Written by John Buettner
One of the most famous buildings in the Stillwater skyline is the Commander Elevator. It rises majestically from the cityscape as one of the tallest buildings downtown. Even with all the photographs and inspiration it gives artists, this building, like many others downtown was nearly demolished.
The elevator, built in 1898 by the Woodward Elevator Company, was originally located at the corner of Main and Nelson Streets. Just six years later, the elevator was moved to its present site, making way for a new flourmill. An overhead spout connected the buildings, both operated by the Minnesota Flour Mill Company until 1908.
The mill passed through many hands over the next eleven years. After the Minnesota Flour Mill Company, Fred Luchsinger took control, then the elevator became the property of the Big Diamond Milling Company, then the Dibble Grain and Elevator Company and then the Empire Milling Company. The Commander Company purchased the elevator in 1919 and operated it until 1961 when G.T.A. bought out all Commander elevators.
The name “Commander” stuck with the elevator, the building is still known by that name today. After G.T.A., Harvest States Co-op ran the elevator until March 1, 1986 when the last load of feed was ground in the mill, and the Co-op did not renew its lease. A retail feed store continued to operate out of the space, but the elevator was now empty, gathering dust and pigeons with no other outlook than to someday be torn down. However, architect Michael McGuire had some dreams and plans for the vacant structure. He wanted at first to remodel the building into a combination retail store, apartment and office building. Plans were presented to the Stillwater Planning Commission in April, 1988 and although there were concerns about flooding, parking and handicap access, the Commission passed the plans on to the City Council. McGuire stated in the Stillwater Gazette of April 28, 1988 that “the elevator is an important landmark in downtown Stillwater, and some way should be found to preserve it.” At one time it served as a recreation center for wall-climbing. Presently, it is the home of Tin Bins, a coffee shop and restaurant with great food and pastries. The present building is an example of one of the best re-purposed structures for such a building. It also has an apartment on the upper floors.
Wooden Grain Elevator Construction
Wooden Cribbed Grain Elevator Construction
Wooden Cribbed Grain Elevator Detail Plans of Construction
Stillwater Patch ; Brent Peterson article on Commander Elevator