The Concrete Domes of Hibbing, Minnesota

Waste water treatment isn’t most people’s idea of a great time. Unless you’re a civil engineer…or a preservationist. Some treatment plants exhibit truly innovative engineering that should be saved for future generations. Case in point: the 1938 Hibbing Disposal Plant in northern Minnesota. Built partially with PWA relief funds in the Moderne style, the plant uses thin elliptical concrete domes to cover its trickling filters. The advent of reinforced concrete in the early 1900s made possible these “concrete thin shells,” which were initially developed in Europe. Most of the methods adopted by American engineers to construct these shells came from the Germans. One technique known as the Zeiss-Dywidag System proved particularly effective and was employed at the Hibbing Disposal Plant. Because of its significance in engineering and its standing as a major public works/federal relief project, the plant is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Over the last several years, use of the Hibbing Disposal Plant has been phased out as operations transitioned to a newer city plant. Unfortunately, the historic plant is on the city’s priority list for tear downs, and they have secured regional grant money to do so. This is an extremely significant structure in terms of engineering in the U.S. and should be considered for preservation.

Photo courtesy of

This case also speaks to a widespread problem of using redevelopment funds for demolitions. A similar situation is brewing in Fergus Falls, Minnesota, where state bonding money is poised to be used for demolition of a significant Kirkbride. Examples of this same scenario can be found in PennsylvaniaMontanaChicago, and many other places I’m sure. After the mass Urban Renewal razing of buildings in the 1960s that left neighborhoods reeling for decades, it’s troubling that people still believe demolition is the answer to everything. Most public policy language lumps revitalization and demolition together, which is contradictory to how we posit historic preservation. How do we change the idea that demolition leads to healthier communities?

– Kate Scott

Read the original post here.

Kate is working to survey historic properties in Indiana and serves as our stalwart Communications Committee Chair. She works on advocacy and non-profit preservation projects whenever possible and moonlights as an architectural photographer.

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