaha Road Bridge Number 15 all the way open. The bridge opens to allow boat traffic along the Mississippi River.

Once the bridge closed, we got another treat when a train drove over the Omaha Road Bridge. In the matter of 20 to 30 minutes, we saw the bridge perform many of its original functions – provide train crossing over the Mississippi while still allowing boats and barges to pass.

Train crossing the Omaha Road Bridge Number 15
Train crossing the Omaha Road Bridge Number 15

On our way back to the conference hotel, we drove through an area of St. Paul known as Mushroom Valley, which included a network of sandstone caves used for mushroom growing. The caves were also used for silica mining, blue-cheese ripening, and beer lagering.

The mixture of industry, history, and geology combined to make this entire tour a great experience. Head over to part 2 of my conference recap, where I will touch on the paper sessions and the conference banquet at the Wabasha Street Caves!

One last photo from the tour... the Gold Metal Flour sign in downtown Minneapolis!
One last photo from the tour… the Gold Metal Flour sign in downtown Minneapolis!

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