Purina Chow Mill
Minneapolis, MN

[This article is dedicated to Rina, a new friend.]

That weak, needy sound echoed through the room, stopping the three of us in our tracks. There was a rusty, squeaky vent, a distant car alarm and the consistent white noise of city traffic, rushing between the Twin Cities. We were not expecting a small “mew” from behind a giant green machine in the old mill.

“Can you hear it, too—that animal behind there? Is that a pigeon?”

“Not sure, but those freakin’ things can make all kinds of weird noises…”

This elevator came crashing down, perhaps from the topmost floor. I wonder what it sounded like.
This elevator came crashing down, perhaps from the topmost floor. I wonder what it sounded like.

And it’s true; there have been times when especially ornery “flying rats” screeched in a shockingly human tone, practically driving me to hide myself from what I thought was surely an incoming angry employee or excited squatter.

“I wanna see what it is… but I’m not gonna fit—you wanna give it a shot?”

“Sure, but I want gloves—sounds pissed!”

He borrowed the crusty leather gloves while the squirming mystery critter cried in the corner, seeming to get louder. As his thin form slid sideways through the tight gap between the dust-caked spider webs and green flaking paint the desperate whimpers muffled, then stopped altogether. Instead, the echoes were replaced by shuffling streaming out from the darkness.

“Hey, what’s going on?” I called through the gap, vaguely sensing movement in the musty shadows of that mill room. “Coming back,” he replied. “What is it?” There was no answer, instead, he came through with a big smile with fur gloves extended into the light—wait—fur gloves?

His fingers spread the “mew” calls bounced again between the cinderblock walls, machinery and our ears. In his hands a kitten… a really new one, too.

A dead pigeon that taggers gilded.
A dead pigeon that taggers gilded.

“Its eyes aren’t even open yet,” remarked the last party of our party, who had kept silent through the episode thus far.

“Well,” I intoned as we gathered around the cute new being, a lone and discarded runt of the litter, “what should we name it—her?”

“Rina, like Purina, where she was born.”

“Rina… I like that.”

Rina gets her first hug from an expert.
Rina gets her first hug from an expert.

Now, Purina’s Story

1928 (Hibbard Studo, MH5.9 MP3.1P p140, MNHS.org)
1928 (Hibbard Studo, MH5.9 MP3.1P p140, MNHS.org)

The “Purina Chow” plant that I found Rina in had a mill in its footprint for almost a century before I had the opportunity to research the area. Since 1916, when the American Flour and Cereal Mill Company built a mill and silos on the site, in fact. A company called Clarx Milling rented the mill and buildings for years, turning out 1,000 barrels of commercial feed, among other products, all the way up until the time Ralston-Purina purchased the buildings in 1923.

Purina, September 1939. (Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, LC-USF34- 060336-D)
Purina, September 1939. (Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, LC-USF34- 060336-D)

Ralston-Purina was in a state of expansion, having witnessed their annual sales explode from $1,200,000 to more than $26,000,000 in just the decade prior. To expand their growing animal feed enterprise, they immediately began constructing a new 5-story concrete warehouse and office building. These buildings, along with other historic properties, lied beneath the foundations of more recent structures.

1951 (Norton & Peel, 204108, MNHS.org)
1951 (Norton & Peel, 204108, MNHS.org)

The mill was turning out more than 250 tons of feed daily when work began to modernize the operations in 1972. In that year and those that followed, the concrete and steel complex that is remembered by Minneapolis rose, first the mill and its checkerboard trademark pattern, then two rows of elevators in 1981 and 1991. Then things turned South, you might say.

In ’93, a Texas company bought the plant, foreshadowing its sale a few years later to Land ‘O Lakes, a local corporation. In 2003 the plant closed, and in 2010 it was demolished.

Oh, and Rina is well, and very much enjoys her warm, loving home.

Purina Demolition
Purina Demolition