Municipal Grain Terminal
Saint Paul, MN

To make sure the tourists aren't scared off, the city painted the side of the elevator with one of its historic names.
To make sure the tourists aren’t scared off, the city painted the side of the elevator with one of its historic names.

FEW places I write about are in the public domain: to reach the perspectives that I find involves calling and writing owners, companies and historical societies. The Head House, though, is fair game—at least now it is—to any biker, dog walker and generic tourist who likes the look of the place.

And really, what’s not to like? Towering over the Mississippi in concrete, steel and glass over on a series of pegs in the midst of swanky and fresh condominiums, though, it looks out of place.

It is.

However, when I first saw this place it was not so polished. The roof of half the complex, called the “Sack House,” did little but filter the sunlight that freely poured into the building, then back out through the numerous holes in the floor, dripping down the walls into the river. Walls that are now plastered with historical photos depicting the heyday of St. Paul grain shipping, an industry that was never taken for granted.

Filling a Barge (1954, HE5.14 m1, MNHS.org)
Filling a Barge (1954, HE5.14 m1, MNHS.org)

Monopoly Money

When the Equity Cooperative Exchange formed in 1911, its purpose was to represent farmers to compete against grain traders, like the Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce. At that time, there was no grain terminal in St. Paul, in spite of its beer-brewing facilities and proximity to Minneapolis’ world-famous flourmills. 70% of all the regional grain flowed through St. Paul.

Equity Cooperative Exchange moved from its headquarters from Minneapolis in 1915 to St. Paul and immediately began constructing a grain elevator and fortifying itself to legally tango with the Chamber of Commerce. It wasn’t until a decade after the elevator rose that, in 1927, plans were approved for the first major expansion of the grain facilities.

By 1931, Equity Cooperative Exchange had erected 90 grain silos, a Head House, Sack House, and even its own flour mill.

I understand the terms ‘Head House’ and ‘Sack House’ are confusing, but let me outline their use. On one side of the Head House, a conveyor skyway connected the tower to the elevators around it, while on the opposite side—the Mississippi river side—pipes with ropes attached were used to fill barges. Barges are tied to the piers around the Head House to this day.

The Sack House would be fed flour and grain from the Equity mill for bagging and shipment by rail. If you check out the Head House/Sack House stop along the trail today, this is the building you can walk around.

This Sunset Certified Asbestos-Free

You would have to navigate around the various concrete silos, mills and outbuildings just a few decades ago, but now the only obstacles are condos, a park and fountains. When 1989 brought the demolition of the extensive complex, except the Head and Sack Houses.

So, why don’t you grab the dog, boyfriend, girlfriend or bike and visit this beautiful industrial memorial some summer afternoon?