Ames Mill Dam

Ames Mill Dam


The Ames Mill Dam plays a key role in the recreational potential and environmental health of the Cannon River through downtown Northfield. Past studies outline objectives and strategies around the value of the Cannon River as an economic engine and perhaps more importantly, as an essential component of Northfield's overall identity. The current condition of the dam is making this an opportune time to study the future of the dam.

The Ames Mill Dam was built in 1918 and is 17 feet tall. The dam serviced the Ames Mill, a part of Post Holdings (previously Malt-o-Meal Company). The dam is owned by Post Holdings.It is not operable and serves no functional purpose.

The 2020 Riverfront Enhancement Action Plan recommended to continue to explore a range of concepts for the Ames Mill Dam. While some community members favor removing the dam and some favor keeping the dam, there is general agreement that more needs to be known to aid in that decision.

Riverfront Enhancement Action Plan


The dam spans the Cannon River near the 4th Street bridge. It is adjacent to Ames Mill.

Overhead of Ames Mill Dam situated between 4th street bridge and 5th street bridge

Feasibility Study

Possible options

  • Preserve and repair existing dam
  • Remove and reconstruct waterway

Removing the dam

Removing the Ames Mill Dam could play an important role in reinforcing the health, continuity and variety of the Cannon River State Water Trail. Designated as a wild and scenic river, the Cannon suffers from environmental degradation and human intervention. The Ames Mill Dam, admittedly an attractive feature downtown, inhibits the natural processes of the river and limits recreational possibilities. A reconstruction of the existing dam has the potential to be both a restorative feature and significant recreational regional attraction.

Steps in the Process

  • Conduct a dam study; recommended by DNR
    • Explore ideas and options including preserve and repair existing dam or removing and reconstructing the area
    • Respect and respond to the science of river health
    • Research and learn from similar projects
  • Create concept options
  • Evaluate a range of design alternatives
    • Assess potential impacts and benefits: environment, economic, sports and recreation, design aesthetics, and social and cultural objectives
    • Analyze costs and benefits of each option to determine their feasibility and efficacy
  • Arrive at a preferred path forward
  • Apply for grant funding for design and construction

Exploring reconstruction options

Design solutions will connect and integrate with broader uses of the river corridor, maintain or enhance natural systems and ecological health, and fit within the context of the Cannon River watershed.

A preliminary study of the dam reinforces the idea that an exciting and rare whitewater experience could be created with the combination of a smaller, navigable dam and weir and a constructed whitewater course.

Transferring ownership

Research has begun that outlines the potential for transferring the privately held dam to the City of Northfield. More studying needs to be completed and discussion with Post Holdings will be ongoing to fully evaluate the implications of an eventual transfer.

Region park experience

The Cannon River travels 112 miles from Shields Lake to the Mississippi River, with the 5 river segments identified in the Riverfront Action Plan located almost exactly at the midpoint between the two. This strategic geography implies both opportunity and responsibility as Phase One projects seek to connect with this amazing resource.

The Cannon River watershed drains almost 1,500 square miles.

Historical aspects of the dam

The Ames Mill Dam is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is included within our local historic district. Any modifications to the dam or demolition of the dam requires a certificate of appropriateness by the Heritage Preservation Commission. Any use of federal funds on the dam would require a Section 106 review by the State Historic Preservation Office.


Dates subject to change.

September 12, 2023 – City Council work session – update on Ames Mill Dam feasibility study

Community Engagement

In addition to these opportunities, all City Council, boards, commission and committee meetings are open to the public. Most, but not all meetings, may have an opportunity for public comment.

September 27, 2023 – Meeting with business and property owners

4 to 6 p.m.
City Hall, 2nd floor training room, 801 Washington Street

September 27, 2023 – Meeting with organizations

Organizations invited include Friends of Downtown Northfield, Northfield Area Chamber of Commerce, Open Table, Roundtable Project

4 to 6 p.m.
City Hall, 2nd floor training room, 801 Washington Street

October 4, 2023 – Downtown and Riverfront Redevelopment Community Open House #1

6 to 8 p.m.
Fifty North, meeting room, 1651 Jefferson Parkway

October 7, 2023 – Downtown and Riverfront Redevelopment Community Open House #2

2 to 4 p.m.
Greenvale Elementary, cafeteria, 5000 Lincoln Parkway

October 11, 2023 – Downtown and Riverfront Redevelopment Community Open House #3

6 to 8 p.m.
Weitz Center for Creativity, Carleton College, 320 Third Street


Dam Removal Presentation - MN DNR (2019) (PDF)

Reconnecting Rivers Presentation - MN DNR (2019) (PDF)

Riverfront Enhancement Action Plan

Climate Action Plan (PDF)

Equity Action Plan (PDF)

Parks, Open Space and Trail System Plan (PDF)

Comprehensive Plan

Other city plans