Spectacular Fair: The Minnesota State Fair

In this Collections Up Close video podcast, Minnesota Historical Society collections assistant Christopher Welter shares a few of the thousands of State Fair photographs in the MHS collection, with a special emphasis on the fair’s more spectacular offerings.

Black and white photograph of Red Wing riverfront including remnants of Red Wing Mills, c.1885.

Remnants of Red Wing Mills, c.1885

Remnants of Red Wing Mills ruins are visible next to the plant's 136-foot-high chimney in this photo of the city's Mississippi River waterfront c.1885.

The Burning of Red Wing Mills, March 4, 1883

Early generations of Minnesotans lived with the ever-present danger of fire. Many city histories tell of blazes that destroyed whole sections of their communities, but in most cases arson was not the cause. The Red Wing Mills complex, however, was almost certainly burned deliberately by an unknown arsonist.

Black and white photograph of Red Wing Iron Works building, c. 1890.

Red Wing Iron Works, c. 1890

Frances Densmore’s father Benjamin and his brother Daniel started Red Wing Iron Works in 1866. Its financial success allowed the family to support her studies at Oberlin Conservatory of Music.

Photograph of Carlson's limestone kiln

Carlson kiln

A Milwaukee Road train pulls up to G.A. Carlson's limestone kiln, still in existence today, on the Mississippi River side of Barn Bluff, c. 1895. Red Wing became known as Minnesota's "Lime Center" in the 1870s as local quarrying firms and their kilns reduced limestone to lime.

photograph of limestone kiln

G. A. Carlson kiln

Red Wing's leading quarry owner G.A. Carlson built this 1882 Barn Bluff limestone kiln near the Milwaukee Road's tracks. He wished to facilitate shipments of lime and cement. The kiln, pictured about 1885, still exists.

photograph of a group of quarrymen at Barn Bluff

Quarrymen posing

A group of Barn Bluff quarrymen pose for a photo about 1890.

photograph of stone boat

Stone boat

A low-slung "stone boat" is loaded with limestone and ready to be pulled away from a Red Wing quarry, c. 1890.

photograph of quarry workers

Quarry Workers

Workers use hand tools to widen rock fissures in a Red Wing limestone formation and break stone free, c. 1890.

Red Wing’s “Stone Age”

Thanks to the limestone bluffs and hills that surrounded Red Wing, the town became a Minnesota lime-making and stone quarrying center from 1870 to 1910. Those forty years are sometimes known as the city’s “Stone Age.”

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