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Vol. 48, No. 1-2                                1989



Scott F. Anfinson
Minnesota Historical Society

© 1989 Minnesota Archaeological Society


Table of Contents
Historical Background
Archaeological Site Inventory

- Bassett's Creek
- Gateway
- West Side Mill District
- Gasworks Bluff
- Brewery Flats
- Milwaukee Road
- Boom Island
- Hennepin-Central
- Nicollet Island
- East Side Mill District
- Interbank

Historical Figures and Photographs  (big thumbnails)   (medium)   (small)
References Cited
Chronology Chart

Archaeological Site Inventory
Boom Island

Pierre Bottineau originally claimed Boom Island and the adjacent east side shore. In 1848, Franklin Steele acquired the land and it was officially annexed to the city of St. Anthony as Bottineau's Addition. The addition was part of what was known as Upper Town, that area of St. Anthony north of Central Avenue. Upper Town saw limited commercial and industrial development in its early days, although the first major hotel in St. Anthony, the St. Charles, was built at the intersection of Marshall Street and 6th Avenue NE in 1850. An 1857 Upton photograph shows scattered frame houses in Upper Town.

With the proliferation of sawmills at St. Anthony Falls in the 1850s, several boom companies were formed to sort the logs that had been floated down the Mississippi River to send them to the appropriate mill. The boom companies merged in 1857. Boom Island was the principal anchor point for the log booms as it was far enough above the Falls to have little development potential and controlled the entrances to both the main channel and the east channel.

Boom Island remained undeveloped throughout the nineteenth century. When several steam-powered sawmills were built on the adjacent shore in the 1880s, enormous stacks of lumber began to cover the island. On August 13, 1893, sparks from a fire that had started on southern Nicollet Island ignited the lumber piles on Boom Island. The fire quickly spread across the narrow east channel enveloping the sawmills and the houses north of 6th Avenue NE. By the end of the day, the fire had destroyed everything as far north as 15th Avenue NE and as far east as Marshall Avenue. This included 160 houses, six sawmills, a brewery, two icehouses, and numerous stacks of lumber. South of 6th Avenue NE, the large Nelson-Tenney Sawmill escaped the fire and continued to produce lumber until 1905.

The Boom Island area saw several major changes with the turn of the century. The Wisconsin Central Railroad built extensive yards on Boom Island. B.F. Nelson Paper Company expanded along the east bank of the river after the end of the sawmilling era and produced cardboard boxes and roofing materials until the mid-1970s. The channel east of Boom Island continued to be filled-in and by the middle of the twentieth century Boom Island was no longer an island (Figure 37).

In the 1970s, extensive changes once again swept the Boom Island Area. The railroad yards were removed and Boom Island became a construction storage yard. The Nelson Paper Company complex was torn down. In recent years, new homes have replaced many of the old structures of Upper Town. Boom Island Park now dominates the northeastern central riverfront.

    BI-1. Beede and Bray Sawmill, Auditors Subdivison 44, Lot 5 south (1882-1893)

In 1882, the firm of Beede and Bray built a sawmill on the east side just south of the Upper Bridge (Plymouth Avenue Bridge). It was a wood structure 115' x 60' with a brick boilerhouse on the south. In 1885, it was run by Bray and Robinson. The firm went bankrupt in 1886 and it was run by various firms until E.W. Backus bought it in 1889. It was then known as the Lower Backus Sawmill with the Upper Backus Sawmill in the old Lamoreaux mill north of the bridge. Both Backus mills burned in the spectacular fire of August 13, 1893.

Foundations may exist under approach fill for the new Plymouth Avenue bridge, although most of the site may have been destroyed by dredging for the Boom Island Park boat docks.

References: Sanborn (1885); Atwater (1893:570); Shutter (1923:344); Zalusky (1960); Kane and Ominsky (1983:92).

    BI-2. Sprague Sawmill, Block 23, Lot 6 (ca.1872-73)

In the early 1870s, M.A. Sprague built a small wooden sawmill on the east channel at the foot of 5th Avenue. NE. By 1875, Sprague was associated with the Crooker Brothers firm dealing in lumber, lath, and shingles. The mill apparently lasted for only a few years in the early 1870s. Sprague left Minneapolis to live in Iowa in the mid-1870s. Foundations may exist under the parkland that currently occupies the site.

References: City Directories (1873, 1875, 1876); Cook (1872).

    BI-3. Minneapolis Strawboard and Paper / B.F. Nelson Paper Company, Block 23, Lots 1-2 (1882 - 1975)

In 1882, the Minneapolis Strawboard Company built a paperbox factory on the river at 4th Avenue and Main Street. It was a large (150' x 60') brick building. The company was purchased by B.F. Nelson and Company in 1888. Nelson expanded the operation to include the manufacture of roofing materials and saturated felt (tarpaper). The complex barely escaped the large east side fire in August of 1893. In the early 1900s, B.F. Nelson built a brick factory for making shingles and tarpaper on Lot 6, Block 23 north of the main factory. The complex quit production in 1975 and was torn down shortly thereafter.

Foundations probably exist below the parkland that currently occupies the site.

References: Sanborn (1885, 1912); City Atlas (1892, 1903); Hotchkiss (1898:547); City Directories (1882 - 1975).

    BI-4. Rollins/Nelson-Tenney A Sawmill, Block 17, Lots 3-4 (1871-1975)

In 1871 John Rollins built a sawmill on the east channel at the foot of 4th Avenue NE. It had a gang saw, a double circular saw, and a lath machine. In 1873 it was sold to Fred Clarke. Nelson, Tenney and Company bought the sawmill in 1882 and extensively remodled it calling it their A Sawmill (Figure 38). In 1885, it consisted of a wooden building (45' x 80'), a stone boilerhouse (40' x 50'), and several sheds and out-buildings. A 125' brick smokestack was at the east end of the complex. In 1892 it was linked with the Nelson-Tenney B Sawmill immediately to the south. It quit lumber production in 1905 and was used as a warehouse by the B.F. Nelson Paper Company. It was torn down in the mid-1970s.

Extensive foundations no doubt exist beneath the parkland that currently occupies the site.

References: Warner et al. (1881:402); Shutter (1923:342,344); Sanborn (1885, 1912); Hudson (1908:536).

    BI-5. Stetson and Clough Brothers / Nelson-Tenney B Sawmill, Block 17, Lots 2-4. (1880-ca.1975)

In 1880, Warren Stetson with Gilbert and David Clough built a large steam powered sawmill on the east channel just below the foot of 4th Avenue NE. It was an L-shaped wooden structure with a 40' x 130' building perpendicular to the riverbank and a 50' x 120' building parallel to Marshall Avenue. A 40' x 50' stone boilerhouse sat in the middle of the north side with a 125' brick smokestack to the northeast (Figure 38).

In 1887, Stetson sold out to F.O. Kilgore. C.A. Smith bought the mill in 1891 who sold it a year later to Nelson-Tenney to become their B Sawmill. It was formally linked with the Nelson-Tenney A Sawmill to the north, sharing the boilerhouse. It became part of the Nelson-Frey Company early in the 20th century. It quit production in 1905 and the buildings were used for storage by the B.F. Nelson Paper Company. The complex was torn down in the mid-1970s.

Foundations probably exist beneath the parkland that currently occupies the site.

References: Atwater (1893:557,570); Shutter (1923:343); Sanborn (1885,1912); Rascher (1892/1906), City Atlas (1892, 1903, 1914).

    BI-6. Boom Island Railroad Yards, (ca.1900 - ca.1970)

Boom Island had long been used to anchor logging booms and store wood. The spectacular fire of August 13, 1893 burned the huge piles of lumber stored on the island. Boom Island remained undeveloped until the turn of the century when the Wisconsin Central Railroad built extensive railroad yards there. The complex featured a brick roundhouse in the southwest corner of the island and various outbuildings to the north. Stone walls were built along the western and eastern edges of the island. A bridge was built at the south end of the island connecting it with Nicollet Island and the Great Northern Railroad east channel bridge.

The Wisconsin Central became part of the Chicago and Great Western Railroad in early twentieth century. The Boom Island railroad complex was torn down about 1970 and the area became a construction storage yard.

In the mid-1980s, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board developed the area into a park which was officially opened in June 1987. Remains of the roundhouse no doubt still exist below recent fill. Natural soil horizons containing aboriginal remains may even exist.

References: City Atlas (1903); Mpls-St. Paul Magazine (June 1987:17).

Vol. 48, No. 1-2  © 1989 The Minnesota Archaeological Society

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