Mill City Museum is an architectural showpiece, rising eight stories within the limestone ruins of the Washburn A Mill — a National Historic Landmark and once the largest flour mill in the world.
The Washburn A Mill was designed in the late 1800s by Austrian engineer William de la Barre. After its completion in 1880, it was declared the world's largest flour mill. It operated for 85 years, expanding into a complex of over a dozen buildings and surviving a 1928 fire. The mill shut down in 1965, and the abandoned mill was gutted by another fire in 1991.
In the mid 1990s the city of Minneapolis cleaned up the rubble and stabilized the mill's charred walls. Shortly thereafter the Minnesota Historical Society announced its intention to construct a milling museum and education center within the ruins.
Faced with how to preserve the ruins of this historically significant site while building a modern museum, MNHS turned to Thomas Meyer, principal of Minneapolis architectural firm Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle, Ltd. (MSR). Meyer developed a concept that melded the historic integrity of the mill structures with modern components. Construction began in March 2001, and the museum opened to the public in September 2003.
Meyer's design left intact many features of the original mill, including flour bins, milling machinery, the engine house, rail corridor, and a wheat house. A glass curtain wall facing the Ruin Courtyard has etchings from an 1898 building cross section showing the location of the milling machinery. With multiple entries on two levels, the museum functions as a porous link between downtown Minneapolis and the Mississippi River.
Mill City Museum has won numerous awards, including the AIA Honor Award for Architecture, AIA Minnesota Honor Award.