The Mill District in Minneapolis

14 May


What we have here is a view of Third Street Bridge and part of the Minneapolis city center.  Scott and I used to sit below the cottonwoods.

Mill District, MinneapolisMills%20District%207.jpg

Now I’m looking the other way to the Covered Stone Arch Bridge.  The bridge is in the distance, partly obscured by trees.


View as we walked along the sidewalks near the river bluffs. I think the middle building is the restored Washburn Crosby Mill.

Dianne O'Donnell

Dianne O’Donnell and the statue of the Miller



Two different takes on the same location from my novel Spectacles,

Peter’s point of view,

Riverplace at St. Anthony on the Main was built in the heart of old Minneapolis in the early eighties.  It was surrounded by what was left of the old mills, a movie theater,  and the mighty Mississippi.  When he had first moved to Minnesota in the late seventies, Peter had learned the history of the area.  Despite being the original, small  Main Street of the city, the location had quickly become not only the site of the most important commerce in all of Minnesota, but also a place of ill repute with whorehouses.  

This new mall was attempting to change the identity of the area, an area that had in recent years been thought of as having only historical significance, but he was not sure the merchants were going to be entirely successful.  The shopping center had an imposing glass front with a large arch in the center with the word “Riverplace” emblazoned on it, but it also had few customers, especially on weekdays.  The shopping area consisted of many boutiques with luxurious and handcrafted goods for sale, and one very successful restaurant.   It was, in fact, impressive, but it required well-heeled customers and this was an unlikely location in which to snare them. Part of the reason he enjoyed shopping there was because of the lack of competition for his business.  He could be in and out in no time. In addition, Peter’s mother had grown up in Cleveland, where she had developed an exquisite sense of style, and he had found that Riverplace was a great place to shop for her presents.      

From Marlys’s  point of view,

They passed a spinney of cottonwood trees and a thicket of bushes near the shore.  A narrow path led between a concrete embankment and the foliage.  It was here that they sat down and let their feet dangle over the side.  Across the river was the old General Mills factory.  The Third Street Bridge arched over the river to the mill.  It looked sturdy and responsible, a bridge that had stood the test of time.  In many ways not as impressive as the other major Midwestern cities in terms of architecture, Minneapolis was more impressive at this spot where the blue brown Mississippi made its heft felt.  Unlike Art Deco-strewn Chicago and aggressively-insouciant Cleveland, Minneapolis had a somnolent beauty that one had to look for.  But there was more going on there than met the eye—the Chicago street gang members would often come to the backwaters of the Minneapolis neighborhoods to chill out and cause trouble for the local cops.  The gangs were like the river; trouble lurked beneath the surface.


From my April 2017 visit,

When I returned by car for my April visit, I was struck again with the bland attractiveness of Minneapolis.  I think the city has to be walked to be appreciated.  If one were only to consider the skyline with the Foshay Tower and IDS Center in mind, Minneapolis could in no way compete with the architecture of the other major cities in the country.   Cedar Square West, also known as the McKnight Apartments, and located in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, is the tallest residential building outside of Minneapolis proper and is a fairly ugly building with alternating squares of primary colors running up to its top.  It’s also quite prominent.  But looking at it now made me think of all the meals I had at the Malt Shop, either after a class or before going to the library. 


Funnily enough, I found I missed the way it marked the West Bank. Despite its flaws, Minneapolis is  my city and when I lived there, I found quite a number of beautiful spots by looking down at the Mississippi and its bluffs, often when I walked along the Washington Avenue Bridge between the East and West Banks of the University of Minnesota, but also when I walked along the Minnehaha Parkway.  I also spent quite a bit of time on or near Lake Minnetonka to the west of the city.


It is the natural architecture of Minneapolis that is extraordinary.  My last day Dianne O’Donnell, my hostess, and I made a sojourn to the Mill District.  Scott and I went to the movies here years ago and then came back multiple times.  I didn’t know it was the Mill District at first, so I felt as though I discovered it on my own.  However melancholy I was upon returning, I also enjoyed the experience, which is hard to explain. Dianne  and I walked along the sidewalk that follows the river bluffs.  Seeing the panorama of the Mississippi River from the Covered Bridge to Third Street Bridge made me realize how much my imagination had subtracted from the scene, from the presence of St. Anthony Falls in the middle of our trek to the walking bridge and the students walking below.  Scott and I often came in the winter, but still walked down to the river’s edge, which gave us a different perspective.  Still, it is the majesty of the Mississippi that makes the view beautiful.


The ugliness in the landscape, and there is some, is subsumed by the river and the buildings on its banks.  When you look at the first picture, you can see pieces of metal sticking up in the middle of the river near Third Street Bridge.  It’s hard to know what these are for, and they are a bit jarring to the eye.  The large rocks you see at the bottom of the picture are on the banks of the river to the right-hand side of NSP-Xcel Energy.  What you can’t see from the picture is that all the crevices are filled with trash.  Somehow everything else in the landscape diminishes these eyesores.

The Mill District is, in effect, a giant graveyard, with the resurrected buildings and the ruins of the mill serving as tombstones to the past.  I felt in a strange way as though I left part of myself in Minneapolis in 2009 when I left and can’t quite get it back.   




One Response to “The Mill District in Minneapolis”

  1. Thanks. I added a little more to it.

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