J. Neils/Red Lake Indian Sawmill Observatory/Canopy

Project Details by Fiscal Year
2011 Fiscal Year Funding Amount
Fund Source
Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund
Lake Itasca Region Pioneer Farmers, Inc.
Start Date
July 2010
End Date
December 2010
Activity Type
Counties Affected
Project Overview

The grant was used to hire a qualified contractor through a competitive bidding process to construct a protective overhead canopy in order to preserve the J. Neils/Red Lake (Ojibwe Nation) Sawmill and equipment.

J. Neils/Red Lake (Ojibwe Nation) Sawmill is the only known surviving example of a late 19th century operational sawmill that contains complete working equipment originally manufactured in Minneapolis, MN. The sawmill is especially significant as it is the only known example in existence that includes a Steam Cylinder Powered Carriage that carries the wooden timbers through the two-story band saw.

Construction of the sawmill began in the late 1890s at Cass Lake, Minnesota. All of the needed components for the mill including the one-story cast iron Band Saw and unique Steam Cylinder Powered Log Carrier were manufactured at the Diamond Iron Works originally located at 1704-1728 North Second Street in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a leading 19th and early 20th century foundry and cast iron manufacturer at the height of the Industrial Revolution in America.

The sawmill opened for operation in 1900 and produced lumber non-stop for the next 22 years. In 1922, the sawmill equipment was purchased by the Red Lake Ojibwe Nation Tribe and was moved to a new building located at Red Lake, Minnesota. The Red Lake Ojibwe Nation employed tribal members to operate the relocated sawmill through the early 1960s, at which time the sawmill was closed. During this period, tribal members became a rare group of sawmill professionals that were a great source of pride for the Ojibwe Nation, as well as an important source of tribal income.

After the closing of the sawmill, the equipment was sold off and went through the hands of various private owners over the ensuing years. This unique equipment was never sold as scrap. In 1997, realizing the historical significance of the equipment and its important history within Minnesota and the greater American Industrial Revolution, the Lake Itasca Region Pioneer Farmers, Inc. secured the purchase of all of the original equipment and components with the vision to restore the sawmill to its former working condition on property that they own as part of their historical village composed of several historic buildings immediately adjacent to the State of Minnesota’s Itasca State Park.

Since the purchase of the original J. Neils/Red Lake (Ojibwe Nation) Sawmill equipment, the Lake Itasca Region Pioneer Farmers, Inc. began a full restoration and installation of the equipment with the vision to return it to operational and functioning condition, in order to use it as a key element in their ongoing educational and interpretive programming. This programming focuses on educating the public about earlier technologies that were used in agricultural and industrial businesses that helped pioneer Minnesotans and subsequent generations become successful entrepreneurs, farmers and business people.


Project Details
To construct a protective overhead canopy to protect and preserve the J.Neils/Red Lake Sawmill and equipment.
Legal Citation / Subdivision
LAWS of MINNESOTA for 2009 Ch. 172, Art. 1, Subd. 4 (b), Statewide Historic and Cultural Grants
Appropriation Language

(b) Statewide Historic and Cultural Grants. (i) $2,250,000 in 2010 and $4,500,000 in 2011 are appropriated for history programs and projects operated or conducted by or through local, county, regional or other historical or cultural organizations; or for activities to preserve significant historic and cultural resources. Funds are to be distributed through a competitive grants process. The Minnesota Historical Society shall administer these funds using established grants mechanisms, and with assistance from the advisory committee created herein.

2011 Fiscal Year Funding Amount
Other Funds Leveraged
Project Manager
First Name
Last Name
Street Address
PO Box 385
Zip Code
Administered By
Administered by

345 W. Kellogg Blvd.
St. Paul, MN 55155