Minneapolis / Saint Paul / Twin Cities urban exploration
Grain Terminal Association
Headhouse & Sackhouse

Action Squad first noticed the Head House while driving down Shepherd Road on the way to the "Jim's Door" utility tunnel. "Hey, we should check that out sometime."

Almost a year later, Jim, Skully, and I were in the area after exiting the downtown Saint Paul sanitary sewers, and decided to go check the place out. It was about 2 AM as we approached, and in the moonlight we could just make out a small group of men standing near the base of the structure. We decided to hang out and see if they would go away. After a minute or so, two of the men moved away from us, down the abandoned old segment of Shepherd Road, and the other began staggering in our direction. Over the wind, we heard him shouting. As he drew nearer, it became increasingly obvious that he was not in a balanced frame of mind, and that it was us he was shouting at. "Hey! Fuck you! I'll fuckin kill you all! C'mon, faggots!" Doing battle with a territorial, possibly mentally ill, almost certainly intoxicated street person is not within the normal parameters of an Action Squad mission, so we turned and walked away, up the road and then across Shepherd Road. There, we paused to see if our bellowing buddy would decide to leave the shadowed, undeveloped area and cross the road into the brightly-lit terrain near the new Science Museum. Nope. He went as far as the corner of the vacant lot, and stood there swaying, with what appeared to be an axe handle in one hand. He paced the corner for awhile, looking for all the world like a guard dog patrolling the corner of its yard. After a few minutes, he seemed to forget what he was doing on the corner, and slumped against a fence, poking the fence lethargically with his stick. Finally, he stumbled back in the direction of the head house, and we went back to our car.

A couple of months later, Skully and I were on our way to the Rosemount munitions plant ruins when I realized I had forgotten to change into my more functional Action Squad boots. Since my regular boots have crappy soles and we had planned on further exploration of a tunnel out there that required chimneying up and down a slippery vertical shaft, we turned around. Still wanting to explore something, I suggested we swing out to the Head House. We got there just before the sun began to set. In the gathering gloom, we found a place where we could climb up into the structure through a hole in the wall. We found ourselves on the ground floor. A quick search revealed that there was no lower level at all, let alone any cool subbasements. Only debris and water-filled space about the size of a porta-potty could be found beneath the first floor. Further examination made the reason for this obvious: the building was built ON the river, and was held up not by a standard foundation, but by pilings sunk down into the river's edge. There was hardly any graffiti inside, and no sign of the beer cans and food wrappers that mark a high-traffic, 'hang-out & party' abandoned structure. The huge open indoor space that had been the Sack House was empty, and gaps in the ceiling admitted a jumble of glowing orange beams from the setting sun. Pretty cool, but not much to explore. The only way to go was up: up the cement stairwell that went right up the center of the building. So, guess what? We went up.

The stairway featured access to each floor of the building as we ascended, as well as to doors that opened out the river side of the building. Some of these doors led to little balcony like areas (one with a mid-sized tree growing out of it), most, however, led only to a long drop to a painful and sudden stop at the base of the building. On the floor third from the top, we found the boots, dirty backpack, and rolled sleeping mat of a vagrant. This was quite possibly the home of the oh-so-friendly vagrant that had chased us off last time. He wasn't home, and we did not touch any of his stuff. Not only is messing with a homeless person's stuff just a jerky thing to do, but it is also a good way to get dead should he catch you at it. The Head House's top floor contained a bunch of neat-o (yep, it was neat-o) machinery: belts, motors, wheels, and thingamajigs. In one corner was a loosely-attached metal ladder leading up to an open trapdoor to the roof. We ascended, and discovered that although the building was not all that tall, its lonely position right on the river gave one an amazing view of both Downtown Saint Paul and the river valley in both directions. The sun setting behind the High Bridge and the stacks of the main St. Paul power plant was particularly impressive. We lingered for awhile and enjoyed the spectacular view. As the sun disappeared, we decided it was a good idea to vacate the premises before either 1) someone who had seen us on the roof called the cops, or 2) the building's territorial resident came home for the night and found the two of us there. There was only the one stairwell, so it would be nearly impossible to hide from someone coming up after us. So, we got back down to ground level and out of the hole in the wall without incident, and set off in search of a different, more alcohol-based kind of adventure. Oh, and we lived happily ever after, too. The end.





Construction of the buildings was started in 1927 and completed in 1931, along with a row of grain elevators that are now gone.

The surviving five-story structure -- 25 feet by 40 feet -- is known as the "head house," for its position at the "head" of the grain elevators of the Equity Cooperative Exchange (later the Grain Terminal Association).

The adjacent "sack house,'' where sacks of grain were stored, is 40 feet by 75 feet and one story tall.

The city of St. Paul is currently deciding whether to renovate the long-abandoned structure or tear its ass down. It would not fit in well with the "urban village" St. Paul is planning to build on an adjacent lot.


THE 2/25/02

"To raze or not
to raze that
old grain elevator?