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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
Gasworks Bluff

The area defined here as Gasworks Bluff runs from the foot of 11th Avenue South to 20th Avenue South (Figure 27). Today the entire area contains upper and lower terraces, but at the time of white settlement the river extended to the bluff edge in the northern half of the area. The narrow terrace on the north end was constructed in the mid-twentieth century to provide access to the Lower Lock and Dam.

The bluff itself is the most distinctive feature of the area. It is only incipient at the south end of the milling district but by the time it reaches the river bend below the site of the old gasworks, the bluff towers almost 80 feet above the river.

The western half of the Gasworks Bluff area has almost exclusively been used for industrial purposes since the time of early white settlement. In the latter part of the mid-nineteenth century, huge piles of lumber covered much of the western half of the area. In 1871 the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railroad constructed switching yards with a roundhouse along the southwest margin of the area.

By the late 1880s railroad yards sprawled over much of the bluff top west of the gasworks. In 1891 the Minneapolis Western Railroad built a trestle across the Mississippi River intersecting the west bank at the foot of 11th Avenue South and adjoining yards were built along the bluff edge. In 1892 the west half of the Gasworks Bluff Area was a maze of railroad tracks.

As the western half was dominated by railroads, the eastern half was soon dominated by the gasworks. The first gasworks building was erected in 1870 and by the turn of the century the complex sprawled over nearly 10 acres on the bluff top. The bluff face below was covered with slumping cinders, the debris of the coal gasification process. As the gasworks sprawled eastward, it encroached on the old Hedderly estate where one of the city's early settlers, Edwin Hedderly, had built a fine house on the bluff top. The house was moved in the late 1880s as limestone quarries expanded westward.

Behind the railroad yards and gasworks, a small, steam powered sawmill district flourished from the mid-1870s to the late 1880s. The district featured several planing mills. In 1913 the Pure Oil Company built a small refinery just southwest of the gasworks. It was demolished in the early 1940s.

In the early 1950s the Minneapolis Western Railroad yards along the bluff edge were removed. Ten years later the old gasworks was torn down and a new Minnegasco office and storage facility built. The 10th Avenue SE bridge (1929) and the I-35 bridge (1967) cut through the east end of the area. The Lower Lock and Dam (1956) now dominates the riverfront.

    GB-1. Minneapolis Western Railroad Enginehouse (1891-1945)

Following the completion of their Mississippi River bridge in 1891, the Minneapolis Western Railroad built switching yards along the bluff edge from the south end of the Mill District to the gasworks at the foot of 13th Avenue South. The railroad constructed a small engine house at the eastern end of the yards. It was a one story, wedge-shaped structure built of brick. The building contained two locomotive bays with a 30 foot front, 60 foot sides, and a 50 foot back. It was torn down in 1945. Foundations may remain just southeast of the Minnegasco facility.

References: Rascher (1892); Atwater (1893:353); NW Miller (1/9/91, 10/16/91).

    GB-2. Union Planing Mill, East Addition (1886-1887)

In 1873 the Union Planing Mill was built on the south side of Bluff Street between 13th Avenue South and Cedar Avenue. When J.S. Arnold purchased the mill in 1886, he built an addition on the north side of Bluff Street across from the original mill and just west of the gasworks. The addition consisted of two small frame buildings. The buildings were removed in 1887 for the expansion of the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railroad yards. Foundations may remain southeast of the Minnegasco building.

References: Sanborn (1885/90); City Directory (1873-74).

    GB-3. Minneapolis Gasworks (1870-1961)

In 1870 the Minneapolis Gas Light Company was founded with Dorilus Morrison as president. The company built a coal gasification plant at the foot of 14th Avenue South on top of the river bluff. The original plant consisted of a one story, rectangular brick building (100 foot x 30 foot), and an octagonal brick gas holder. Gas mains made of wood lined with tar were laid along Washington and Nicollet Avenues. At the end of 1870, the gas company was serving 192 customers.

In the late 1870s Alonzo Rand and H.W. Brown took control of the company and by 1885 the gasworks had added several frame outbuildings, a small stone retort house, and a circular brick gas holder 80 feet in diameter at the northwest edge of the complex. In 1886 a new method of coal gasification producing "water gas" was introduced. A one story brick purifying house (140 feet x 40 feet) and a large, circular (120 foot diameter) brick gas holder were built along the western edge of the complex. Along the eastern edge a one story, brick gas house (80 feet x 50 feet) was built along with several adjoining frame buildings and a brick retort house (70 feet x 60 feet). By 1892 the gasworks complex covered over 100,000 square feet.

In 1904 a further improvement in the coal gasification process introduced what was called "carburated water gas." The gas plant expanded eastward into the old Hedderly estate. Most of the original plant and the oldest brick gas holder were torn down and several new brick buildings and a new brick gas holder were constructed. By 1912 a new brick boiler house was built at the northeast corner of the plant.

Over the next forty years, the maze of brick buildings continued to sprawl over the blufftop (Figure 28). Natural gas was finally introduced in 1934, but "water gas" from coal continued to supplement the natural gas until 1947. The coal gasification plant was occasionally used up until 1960 for cold weather and emergencies. The plant was torn down in 1961 and a new maintenance office and storage tanks were constructed just west of the old complex.

Extensive foundations no doubt remain between the existing Minnegasco facility and the I-35W bridge. Only limited archaeological testing for the West River Parkway was undertaken in 1983 due to the possible presence of toxic wastes.

References: Sanborn (1885, 1885/90, 1912, 1912/27, 1912/48); Rascher (1892, 1892/1906); Ruger (1867, 1879); Smith (1891); Warner et al. (1881:433); Shutter (1923:160-163); Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce (1958:158-162); Baehr (1913); Tordoff (1984).

    GB-4. E.H. Hedderly Residence (1853-ca. 1890)

Edwin Hedderly arrived in Minneapolis in 1853 and claimed the land just above the bend in the river below the Falls. Although he initially may have lived in a cabin, he eventually built a large house on Bluff Street at the foot of 19th Avenue South. The house was an L-shaped frame structure, 100 feet long and 25 feet wide. It was two stories high. Hedderly was a grocer, hardware store owner, and finally a druggist in business with his son A.H. Hedderly. The elder Hedderly served as a Hennepin County commissioner, assessor, and justice of the peace. He was also on the first city council. He died in 1880 and his son took over his estate. The house was removed by 1890 and much of the site became part of a limestone quarry.

Some foundations or an artifact scatter may still exist.

References: Hopkins (1885); City Directory (1867,1878/79); Warner et al. (1881: 183,374,486, 559-560); Atwater (1893:31,35,39,85,98,103).

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

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