Sawmilling at the Falls
Long before farmers plowed Minnesota's western prairies, lumberjacks were felling pines in the northern forests. Beginning in the late 1840s, trees from Ojibwe lands upriver were being made into boards in sawmills at the Falls of St. Anthony. By 1850, logs from lumber camps along the upper Mississippi and Rum rivers were sent down the river to one of four sawmills that stood along a dam that crossed the river's east channel.
Sawmilling in the 19th century was a dangerous and environmentally destructive business. Like trees, mill workers were considered plentiful and expendable. Safeguards were few and accidents frequent. Testimony to this was the city's thriving business in artificial limbs. Piles of lumber and sawdust also made fire an ever-present threat to mills and nearby buildings.
By 1890 sawmills powered by steam were spread along the river in north Minneapolis. The industry peaked in 1899 with the frenzied cutting of Minnesota's remaining forests, most of which were obtained through treaties with the Ojibwe. For six years Minneapolis was the largest sawmilling center in the nation, but by 1910, with the timber gone, nearly all the sawmills had closed.