North Star Woolen Mill
109 Portland Ave. S.
As January winds begin to blow, it's time to appreciate warm blankets and Minneapolis' woolen mill history.
The North Star Woolen Mills was established in 1864 and operated until 1949. Today, the building is home to 36 high-tech lofts.
Although the milling district is mostly known for wheat and flour, blankets and lumber were also manufactured along these banks of the Mississippi. As did many East Coast textile mills, North Star used waterpower to run the machinery that spun wool fibers into yarn and operated looms.
North Star became a national leader in finely woven blankets sold under brand names such as Falls of St. Anthony, Red River and Cardinal. Marshall Field's was a major customer and at one time owned a quarter of the business. North Star also had an exclusive contract to provide blankets for Pullman railroad sleeping cars.
Construction of the mill's many buildings began in 1864. The mill employed over 60 people and had 17 looms. Within 10 years, employees numbered 130 - two-thirds being women.
By 1920, North Star Woolen Company was the top manufacturer of wool blankets in America. Nearly 300 employees transformed two million pounds of wool a year into blankets. Large quantities were sold to the government and Navy, as well as to hotels, steamships and airlines.
Most of the wool came from Minnesota and Wisconsin, and then, beginning in the 1930s, cashmere was brought in from Tibet, merino from Australia, mohair from Turkey and alpaca from Peru.
The company began purchasing mills in Ohio and Rhode Island and eventually closed the Minneapolis mill in 1949.
The North Star Woolen Mill was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. The loft conversion was awarded a preservation award in 2000.
Minnesota trivia bonus: Fifty miles south of Downtown is the country's oldest woolen mill. Faribault Woolen Mills began in 1865 and is the last mill manufacturing woven blankets from raw material.
LUNCH TIP: The nearby Nochee Restaurant and Bar, 500 Washington Ave. S., serves caramel butternut squash soup and affordable entrees from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily.
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