TwHP Lessons

Wheat Farms, Flour Mills, and Railroads: A Web of Interdependence

[Photo] St. Anthony Falls, Minneapolis, MN

West Side Milling District, Minneapolis, MN
(Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office)


escribing Minneapolis's St. Anthony Falls in 1805, Zebulon Pike wrote that "the great quantity of water . . . forms a spray which in clear weather reflects . . . the colors of the rainbow, and when the sky is overcast covers the falls in gloom and chaotic majesty."¹ By 1860 much of this beauty had been destroyed, as mills on both sides of the river used the power of the falls to turn millions of bushels of wheat into flour.

Much of the wheat needed to feed these mills came from "bonanza" farms hundred of miles to the west on the endless plains of the Red River Valley. Ranging from 3,000 to 30,000 acres, these huge farms needed fleets of harvesters and armies of workers to gather their crops.

Steel rails linked the farms and the mills. The railroads provided the efficient, relatively cheap transportation that made both farming and milling profitable. They also carried the foodstuffs and other products that the men and women living on the single-crop bonanza farms needed to live.

The mills, the farms, and the railroads depended on each other for success; none could function and prosper in isolation. This efficient combination of farms, mills, and railroads dominated flour production in the United States for more than half a century.

¹Lucile M. Kane, The Falls of St. Anthony: The Waterfall That Built Minneapolis (St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society, 1966), 5.


About This Lesson

Getting Started: Inquiry Question

Setting the Stage: Historical Context

Locating the Site: Maps
 1. Railroads in Minnesota, & North
 & South Dakota, 1890

Determining the Facts: Readings
 1. Waterpower and Flour Milling
 2. The Bonanza Farms of North Dakota
 3. The St. Paul, Minneapolis, and
 Manitoba Railway

Visual Evidence: Images
 1. West Side Milling District, ca. 1890
 2. West Side Milling District, early 1920s
 3. Pillsbury Mill complex
 4. Wheat harvesting on a bonanza farm,
 ca. 1891

 5. Bagg Bonanza Farm, ca. 1930s
 6. Bagg Bonanza Farm, 1985

Putting It All Together: Activities
 1. The Web of Interdependence
 2. Reactions to Interdependence
 3. Change Over Time in the Community

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Mississippi National River & Recreation Area

The lesson is based on the St. Anthony Falls Historic District, the Bagg Bonanza Farm District, and the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railway Company Shops Historic District, three of the thousands of properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places.



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