Garfield Substation Part 2: The Minneapolis General Electric Company

The Garfield Substation, located at 3253-3255 Garfield Avenue South in Minneapolis, Minnesota, is an enclosed electrical substation constructed by the Minneapolis General Electric Company. PVN worked with the building owner to determine the substation’s National Register of Historic Places-eligibility through the submission of Part 1 of the Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit Application. The National Park Service determined that the substation is eligible for the NRHP under Criterion C as a representation of the enclosed neighborhood transformer substation, a building type designed to be both functional and aesthetically appropriate while distributing electricity to the surrounding residential neighborhood.

This post—which is the second of a three-part blog series on the history of the Garfield Substation—focuses on the Minneapolis General Electric Company.

In case you missed the first post, read it here

The Minneapolis General Electric Company

The electrification of the downtown core in 1884 helped to stimulate the growth of the local electric industry. In the same year, the West Side Power Company was incorporated—with a board composed of Minnesota Brush Electric employees—and built a steam power plant at 4th Avenue North on the Mississippi River. Within a few years, the West Side Power Company and the Minneapolis Brush Electric Company were absorbed by the Minneapolis Electric Light and Power Company.

In 1892, the Minneapolis Electric Light and Power Company, Edison Light and Power Company, and the Minneapolis Electric Subway Company were consolidated to form the Minneapolis General Electric Company. Two years later, Minneapolis General Electric Company replaced the power plant at 4th Avenue North with the Main Street Power Station, which generated power through water and steam.[1] The Main Street Power Station, which was located on the east side of St. Anthony Falls, served as both a power generation plant and a distribution facility; from its construction until December of 1907, the Main Street Power Station “carried the full load of the city.”[2] 

In 1899, the Minneapolis General Electric Company was purchased by the Boston electrical engineering firm of Stone & Webster, which had spent the 1890s purchasing electric companies throughout the country. According to the 1908 edition of the Stone & Webster Public Service Journal, in 1899 the Minneapolis General Electric Company provided “electrical energy to approximately two hundred thousand people.”[3] In 1906, the company constructed a second hydroelectric station, at a cost of $4,500,000, on the St. Croix River in Taylor’s Falls, Minnesota; the Taylor’s Falls station had the capacity to produce 20,000 K.W. By 1908, the Minneapolis General Electric Company was the largest lighting company in Stone & Webster’s portfolio and was considered “one of the largest in the country.”[4]  

In order to distribute power from the Main Street Station and the Taylor’s Falls station, Minneapolis General Electric operated two distribution substations; “one at the office of the company, 15-17 South Fifth street [sic],” and Substation A, which was located “at the end of the St. Croix transmission line at the city limits.”[5] The substation at Minneapolis General Electric’s Fifth Street headquarters building (extant) distributed power to the business district; Substation A received power from the Taylor’s Falls station, which it “stepped down,” or converted to a lower voltage, for broader distribution.

Substation A (not extant) was a Renaissance Revival building that Minneapolis General Electric Company constructed in 1906; it was connected to the Taylor’s Falls generating station by a 40.6 mile long transmission line. Located at the “Minneapolis substation [were] step-down transformers for reducing from 47,500 to 13,800 volts.”[6] The 13,800 volt current would then be sent to open air transformer substations throughout the city—including one located on Garfield Avenue.

Next week, the conclusion of our series focuses on the construction and history of the Garfield Substation.

[1] “Minnesota’s Electric History,” Citizing.org, accessed June 2, 2016, http://citizing.org/data/projects/working-team-energy-independence/MN-Electrical-History.doc.

[2] Anfonson, “12,000 Years at St. Anthony Falls,” 265; R.H. McGrath, Stone & Webster Public Service Journal, Volume 2 (Boston: Stone & Webster, 1908), 572.

[3] McGrath, Stone & Webster, 569.

[4] Minneapolis General Electric Miscellaneous Clippings (Hennepin County Library Special Collections, MN), May 2, 1924. McGrath, Stone & Webster, 572.

[5] McGrath, Stone & Webster, 572.

[6] “The Taylor’s Falls-Minneapolis Transmission System,” in Lamar Lyndon, Development and Electrical Distribution of Water Power (New York: John Wiley & sons, 1908), 256.

PVN StaffGarfield Substation