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Dundas' Archibald Mill Represents Minnesota's 'Earliest Industry'

DUNDAS, Minn. (WCCO) -- For more than a century, mill ruins in Rice County have stood tall, and for good reason. In Finding Minnesota, John Lauritsen shows us how the history of the Archibald Mill is putting a small town on the map.

From its downtown to its baseball field, the 1,600 people that live in Dundas are part of a quiet, picturesque community. A big reason why can be found just beyond center field.

"It's beautiful. The Cannon River is just awesome," said biker Tom Birbeck.

That's the same feeling people had 160 years ago when the Archibalds arrived. Brothers John and Edward and their cousin George. They not only built a stone mill, they built a town.

"They had moved from Ontario, Canada. In fact, the city they moved from in Canada was Dundas which why this community has that name," said Susan Garwood, executive director of the Rice County Historical Society.

And for the latter part of the 19th century, the community was known as a flour-producing powerhouse. The Archibalds built two mills on each side of the river. One on an island, the other by downtown. Garwood said the mills were known internationally.

"Rice County was the center for milling in Minnesota for the first 25 years," said Garwood. "The power of the river was such that it was able to power, not just this mill, but there were 17 mills between Faribault and Northfield on the Cannon River."

It was a sure thing that came to a quick end. Not because of a bad business decision but because of a New Year's fire in 1892.

"What happened was the fire actually began in the mill on the island. The wind was such that it blew a spark across this mill and it caught fire," said Garwood.

The town always rang a bell on New Year's to celebrate the coming year. But when the bell kept on ringing, people realized something was wrong.

"By the time help arrived it was engulfed and too far gone," said Garwood.

Because the Archibalds never rebuilt the only thing left standing was the limestone structure. The water wheel was inside the mill so the river ran through it, and still does. Over the years, a building destroyed evolved into something beautiful.

Nowadays, vacationers and bikers stop for the scenery and stay for the history. The ruins are on the National Register of Historic Places.

"It wasn't put on the register because it's a pretty place. It was put on the register because historically it symbolizes a really important time in Minnesota's earliest development. And earliest industry," said Garwood.

Even ruins need to be maintained. Every spring and fall the historical society cuts down weeds, trims trees and makes sure the structure is still solid.

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