Why the Mill City Museum?

In Tradition of Deceit, Chloe visits a friend in Minneapolis to help with a proposal to turn a long-abandoned flour mill into a museum.

Tradition Of Deceit Cover

The mystery is set in 1983, when such discussions and plans were underway. The visionaries were ultimately successful, and the Minnesota Historical Society opened the  Mill City Museum in 2003.

Mill City Museum

So…why did I choose to feature the Mill City Museum in the fifth Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites Mystery?

First, it tells a fascinating story. When the Washburn Mill was completed in 1874, it was the world’s largest flour mill. The production of a basic food item was industrialized for the first time in history.

washburn A mill

Early print (author’s collection).

That building was destroyed within a few years. When it was rebuilt, the new 1880 structure and milling process was the most technologically advanced in the world. Records suggest that the mill at peak capacity could produce enough flour to make 12 million loaves of bread a day.  More mills were constructed nearby, and Minneapolis was known as “The Flour Milling Capital of the World” for about five decades.

Chances are good you can find personal connections to this story in your own kitchen.  The Washburn company’s flour did so well at an early competition that it began packaging it under the name…Gold Medal.

Old Mill-111

(Photo by Kay Klubertanz.)

The marketing department created Betty Crocker.

exhibit Mill City Museum

MCM exhibit.  I inherited a copy of this particular Betty Crocker cookbook from my grandma.

After several mergers, the company became a little entity known as…General Mills.

Second – Baking, baking, baking! I’ve been testing old recipes, and will share favorites in the coming months.


Old Time Cinnamon Jumbles, a yummy Betty Crocker recipe from the 1920s.

Baking Kathleen Ernst

I’m exploring a new (for the Chloe series) ethnic food tradition, too.

Third, the mill’s history in the 1980s was poignant and compelling. After closing in 1965, the mill was empty for years. It provided dubious shelter for many people with nowhere else to go. This let me explore some social issues of the time, and provided a unique setting for a murder mystery.

Homeless Protest Master combined

Star Tribune, May 2, 1990.

Finally, I loved exploring the Mill City Museum…and I think readers will too, whether within the pages of Tradition of Deceit (when the museum was still a dream) or on a field trip to see the real thing. The museum was created around the ruins of the Washburn A Mill (which was largely destroyed by fire in the 1990s).

(Photo by Kay Klubertanz)

(Photo by Kay Klubertanz)

The interpreters are consistently great,

Mill City Museum

I think this interpreter was pointing out dust collectors. After you read Tradition of Deceit, you’ll understand why they were important.

and programming often includes first-person presentations.

Mill City Museum

This interpreter portrayed Mary Dodge Woodward, a widow who moved from Wisconsin to a 1,500-acre “bonanza farm” in the Dakota Territory in 1882.

In addition to traditional exhibits, the museum features a baking lab,

Mill City Museum Baking Lab

Interpreters in the lab help guests understand the science and history of baking…

Baking lab Mill City Museum

…and guests can sample the recipe of the day.

and a  very cool Flour Tower Tour.

Flour Tower Mill City Museum

This special tour—one of the most ingenious interpretive program I’ve ever seen—was created by repurposing an old freight elevator. Guests riding up and down glimpse different aspects of life in the old mill.

Interpreters also lead special behind-the-scenes tours on a regular basis.

Kathleen Ernst Mill City Museum tour

That’s me, scribbling frantically while touring one of the areas not generally open to the public.

I’ll be sharing lots more in future posts.  In the meantime, you can learn more by visiting the Mill City Museum website. I also recommend Mill City: A Visual History of the Minneapolis Mill District published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press.  Have fun exploring!

Mill City Museum


Tags: , ,

4 Responses to “Why the Mill City Museum?”

  1. Ruth Nelson-Lau Says:

    Thank you for setting this Chloe mystery in my home state! Ruth

  2. Dianne Stump Turner Says:

    Ohhhh, I am sooooo excited about this newest Chloe mystery! Thus far, all have been wonderful wonderful stories! Thank you so much, Kathleen, for giving adult readers cant-put-it-down thrillers!

    Postscript…I *might* be in love with Roelke, even though he is much younger! *giggles*

    • Kathleen Ernst Says:

      Diannne, I must admit that I’m excited too! I got to explore so many fascinating topics in this one, and weave them all together. As for Roelke, don’t give up on him just because he’s younger. He’s younger than Chloe, too. :>) You’ll be pleased to know that he gets a lot of page time in the new book.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: