Weekend in Minneapolis

After we finished our second week of building in Wisconsin we packed a couple bags and headed to Minneapolis for the weekend. Neither Tom or I had been there before but Tom had found a bunch interesting things to do in the city, starting with a walk in Minnehaha Park. The extensive outdoor recreation area contains miles of walking trails and the 53-foot Minnehaha Falls located three quarters of a mile upstream of where the creek dumps into the Mississippi River. We spent more than 2 hours walking the paths and of course viewing the falls.

Following that we drove out to see the Stone Arch Bridge, a 2,100 foot long span that originally carried rail traffic just below St. Anthony’s Falls. Today the bridge is used exclusively by bicyclists and pedestrians providing wonderful views of the city skyline, information of conversion of the falls to a spillway and lock system, and access to the historical districts adjoining the bridge. We would have continued to explore the historical district – which included a mill museum! – but Tom had something special planned for our next stop.

The butterfly garden, a temporary outdoor exhibit in Como Park, features over 100 different exotic species in a walk-in enclosure. Once inside we were immediately enchanted by the plethora of colorful fluttering wings around us, landing on the exotic plants, and feeding on the fruit that had been left out. We walked around awhile, comparing the orange-, green-, and purple-patterned wings with the pictures on the brochure, identifying species from Asia, Africa, and South America. But I’d say we spent more time just watching the flittering creatures circle the space, landing here and there.

After we left the butterfly exhibit we walked to the conservatory where we were immersed in rooms of ferns, palms, and vibrant flowers. I loved the fern room, dank and fragrant with the smell of earth and overgrown with all sorts of fantastical varieties, but I think we could both agree that the sunken garden was the highlight: the stonework and fountains were so perfectly complemented by the meticulous planting that it was more a work of art than a botanical display. Sadly it was approaching closing time so we headed off to a Pryes Brewing for some food and a flight. In addition to the refreshments, the brewery also had feather bowling, a cross between bowling, curling, and bocci. I wish I’d gotten a picture (or video) of this because it was not only interesting, but really fun to watch.

The next morning we left the hotel early to explore more of the historical district, specifically the Mill Ruins Park on the west side of the river. This outdoor park features the remains of the flour milling industrial complex uncovered through urban archaeology including the foundations and remains of numerous mills as well as the millraces, canals, turbines, and other components of the direct drive waterpower system. Driven by St. Anthony’s Falls on the Mississippi River, the area famous for dozens of flour mills was also home to a woolen mill, a sawmill, and industries related to the production of flour such as barrel makers, bag makers, and iron works.

Before we walked down to the riverbank park however we were detoured by the remainder of the edifice of the Washburn “A” Mill, built in 1879. This flour plant operated up through 1965 when it was abandoned; a fire in 1991 gutted the interior and brought down many exterior walls with its searing heat. Today the structure is stabilized and has been transformed into the Mill City Museum where the turbines room has been transformed into an open air courtyard accessible from the street. Unfortunately the museum was closed the day of our visit (which seriously bummed me out) but I did get quite a bit of information regarding the milling process, the harnessing of waterpower from St. Anthony Falls, and the history of the industry in Minneapolis.

After spending a couple hours walking amongst the remains of the Minneapolis milling industry we made the short drive to Lake Minnetonka to meet up with our Habitat friends Lowell and Gwen. After picking us up in their boat we motored out to catch up and have lunch. After lunch they took us on an extensive tour of the lake, pointing out all the fanciest of properties; unbeknownst to us non-locals, the shore of Lake Minnetonka is the place to have a weekend retreat. CEOs and family members of some of Minneapolis’s largest industries have built ginormous homes here, lavishly landscaped and adorned with large watercraft. Lowell and Gwen’s cabin, set on land passed down through Gwen’s family for over a hundred years is much more modest and is a typical summer (unwinterized) affair that serves as a gathering point for their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. After our boat tour around the lake we retired here for a drink and a walk on the property.