Historic Structures

Minneapolis Boiler Works Building, Minneapolis Minnesota

Date added: July 24, 2010 Categories: Minnesota Industrial

The Minneapolis Boiler Works Building is historically significant for its association with Minneapolis' "West Side Milling District." Mitchell W. Glenn constructed the building to house his boiler and iron works in 1881. Glenn's shop was one of the largest In the city, producing boilers and metal items for flour mills and manufacturers throughout the area. In addition to the boiler works, the building housed several other firms, such as the Phoenix Iron Works Company and the Willford and Northway Manufacturing Company, which also served the milling industry. By the turn of the century, however, most manufacturers found the building to be too small and inconveniently located, and it was eventually abandoned.

The West Side Milling District lies on the west bank of the Mississippi River, In close proximity to the Falls of St. Anthony. It is bounded by the river. Fourth Avenue South, South Second Street, and Eighth Avenue South. In 1856, this parcel of land was acquired by the Minneapolis Mill Company, which planned to develop the waterpower potential. In 1856-1858, the Minneapolis Mill Company cooperated with the St. Anthony Falls Water Power Company, which owned the land on the opposite bank of the river, to construct a dam above the falls.

Attracted by the available waterpower, a wide variety of manufacturies developed in the West Side District during the 1860s. By 1871, the area contained 25 waterpowered establishments. These consisted of ten flour mills, seven sawmills, two woolen mills, a cotton mill, a paper mill, an iron works, a sash mill, a planing mill, and a railroad machine shop. The district also contained several steam-powered plants, including metal shops, woodworking establishments, and a small custom gristmill.

Despite the industrial diversity of the 1860s, flour milling became the West Side's dominant industry in the 1870s. This specialization was partially the result of technological change. After extensive experimentation, by the end of the 1860s, Minneapolis millers had developed a new method of grinding spring wheat which produced a much higher quality flour. Demand for the new flour rose immediately, and almost overnight new mills sprouted in the West Side District. Between 1870 and 1880, seventeen new flouring plants were established within the district, all but one operating on waterpower.

Concurrent with this increase in flour production was a decrease in other types of industrial activity. This decline resulted partly from general economic conditions and partly from the conscious policy of the Minneapolis Mill Company. Convinced that saw milllng operations wasted waterpower, the Minneapolis Mill Company, between 1876 and 1880, purchased most of the sawmills on the West Side and, within a decade, phased them out of production. Other businesses left the district of their own accord, seeking new places within Minneapolis to expand. Still other firms simply succumbed to the competitive pressures of an increasingly national market. By the end of the 1870s, the Minneapolis flour interests had established their dominance over the district.

By 1880, Minneapolis, and the West Side, had become the nation's leading flouring center, a distinction it maintained over the next five decades. By 1930, however, significant changes in wheat quality, freight rate structure, and tariff policy had undermined its supremacy. To insure their continued survival, the great West Side flouring corporations shifted the focus of their operations away from Minneapolis and began to build extensive milling complexes in Chicago, Kansas City, and Buffalo. After Minneapolis ceded first place in flour production to Buffalo in 1930, many of the West Side's large milling complexes were abandoned or demolished.

During the 1860s and 1870s, several steam-powered iron works were established on the periphery of the West Side Milling District to meet the machining needs of the area's mills., In time, the more successful of these enterprises expanded into the general metropolitan industrial market. The Minneapolis Boiler Works is a case in point.

Mitchell W. Glenn founded the Minneapolis Boiler Works in 1878, when he took over an earlier iron works located near the corner of Fifth Avenue South and South Second Street. The previous iron works had apparently been founded by William Amerman and Charles Morgan Hardenbergh in 1867. Originally from New Jersey, Glenn reportedly had "spent much of his time from childhood in various departments of iron manufacturing. After working as an engineer and machinist in Mount Vernon, Ohio, Glenn served in the army during the Civil War, eventually being commissioned as a Colonel. Glenn moved to Minneapolis in the late 1860s, working as a foreman, and eventually a superintendent, for the North Star Iron Works until establishing his own business.

The Minneapolis Boiler Works proved profitable, and Glenn expanded his facilities several times during the 1880s. The first major improvement occurred in 1881, when he received permission from the City Council to build a new shop. Now known as the Minneapolis Boiler Works Building, the structure was built of brick and measured approximately 70 x 85 feet. One section of the building, measuring 70 feet along Second Avenue and 30 feet along Fifth Street, stood two stories in height, while the remainder stood only one story. Decorative arches connected by a brick belt-course ornamented the ground floor windows, and the upper windows were capped by flat stone lintels. The building was surmounted by a simple brick cornice. A two-story office tower, removed by 1901, originally rose above the one-story section on Fifth Avenue.

In 1881, Glenn appears to have attached a one-story, 40 x 70-foot, brick-clad addition to the northeast corner of the building. He continued his improvements the next year, constructing a brick, two-story, 45 x 70-foot extension along Second Street. Although it is not known how Glenn equipped his new shop, he boasted in an 1887 advertising circular that he had "lately added . . . the very finest and most improved machinery west of Chicago, put in new tools of superior make, and had succeeded, at very great expense, in making my shop the finest of its line in the Northwest.

By the mid-1880s, the Minneapolis Boiler Works was widely regarded as "the most important in Minneapolis of their kind." A local historian noted in 1881 that the shop was "devoted to the manufacture of boilers and all kinds of sheet and boiler iron goods. Its products may be seen in almost every town in the north-west, and its present business amounts to about $80,000 per year, requiring the labor of 37 men." By 1887, Glenn's boiler works had "constructed all the single boilers and batteries ... in use in all the principal flour mills, saw mills and manufacturies of Minneapolis and the surrounding communities .... The electric mast on Bridge Square, which is the highest of the kind in the world, was built by Mr. Glenn. The iron cell-work for the lockups and jails of the city were also constructed at his shops."

Glenn sold the Minneapolis Boiler Works to his son, J. W. Glenn, and several other associates sometime around 1889, after which he relocated to Duluth. The change may have been due to financial problems, for although a skilled machinist, Glenn was apparently less adept as a businessman. In 1890, for example, the Northwestern Miller reported that "Col. M. W. Glenn, the well known boiler maker, who removed from this city to Duluth about two years ago, has become financially embarrassed, and has lately been having a good deal of trouble with his creditors. To avoid attachments, his machinery was removed to the Wisconsin side [of the St. Croix River] on a recent Sunday." The Minneapolis Boiler Works did not fair well under its new management, and it closed by 1890.