North Star Woolen Mill
1864, 1871, 1925, 1998
Originally constructed in 1864 by W.W. Eastman and Paris Gibson, the North Star Woolen Mill manufactured wool blankets, scarves, flannels, and yarns. After it was deeded waterpower and the right to construct a raceway, the limestone-constructed North Star became the first mill to use waterpower.
One of its customers was Marshall Field, which subsequently owned one-fourth interest in North Star Mill.
By 1870, North Star employed 66 workers including four children. In 1871, the Mill expanded. By 1874, there were 130 employees, most of whom were women.
Minneapolis manufacturers had planned to develop a textile industry near St. Anthony Falls, and other textile companies were established in the area, but the plan became unsuccessful because of Minneapolis’ distance from eastern markets.
The combined mills did meet local needs until the 1870s when railroads began transporting quality textiles from Eastern Mills. As the Eastern imports continued, the Minneapolis textile mills dwindled. North Star Woolen Mills, however, continued to operate.
Although the Company won first place for its blankets at the Philadelphia Exposition in 1876, that same year, North Star declared bankruptcy. Minneapolis Mill Company purchased the Mill and hired William G. Northrop as its manager. Northrop was with the company for 50 years. Under Northrop’s leadership, North Star prospered and expanded by adding two buildings.
By 1885, North Star Woolen Mill was the only textile mill remaining in Minneapolis.
Northrop’s son, William G. Northrop, Jr., joined the company in 1905, and the Mill continued to prosper. (Years later, he oversaw the Mill’s expanded production during World War II.)
By 1925, North Star Woolen Mills was the nation’s largest manufacturer of wool blankets. Its business continued to focus on hotels, transportation lines, department stores, and the U.S. government. Locally it was a significant part of Minneapolis’ industry and retail.
In 1925, because of its ongoing business expansion, the Company decided to construct a new Mill. The original 1864 factory was replaced with the current steel-framed building with reinforced floors and brick walls. The new building was built around the existing limestone factory with the building dismantled from the top as each new floor was constructed. As the floors were completed, the machinery was moved up to the newly created floor, thus, allowing manufacturing to continue.
In 1930, its large rooftop sign was built, mounted on a metal frame reading “North Star Blankets” with a large star in the sign’s center.
The Minneapolis Mill’s business declined during the Depression and into the 1940s; and in 1949, the Company moved its operations to Lima, Ohio.
On December 11, 1949, The Minneapolis Star announced the mill’s closure after 85 years in business with the headline, “North Star to Close Plant This Week.”
In the 1950s, the building operated as a public warehouse under the name North Star Warehouse. Subsequently, the building ceased operation as a warehouse and remained empty. The Mill’s offices and warehouse were demolished in 1963.
In 1971, the St Anthony Falls District, which includes the North Star building, was listed in the National Register of Historic Place.
The Loft Association, concerned about the deteriorating North Star sign atop its building, applied for a grant through the Legacy Amendment’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. The initial application was denied, but a second grant submitted in 2013 was approved for $240,000. Restoration began in 2014. The building’s restored sign is atop the building.