Preserving a fading history
Minot’s historic industrial district adds character to downtown
Dave Dunnell tells an interesting story about the Snow White Flour made by a downtown Minot mill decades ago.
The flour logo designed by his uncle, Howard Dunnell, and the sack company, Bemis Brothers, featured Snow White and two ugly dwarfs with a castle in the background. At the time of the making of Walt Disney’s “Snow White” movie, released in 1937, Howard worked with Roy Disney, the brother of Walt, to allow use of the Snow White brand in exchange for a period of free advertising in movie theaters in its North Dakota and Montana markets.
Dunnell said Disney’s dwarfs were drawn to be more appealing and Snow White more attractive than the logo, though.
“They did a much better job of it. It was a little bit more glamorous,” he said. The castle, though, was a good copy, he said.
The mill was part of downtown Minot’s industrial district, named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. The tracks of Minot’s two railroads form rough boundaries for the old industrial district. The Burlington Northern at the north edge of Minot’s Original Townsite and the Canadian Pacific, diagonally bisecting the Burlington Northern tracks from the southeast, served companies in an area around and between the railroads that extended east from about Main Street to the Souris River.
The old mill, located near the Souris River at the northeast foot of the Third Street Bridge, is expected to come down as Minot pursues property for a flood protection project. The North Dakota Historical Society also approved city acquisition of the Seamann house, originally owned by Louis Seamann, at 25 5th St. NE, in September 2015. The house was built between 1905 and 1907.
The city has plans to acquire and remove the building known in the historic records as the Otterness house at 11 5th St. NE. Originally owned by Ole Otterness, it was built between 1905 and 1907. His widow, Carrie, was listed as living there into the 1950s.
Part of the city’s mitigation in the removal of historic buildings will be the creation of an updated inventory for the district. The inventory will reflect buildings that have come down or have been remodeled since the late 1980s when 37 buildings and one other structure were identified.
Norsk Brothers owns three downtown properties in the historic industrial district. The properties include the former Aultman-Taylor farm equipment building, constructed in 1919 at 30 1st St. NE. Renovated in 2014, the building now houses The Starving Rooster restaurant and The Lofts Apartments. Norsk Brothers hopes to eventually revive the former Bridgeman Creamery and Nodak building as well.
Norsk Brothers is one developer who sees potential in Minot’s old industrial buildings for restaurants, bars, housing or fitness gyms. The large square footage and sturdy construction makes them attractive.
“We like that area because of the beauty that the buildings bring. You uncover what was covered up and you find some pretty cool stuff,” said Chad Thompson, a partner in Norsk Brothers.
Norsk Brothers considers its first project with the Aultman-Taylor building to be a success, although it wasn’t without challenges.
“We did as little as possible to change the structure. We wanted to show the character of the 100-year-old history,” Thompson said. “If we look at where we started, from what we set out to do and what we finished with I would say they were aligned.”
However, they needed to figure out a solution for original masonry that didn’t insulate well, and they had no choice but to replace old windows even though it meant the project wasn’t eligible for a tax credit program for historic preservation. Older buildings also can bring surprises once you start tearing into them, they discovered.
The historic district lost a number of buildings to demolition even before its nomination to the national register. These include buildings and structures associated with railroads, grain elevators, power plants and lumber yards.
The district is significant for its associations with the growth of North Dakota’s agriculture and a related railroad distribution network that supplied industrial products to a large portion of North Dakota and the northern Great Plains, according to registry documents with North Dakota Historical Society.
Some of the prominent businesses were International Harvester (1910) on Second Street Northeast, Northern Moline Plow Co. (1916) and North American Creamery Co. (1916) on East Central Avenue, Bergseth Fish Co. (1915) and Piper-Howe (1915) on First Street, Minot Sash and Door (1915) on Third Street and Minot Flour Mill.
The history of the flour mill goes back to before 1904 when Minot pioneer businessmen, including Erik Ramstad and Alfred Blaisdell, founded the Minot Milling Co., according to information in a survey by the historical society in 1985. In 1904, William Dunnell and other Minnesota businessmen bought the property and changed the name to the Minot Flour Mill Co. Dunnell also built a grain elevator next to it.
Dave Dunnell, a grandson of William Dunnell and Minot-area native now living in Brighton, Colorado, remembers visiting the mill as a boy in about 1940.
“I have a vivid memory of falling down the grain chute,” he said. “I remember my arms being grabbed by my dad.”
He said he didn’t know his Canadian-born grandfather well, but family history indicates he was quite an entrepreneur with a number of enterprises. Those enterprises included wheat farms in Canada, cranberry farms in Mexico, coal mines in North Dakota and Montana and flour mills in Minot, Devils Lake and Missoula, Mont.
Dave Dunnell’s uncle, Harold Dunnell, was manager of the Minot plant, while another uncle ran the Missoula plant. His father, Irwin, was a salesman who traveled the area to sell to groceries. They lived on a farm near Ruthville and later on Minot’s South Hill. Dave graduated from Minot High School in 1956.
By the early 1950s the mill had been sold to the Russell Miller company. The building was later used by Souris Valley Feed and Seed.