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  Retaining Walls Blend Beautifully With Old Mill Ruins

Once the largest direct-drive waterpowered facility in the world, the Minneapolis flour mill ruins (formerly the West Side Milling District) now represent the 19th century beginnings of two of Minnesota’s most famous companies: General Mills and Pillsbury. In fact, the entire area, including St. Anthony Falls (the only waterfall along the Mississippi River), is currently on the National Register for Historical Places. 

For the last 100 years, the ruins have remained buried underneath 40 feet of sand and gravel near the scenic banks of the mighty Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis. 

But in 1988 the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board -- continuing in its mission to reclaim land adjacent to the Mississippi River -- acquired the ruins area (dubbed Mill Ruins Park by locals). 

Ten years later, the city started excavation, spearheading an effort to bring residents and tourists back to the river by reconstructing and building a scenic new park in the shadow of the historic ruins.

Weathered VERSA-LOK Retaining Wall Systems complemented the historical surroundings of Mill Ruins Park while saving contractors valuable on-site man-hours.Scheduled for completion in 2003, the Mill Ruins Park project was subsequently broken up into four semi-independent phases-each one with the ability to be fully enjoyed before the others are finished. 

The first phase of the project involved re-constructing a tailrace that once carried water from the mill turbines back to the Mississippi. (This tailrace currently channels water from the river downstream alongside the partially excavated ruins.) The challenge for architect-of-record, URS Corporation, was to find a retaining structure that would ensure long-lasting durability, complement the newly unearthed historical surroundings and fit into the city’s budget. 

The new WeatheredTM VERSA-LOK® Retaining Wall System met all of these challenges.

"We chose a Weathered VERSA-LOK Retaining Wall System because it offered a similar color and texture to the old limestone walls," said Bob Kost, senior associate and landscape architect at URS. 

Unmatched anywhere, the rough and rugged texture of weathered VERSA-LOK units is reminiscent of 18th century English countryside stone. Colors may vary from location to location around the U.S., but VERSA-LOK manufacturers can often accommodate custom color requests for large projects.

"During the initial phase many other needs popped up, including a parking lot wall and river inlet," said Kost. "We found VERSA-LOK to be a very cost-effective solution to those needs, too."

But VERSA-LOK systems did much more than just meet Kost’s aesthetic aspirations and cost demands for the project. They also saved contractors, Lunda Construction, Black River Falls, Wisc., and FM Frattalone Excavation and Grading, St. Paul, Minn., and wall installer, Martin Lake Contracting, Inc., Stacy, Minn., valuable man-hours, too. VERSA-LOK walls -- unlike poured-in-place concrete walls -- do not require frost footings, eliminating the need for the contractors to excavate the site further.

"We didn’t want to dig too close to the historic utilities underground," said Kost. "VERSA-LOK worked great because we didn’t have to go below the frost line."

As the project progressed, other landscaping features were incorporated including bicycle and pedestrian paths, greenery and other plantings.

The completed Mill Ruins Park project will include a canal plank road, recreating the wood "lid" that once capped the water inflow canal powering the mills, and an archaelogical educational laboratory, enabling residents and tourists to learn more about this vital piece of Minnesota history.



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