Monday, October 21, 2013

River Rumble '13 - Day 5A

With a much larger area, we were able to spread out across a park of
lush grass beside the Millstream Pond in Burris Park.
When the Ojibwa and Dakota tribes signed away their claims to their native lands in 1837, it opened the way for those waiting to claim the area’s vast natural resources. Chief among those were the huge stands of mature white pines and hardwoods, many said to be tall trees when Christ was still in swaddling clothes. The settlers rushing west ran into a problem once they reached the Great Plains. There were few trees from which to build homes, so many settlers lived in dug outs below ground or sod houses. From the vast forests north of the plains, lumber could be easily milled and shipped to an anxious market that was much closer than from the Eastern States.

Created first as the mill's company store, the general store has operated
continuously since 1849.
In the fall of 1838, two lumbermen arrived in the St. Croix Valley from Marine, Illinois, representing a 13-member consortium. They made a claim on a six-acre plot overlooking the St. Croix River. Returning later with most of the rest of the group and all they would need to make a start, they built a lumber mill, which they named after their hometown. The main part of the mill was erected in a mere three months to become the first commercial sawmill in Minnesota. The first logs were milled on August 24, 1839. By 1855, there would be 17 sawmills along the shores of the lower St. Croix. The single mill in Marine produced 197million board feet of lumber. The forests were clear-cut, and the lands were striped bare so far inland, that logs could no longer be moved to the mill. In 1895, after only 56 years, the resources had been exhausted and the mill shut down. The buildings were torn down, and the equipment was sold to other sawmills. As other mills along the river exhausted the forests, they too would close, and by 1914, logging was over, and the last log raft would be seen floating down the river.

The Marine brass band assembled before the general store and town hall
on the 4th of July, 1905. Credit: Washington Co. Historial Society

From below our put-in the next morning, we could see the millstream
running gently into the St. Croix.  The mill would later convert to steam
power, but the massive power of water can be appreciated when you look
at this brook and remember it powered the cutting of millions of board
feet of lumber.
Founded in 1839 as Marine Mills, this oldest town in Minnesota, with a population of 700, today has a population of 689. From a rough milling town has evolved a quaint, picturesque village. The country store built by Orange Walker in 1849 as a company general store, still serves the town, and is a great place to find steaming coffee and a pastry before launching into the river of a morning. Next door is the village town hall that has also served as the town’s center since the town’s founding. The site of the sawmill is just behind the town hall, but little remains except the foundations and the still-flowing mill stream.

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