With more than 10,000 lakes and thousands of miles of rivers, streams and canals running through the state, Minnesota has historically depended on its bodies of water for both physical and economic sustenance. Given the importance of water, it makes sense that many of the most fascinating abandoned places in Minnesota once thrived in large part due to their proximity to these natural resources.
As a rule of thumb, if you see a body of water, chances are you’re also near one of the state’s dozens of urban exploration destinations—including the 10 described below.
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The Best Abandoned Places in Minnesota
Mill Ruins Park (Minneapolis)
The mighty Mississippi River runs through downtown Minneapolis, and for centuries, it provided the critical power to run the city’s internationally-known grain mills. At the grain industry’s peak in the 19th century, the river and its network of canals and tailraces fueled the world’s largest direct-drive water-powered facility, making the state the top global producer of flour. The area launched several massive corporations that are still in business today, including Pillsbury, General Mills, Washburn Crosby and Xcel Energy.
However, as technology evolved and water was no longer the most efficient source of power for these facilities, the area around the old mills began to deteriorate, with vacant buildings and blight becoming more commonplace than bustling businesses and essential infrastructure.
In the 1970s, the state legislature provided funding to redevelop the riverfront and create a park commemorating the mills’ key role in the region’s history. The city’s park board bought out a 99-year lease on the land held by a concrete manufacturer and spent $8 million to move the company’s sand and gravel storage facilities upriver.
In addition to the planned park, the revitalization project included the extension of the West River Parkway, a paved hiking and biking trail, into the struggling downtown area. Throughout construction, great care was taken to preserve the historically significant site, with excavation overseen by the St. Anthony Falls Heritage Board.
The aptly-named Mill Ruins opened to the public in 2001, offering visitors a glimpse of the original walls and waterpower structures that had previously been buried under tons of sand and gravel. The tailrace canal, which returned water from the mills’ turbines back to the Mississippi River, was also reopened as part of the park. It is located adjacent to the Stone Arch Bridge, which dates back to 1883 and stands as a landmark that represents the direct link between the Midwest farmers and the mills that converted their raw crops into valuable flour shipped around the world.
Banning Quarry Ruins (Sandstone)
Located about 90 miles north of Minneapolis-St. Paul, Banning State Park is one of the crown jewels of the Minnesota park system. It’s famous for its pristine forests, winding trails and most notably, the churning rapids of the Kettle River, drawing thousands of daring paddlers each year. But hikers who opt to traverse the Quarry Loop Trail will also have the opportunity to explore one of the park’s lesser-known but equally intriguing attractions: the ruins of the Banning Sandstone Quarry, which once provided a livelihood to hundreds of residents in this sleepy patch of land.
Founded in the late 19th century, the quarry’s 500-plus employees pounded the area’s abundant stores of sandstone into blocks for use in the construction industry. With business booming at the quarry, more and more residents opted to settle permanently nearby, and the town of Banning was incorporated in 1896. Within a few years, however, construction trends abandoned the use of sandstone in favor of stronger building materials, and by 1905 the quarry had shuttered completely.
More than a century later, the remains of the abandoned quarry and the block-cutting house are still visible from the Quarry Loop Trail, an easy 1.8-mile loop that mostly follows an old railroad bed.
Tanner Hospital (Ely)
Built in 1901, Tanner’s Hospital was designed to combat the high rate of disease in northern Minnesota, which was largely due to inadequate sanitation systems in the mining boomtowns that quickly sprang up in the area known as the “Iron Range.” The private for-profit hospital featured unusually striking architecture for a healthcare facility, with four-story turrets and elaborate masonry that evoked the look of a fairytale castle.
Along the roof line, a series of dormers and bay windows offered patients excellent views of nearby Shagawa Lake as they recovered from surgery or illness. Initially named for pioneering Finnish doctor Anterro Tanner, the hospital was rebranded as Carpenter’s Hospital a few years later in honor of its new administrator, Dr. Carroll Carpenter.
In the 1950s, the hospital closed and the structure was renovated into the Lakeview apartment complex, which housed residents in the region through the 1980s. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 for both its unique architecture and contributions to health and medicine, as the hospital was one of the pioneers of the entrepreneurial medicine model before healthcare was considered a public concern.
In recent years, the building known to locals as “The Castle” has fallen into disrepair, with dozens of windows broken out or boarded up and tattered “For Sale” signs dangling from the siding. Overall, this is a great example of the wonderful abandoned places in Minnesota.
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Fergus Falls State Hospital (Fergus Falls)
One of many Kirkbride Plan mental health facilities built in the late 19th century, Fergus Falls State Hospital opened its doors to patients in 1890. The hospital was built in an effort to address the extreme overcrowding at other state institutions for the mentally ill, one of which—St. Peter Hospital for the Insane in southern Minnesota—was declared by the State Board of Health as “appalling” and “a disgrace to the state.”
Like other Kirkbride hospitals, Fergus Falls was designed on the premise that the layout of the facility was integral to the successful treatment of its patients. Kirkbride facilities typically consisted of an administrative hub at their centers, flanked by long, straight patient wings in a stair-step pattern.
The wings were stark, simple and uniform, meant to provide an atmosphere of discipline to bring order to patients’ chaotic minds. Treatment included regular physical exercise, farm work and courses in reading, sewing and other practical skills as a form of occupational therapy, though patients often complained they simply felt like chores.
Fergus Falls’ first patients were men, with women not admitted to the facility until 1893. By the late 1920s, the hospital’s census topped out at around 1,700, ranking it as the largest mental hospital in the state. It soon became just as overcrowded as the hospitals it was built to relieve, with many patients sent there by court order, often for years or even the remainder of their lives. The hospital became a convenient solution for isolating poor and other “undesirable” citizens from the rest of society.
After World War II, the development of new pharmacological treatments for mental illness—along with the growing trend of deinstitutionalization—reversed some of the rapid growth of state mental hospitals. In 1985, Fergus Falls State Hospital was rebranded as Fergus Falls Regional Treatment Center, and its business model began to shift toward patients with developmental disabilities and chemical addiction as well as mental health care.
The center closed in 2005 after transitioning all of its patients to smaller local institutions, and the state sold the property to the City of Fergus Falls two years later. Though it had been added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986, preservation groups had to fight for its continued existence, as the city claimed the facility was too large for a community of its size to reasonably redevelop or maintain.
The building was almost demolished on several occasions, most recently in 2018, and despite multiple proposals for renovation and redevelopment, its long-term future remains uncertain.
ADM Mill (Minneapolis)
These abandoned grain silos are actually relics of the old Archer-Daniels-Midland mill that once operated in the Dinkytown neighborhood of Minneapolis; however, the faded “ADM” initials on the side of the concrete towers are dwarfed by the work of the daring graffiti artists who painted the words “United Crushers” at the top of these urban monoliths. The blocky white letters have been emblazoned on the structure for years, and their visibility from I-94 has transformed the abandoned facility into an unlikely icon of the city.
Though the shuttered mill remains at risk due to expansion plans by the University of Minnesota, the structure remains standing as a popular destination for urban adventurers in the region. Though the facility is technically off-limits due to safety concerns, the risk hasn’t stopped people from regularly breaching its barriers to explore the interior.
Bunge Grain Elevator (Minneapolis)
Like the “United Crushers” monument, the Bunge Grain Elevator represents the ruins of the milling industry that was once the lifeblood of Minneapolis. Located in the Como neighborhood, the long-defunct grain elevator remains a source of constant curiosity to urban explorers despite its dilapidated and dangerous condition.
Most of the windows in the aging structure are broken out, and the interior is splashed with graffiti and littered with debris and trash left by vagrants.
Though the property owner has attempted to deter trespassers by erecting fences and even welding the doors and windows shut, determined explorers still manage to get inside on a regular basis, often to their peril: In 2015, a 20-year-old student at the University of Minnesota fell nearly three stories to her death while attempting to climb up the structure’s interior.
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Anoka State Hospital (Anoka)
This notorious facility opened in 1900, when it admitted 100 patients with allegedly “incurable” mental illnesses who were expected to spend the rest of their natural lives in the state-run hospital. Though its first patients were male, the facility expanded to accept female patients in 1906, with 115 women transferred there from St. Peter State Hospital.
The hospital’s treatment methods were standard for the era, although they would now be considered highly unethical. Straitjackets and handcuffs were commonly used to restrain patients, and electroshock therapy was also employed as part of the treatment regimen.
After a scathing series of newspaper articles was published in the late 1940s decrying the overcrowded and inhumane conditions at the facility, Minnesota Governor Luther Youngdahl vowed to reform the state hospital system and introduce more compassionate approaches to patient care; he hosted a dramatic bonfire ceremony on the Anoka property in which hundreds of restraints were incinerated in a symbolic gesture of his commitment to change.
Though conditions at Anoka did improve somewhat afterward, the hospital’s reputation continued to be marred by periodic reports of abuse and mistreatment, especially after its focus shifted to treating emotionally disturbed adolescents in the 1970s. The facility was finally shut down in 1999, with its remaining patients moved to other treatment centers around the state.
While a few of the buildings on campus are still used as offices for state and local agencies, most of the property remains vacant and abandoned. Overall, this is a great example of the wonderful abandoned places in Minnesota.
Hollywood Theater (Minneapolis)
This once-regal Art Deco theater in Minneapolis was once a popular entertainment destination, showing the latest Hollywood films from 1935 until it closed in 1987. After decades of vacancy, the building remains in relatively good condition, with its screen still intact and intricate designs still visible in the tiled floors.
However, the peeling paint and the thick layer of dust covering every surface—from the ornate wrought-iron railings to the rusting popcorn cart abandoned in the lobby—offer clear evidence that the theater’s best days are likely behind it.
Owned by the City of Minneapolis for several decades, the theater was named a local landmark by the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission in 1990 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2014. However, multiple proposals for restoring or redeveloping the Hollywood Theater have failed to come to fruition over the years, including a project to convert the building into an apartment complex and a plan to reopen it as a photo and film production studio.
A private developer bought the property in 2015 with the intention of transforming it into offices while preserving the theater’s historic character, although relatively little visible progress has been made on this plan.
Gopher Ordnance Works (Rosemount)
This 7,000-acre swath of former farmland was identified as a site for a DuPont ammunition factory in 1943. With capacity for as many as 3,000 employees, Gopher Ordnance Works was originally intended to operate six production lines making gunpowder for Navy artillery shells, but budget-related delays resulted in just half that capacity finally coming online in January 1945. The plant operated until October of that year, after which it was shuttered and remained vacant until it was donated to the state in 1949 and subsequently passed along to the University of Minnesota.
For the last 70 years, the property has been used primarily for agricultural research, although several thousand acres has been parceled out for use as park land and construction of residential developments. The university has also leased segments of the land to other groups, most notably the Minneapolis and Saint Paul Bomb Squad.
Though several walls are covered in graffiti, much of the original production facility is still standing, including a row of five tall smokestacks reaching into the wide prairie sky. Overall, this is a great example of the wonderful abandoned places in Minnesota.
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Broken Down Dam (Fergus Falls)
Previously known as the Fergus Falls City Light Station, this concrete hydroelectric gravity dam on the Otter Tail River was built in 1908 to generate power for the residents and businesses in the town of Fergus Falls. Unfortunately, the engineers’ failure to conduct comprehensive site evaluations before constructing the dam on top of a spring would soon result in its catastrophic failure.
On September 24, 1909, dam attendants noticed the lights inside the powerhouse flickering and water creeping across its floor. They quickly evacuated the building, escaping across a railway embankment just in time to witness the plant’s 10-ton generator collapsing into the rushing river. They borrowed a team of horses from a nearby farm and headed into the city center to alert residents that the dam had broken and flood waters were coming their way.
Ultimately, the flooding that resulted from the initial dam breach destroyed the Mount Faith Avenue Bridge, two mills and several additional dams. While dozens of homes and farms were damaged by the floods, miraculously no one was killed in the incident and its aftermath.
The aptly-named Broken Down Dam Park was established in 1949 near the site of the catastrophic breach. The ruins of the cracked dam are still visible along the Otter Tail River State Water Trail, which runs through the 11-acre park. When river levels peak, the force of the water rushing through the jagged concrete forms is sufficient to temporarily create Class III rapids.
Our Final Thoughts on Abandoned Places in Minnesota
Those who are into urban exploration in the Minnesota state area, and wanting to explore abandoned places in Minnesota, should get comfortable with Minnesota trespassing laws. Luckily, in the state of Minnesota, the laws are easy to understand and are pretty cut and dry.
For these cases, you should familiarize yourself with x. For more about obtaining permission to explore abandoned places in Minnesota, check out our guide Explore Abandoned Buildings: How To Get Permission.