The Queen Bee Mill

Last Updated by Brian Gevik, Text provided by Siouxland Heritage Museums on
All Images Courtesy: Siouxland Heritage Museums

The first train arrived in Sioux Falls on August 1, 1878 at 12:40 PM. The railroad not only transported people, but also grain. The railroad charged 30 cents a bushel to transport wheat to St. Paul from Sioux Falls and thousands were ready to stand in line to get their crop to market.[1]

“In 1878, I remember the wheat teams used to come here from all over as far west as the Jim River, and I remember counting two thousand teams waiting to unload.” [2]

The falls of the Sioux River ca. 1878Stereographic view, Falls of the Big Sioux River and the future site of the mill, ca. 1878


Citizens of Sioux Falls, including R.F. Pettigrew and others, realized that building a flour mill at the Falls of the Big Sioux River might provide a ready market for the region's wheat. Pettigrew convinced Colonel James H. Drake of St. Paul to build the mill. Pettigrew and a consortium purchased 40 acres of land for the site for $40,000 from W. W. Brooking. A New York investor, George Seney, traveled to Sioux Falls and decided to invest money for the mill.

In August, 1879 work began on the construction of the Queen Bee Mill. The mill was really a complex of buildings which included the mill structure, grain elevator, warehouse, cooper’s shop and railroad siding.  The mill was designed by J. W. McKeen of Minneapolis, who supervised the construction of the buildings. [3]

Queen Bee Mill under construction ca. 1880Stereographic view, Queen Bee Mill under construction, ca. 1880


Queen Bee Mill ca. 1890Queen Bee Mill and Falls of Big Sioux River in Winter, ca. 1890


The mill building was built of quartzite stone quarried on the site, 80’x100’ by 104’ from foundation to the top of the walls.  The stone walls were six feet thick at the base.  The structure had seven floors.  The office on the ground floor was connected to all parts of the building by speaking tubes.  Machinery filled the seven floors.[4] 

Interior, Queen Bee Mill, ca. 1890Interior Queen Bee Mill, ca. 1890


The frame elevator adjoining and connected to the mill was 50 feet by 142 feet, four stories in height, with a storage capacity of 100,000 bushels of wheat - 10,000 barrels. The nearby frame warehouse had a storage capacity of 10,000 flour barrels which were made in cooper shop. The shop had room for 40 coopers to work. [5]


Mill race mapMill race map


Power for the machinery came from the river. A mill dam was erected and a canal or passage was blasted through the rock on the east side. The passage connected to the mill head where a seven-foot iron tube carried the water to the turbine's four-foot head. The turbine was capable of supplying 800 horse power.  The mill head was 56’.

Queen Bee Mill, ca. 1890Queen Bee Mill, ca. 1890


The mill had a side track of the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis and Omaha Railroad, which divided into a double track just before the elevator - one track passing near the elevator, the other the warehouse.

The mill was completed and commenced operation on October 25, 1881. Colonel J. H. Drake was the president of the company and C. W. Hubbard was the superintendent.  The mill ceased operation April 20, 1883. The water power was insufficient and the supply of wheat was inadequate to meet it’s capacity.[1]

Queen Bee Mill, ca. 1892Queen Bee Mill, ca. 1892


The United Flour Mills Company purchased the mill and entered operation on December 20, 1911.  The mill was converted to electric power and operated until 1916. In 1917, the Commander-Larabee company operated the mill intermittently until 1929.

Queen Bee Mill ca. 1920Queen Bee Mill ca. 1920


Ben Margulies, of Sioux Falls purchased the mill from the Commander-Larabee Milling Company in March 1937. Margulies planned to use the building as a warehouse.6 The Queen Bee Mill was destroyed by fire on the night of January 30, 1956. At the time of the fire it was being used as a warehouse for Western Soybean Mills and The Sharp Milling Company.[7]

Fire gutted Queen Bee Mill, ca. 1961Fire gutted Queen Bee Mill, ca. 1961


In 1961 the walls of the gutted Queen bee Mill were knocked down. Ben Margulies donated the site to the City of Sioux Falls as a part of Falls Park in December, 1963.


[1] Baily, Dana, History of Minnehaha County, 1899, p. 382

[1] Baily, Dana, History of Minnehaha County, 1899, p. 148-149

[2] Pettigrew, Richard Franklin, “Early Days of Sioux Falls”, The Sunshine State Magazine, Vol. VI, No. 9 (November, 1925), p. 17

[3]History of Southeastern Dakota, 1881, p. 92

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid, p. 93

[6] The Daily Argus Leader, Sioux Falls, SD, March 24, 1937

[7] The Daily Argus Leader, Sioux Falls, SD, January 31, 1956, p. 1

Learn more at the Siouxland Heritage Museums.

Educational Resource: Activity Idea Simple Machines - During this activity your students will construct a machine, made of simple machines, which will perform a specific task. They will also learn about the Queen Bee Mill which was located at Falls Park, Sioux Falls.

Dakota Midday

Interview with Bill Hoskins, Director, Siouxland Heritage Museums

Host: Lori Walsh


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