Power on the Mississippi

This fabulous old Minneapolis building, with colossal steampunk windows beaming mysterious golden light out on the river at dusk, is a power plant built in 1903.

Photograph of a power plant on the Mississippi in Minneapolis

Called the Southeast Steam Plant, it was formerly known as the Twin City Rapid Transit Company Steam Power Plant; it originally provided the electric power for the new streetcar system in Minneapolis and Saint Paul, and filled that role for 50 years. When buses pushed streetcars off the roads in the 1950s, it became part of the regional power grid. Today it provides electricity, and steam for heating, to the nearby University of Minnesota.

Coal is out of favor, but extensive renovations have created a clean-burning modern generating plant. 4 boilers are still operational, including one that’s seven stories tall (!) and able to burn several different fuels including “oat hull biofuel” – for which, unfortunately, the plant currently has no source.

Since I can’t go inside, I’m free to imagine all sorts of things going on in there. Maybe the ghost of Nikola Tesla appears at night, spins up huge dynamos and creates crackling blue-white electrical arcs that reach the ceiling, light up those windows and reflect out onto the river.

I took this photo from the opposite bank of the river. The Central Mississippi Riverfront Regional Park extends southeast from the Stone Arch bridge and along the bank of the river for a few blocks. It’s a little weird down there at night, but you can walk to a spot across from the power plant. At the right time, it’s quite a sight.

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