#39: Visit the Mill City Museum (a Minnesota Historic Site)

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you may remember an outing I had with my brother-in-law (BIL) earlier this year where he and I explored the American Swedish Museum.  We had such a fun time together that we said we should do it again – and today, we did.  He was my companion as I worked to check another item off my 101 list; today’s venture took place at the Mill City Museum.

01_mill city building sign

The Mill City Museum is a site built out of the ruins of what was once the world’s largest flour mill.  The museum focuses on three main topics: the processing of wheat, the processing of logs, and the movement of these two commodities through train and river transportation.  I wasn’t sure how an entire museum could be dedicated to flour and wood, but since this museum is touted by the state historical society, I felt compelled to investigate it.

02_mill city entrance sign

The museum was celebrating their 10th birthday this weekend – and having learned that a planned special event can further enhance a historical site visit, I intentionally chose this specific weekend to visit the mill museum.  Not only could my BIL and I get access to extra experiences (like music and dancing, bonus tours, and dramatic presentations by historical actors), we could also get in to the museum free of charge.  Heck, the $0 admission alone was worth it!

03_mill city birthday sign

My BIL and I met at the museum entrance at 1:30 pm.  Upon entering at the main doors, an attendant informed us that two popular activities (a tour and a movie) were occurring every twenty minutes.  Great, I thought, let’s do those two items first, and then spend the rest of our time exploring the open exhibits.  My BIL agreed with this plan, so he and I got in line for the “Flour Tower” tour.  This “tour” is actually an 8-story elevator ride, with a stop at every floor depicting a typical mill scene.  (E.g., milling machines humming loudly, offices of the people who ran the mill, etc.) Each scene is accompanied by recordings of stories about the mill, told by people who actually worked there – up to and including the 1878 explosion.  Sounds cool, right?  I was excited to do it.  So my BIL stand in line, chit-chat and catch up on one another’s lives from the past few months, and patiently wait to join the next tour. After standing in line for ten minutes, at 1:45 pm we were told that the 2 pm tour was full, and that the earliest tour we might get to join was at 2:30 pm.  So wait – we have to stand in line for another 45 minutes for the opportunity to experience a five-minute tour?  What is this, Disneyland?  After consulting with each other, my BIL and I chose to bail on the Flour Tower, and headed towards the other key attraction: the movie “Minneapolis in 19 Minutes Flat” (which was written by and ‘stars’ a local humorist, Kevin Kling).  Happily, we were among the first individuals to enter the semi-small viewing room, and we secured two seats in the center of the space a few minutes before the film began its next scheduled viewing.

The movie is described as “a lighthearted take on the city’s history using photos, film and television footage, and animation, mixing Kling’s trademark laconic humor and shrewd observation with an elegiac description of what makes Minneapolis unique,” and I found this to be a pretty apt summary.  The film was a cute, somewhat tongue-in-cheek power-walk through the very basic highlights of how Minneapolis came to be a city, from the 1600s to 2006 (when the movie was created).  I wouldn’t nominate the picture for any awards, but it was fun to sit through.

From there, my BIL and I explored the other exhibits in the museum.  We passed through the Baking Lab, where we got to see a variety of wheat in its natural (unprocessed) forms – and where a militant older woman brusquely told us where each grain was grown these days.


As we turned to walk away from the table, another museum visitor approached the stern older woman and asked her where a person could find gluten-free flour.  “Impossible!” the old dame barked.  “All flour has gluten in it!”  My BIL and I quickly slipped away before a fight ensued.  Once we were out of earshot, my BIL quietly said to me, “Hey, do you know where I can get any dairy-free milk?”, and I laughed out loud.

From the Baking Lab my BIL and I walked around the museum’s main gallery, which was primarily an homage to how flour is processed:

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The products that result:

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And the different ways people around the world consume them:

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As my BIL looked at all of the different flour-based wares, he commented, “This place must be a celiac’s nightmare,” and I laughed yet again.

Having had our fill of flour, my BIL and I made our way to the “Water Lab” – which is basically a series of interactive models that kids can splash around in (literally) and learn how trees were turned into lumber at the turn of the 20th century.

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One not-so-fun fact I learned from this exhibit was that Minneapolis used to be the #1 consumer of artificial limbs, due to all of the “accidents” that occurred in and around this mill.  Yikes.  😦

As my BIL and I made our way towards the gallery exit, I overheard a museum employee tell a patron how to get up to the building’s observation deck.  Since we couldn’t get on the Flour Tower tour (the only other way to enter the observation space), my BIL and I snuck in to an elevator where a group of other patrons were about to be sent to the top floor – and a minute later we found ourselves at the top of the building.  As we walked down a glass-enclosed hallway, we began to see really cool views of the mill museum, the Mississippi River, and the east side of the city:

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(The museum’s website also has a ton of photos; if you have a hankering for more images, you can check them out here.)

After spending a good chunk of time on the observation deck, my BIL and I made our way to the street-level floor of the museum.  This space is composed of a “commons” area (today it was empty, due to all of the events occurring in other locations throughout the building), a café, a gift shop, and restrooms.  We didn’t feel a need to eat or shop, so at this point by BIL and I took a quick peek at the courtyard, then walked back to the museum’s entrance where we had met a few hours prior.

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As we stood outside and enjoyed the late-summer air, my BIL asked me what I thought of the museum.  I thought about it for a few minutes, then told him:

  • I was kind of underwhelmed by the experience.  I think this museum is more child-oriented than adult-focused; so while I think kids would actually really enjoy it, for me, it was just “meh”.
  • I was really glad today’s admission was free; I would have felt pretty bad if my BIL had to pay $11 for the somewhat mediocre experience we shared.
  • I did think the architecture of the building was very cool; I definitely appreciated how the museum’s creators creatively integrated a bombed-out brick building into a funky, cool, glass-and-steel space.  The significant contrast in materials was actually seamless in the final product – and that really impressed me.
  • I probably wouldn’t recommend this site to others, unless they were able to attend on another free-admission day.

While this 101 experience was more mediocre than marvelous, I was happy that I got to explore it with someone who’s company I enjoy; sharing the afternoon with my witty BIL elevated the afternoon from borderline-boring to engaging (and even fun).  Thanks for another adventure BIL!  🙂


About Stef

A "serious" gal who is trying to remember to lighten up and smile.
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2 Responses to #39: Visit the Mill City Museum (a Minnesota Historic Site)

  1. I love your spirit of adventure and exploration of where you live. I confess, that like many others, while living in Toronto for 25 years there are many many places I never visited! perhaps because I wasn’t happy living there! hmm. On a side note, for some reason I don’t get your post updates in my reader or via email. I’ve checked my settings and they are fine but….


    • Stef says:

      Joss, I agree that if we are unhappy in a place, we probably don’t feel like engaging fully in it. As I reflect on why it has taken me over 15 years to begin exploring places and trying things i have claimed I wanted to check out since I arrived in Minnesota, I am realizing that for a long time, this state just didn’t feel like “home” to me. Interesting… Thank you for helping to bring that to my awareness!

      As for not getting updates: Oh no! 😦 I had the same issue with a blog I followed – and that blogger had no idea what had changed for me (as she hadn’t changed anything on her end). Yet after a few months, her posts resumed in my email. So strange. I know I haven’t changed anything on my end, so I have no idea why you are no longer getting emails/notifications. Grr! But – I see that we are now friends on Facebook, and I post all of my blog links there, so perhaps that can serve as a stop-gap in the meantime? Not an ideal solution, but perhaps a decent work-around for the time being…?


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