This past summer, a wrecking company began demolishing the Purina Mill complex at 38th St. and Hiawatha Ave. Abandoned in 2003, the buildings had become an eyesore, and people were glad to see them come down.
One Family’s View
The Hafvenstein family remembers when Purina was a thriving animal-feed manufacturing plant. They lived at 3904 Hiawatha Ave. (across the street from the mill), from the late-1930s to the early l960s. Purina’s famous red-and-white checkerboard logo could be seen from their front yard.
As teens, the two older Hafvenstein brothers climbed a downspout at the mill to catch pigeons. For a time, one brother, Larry, was an office boy at Purina. He recalls that every Monday morning, Mr. Danforth, the president, would come on the intercom and lead the workers in a “moment of prayer.”
Mrs. Hafvenstein sewed several dresses for her daughters out of Purina feed bags. At that time, feed bags were made of wearable cloth and printed in beautifully flowered patterns. A dress for Barb required two feed bags while a dress for Millie, who was shorter, required only one.
Besides proximity, Purina was significant to the family for another reason. Their beloved grandfather, Joseph Flanders, worked at the mill for over 20 years. The children recall seeing Grandpa Joe wave to them from his upper-floor window. During World War II, Mr. Flanders got permission to plant a “victory garden” in front of the mill, at the foot of a huge sorghum tank.
By-products from plant production provided an excellent fertilizer. Grandpa Joe gave his mill-grown vegetables and dinnerplate-size dahlias to neighbors on Hiawatha Ave. In the 1960s, houses along Hiawatha-including the Hafvensteins’ house- were demolished for a proposed highway expansion.
History of the Site
Purina was not the first mill on the southeastern corner of 38th St. and Hiawatha Ave. Clarx Milling Company, a whole-wheat flour mill, occupied the site from 1918 to 1921. Ralston Purina began operation in 1923. At first, the mill produced flour and cereal products. By the mid-1930s, it had converted the plant to a feed mill, most notably producing dog chow. In 1951, the mill reached peak capacity of 250 tons of feed per day.1 Land O’ Lakes purchased the mill in 2001.2
The Hiawatha light rail has turned the Purina Mill site into a prime target for redevelopment. A mixed-income housing and retail development, called Longfellow Station, has been proposed for the site.
As SENA News went to press, the future of that project was uncertain.
1 Eric Hart, The Neighborhood by the Falls: A Look Back at Life in Longfellow (Minneapolis: Longfellow Community Council, 2009), pp. 99-100.
2 Minneapolis Star Tribune, June 19, 2001. Purina Mill demolition, 2010 Purina Mill, 1951. Photo by Norton & Peel, courtesy Minnesota Historical Society. Purina Mill, 1928. Photo by Hibbard Studio, courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.