Wednesday, October 23, 2013

River Rumble '13 - Day 6 (Stillwater)

On Thurs., 1 Aug., we had a 17 miles paddle from Marine on St. Croix to Hudson. The paddling pace was accelerated significantly for the remainder of the trip as we headed toward Stillwater and Hudson, the two largest cities along the St. Croix. On reaching Stillwater, the river widens quite a bit, and they indeed call it Lake St. Croix.

In an ongoing effort to protect the pristine waters of the St. Croix,
rest stops are anchored at several locations along the lower river.
You simply pull your boat alongside the anchored barge and tie-off,
climb up to the deck of the barge, and visit one of several porta-potties
secured there, including one that's wheelchair-accessible.
Stillwater was another of the logging towns, but its local importance is seen by the sudden jump in population from the 700 of Marine to the 18,000 of Stillwater. It is often called Minnesota’s birthplace, as the convention held to commence the move toward Minnesota’s statehood was held in Stillwater. Three cities were selected as locations for the upcoming state’s important business: St. Paul as the state’s capital, Minneapolis for the University of Minnesota, and Stillwater as the location of the area’s first territorial prison, opened in 1853. With the sudden widening of the river a couple miles north of town, Stillwater became the site for a major log boom during the lumbering period. Steam-driven paddlewheelers were a common sight on the river, and a few still operate on the St. Croix in the tourist trade. It would be hard to get my day started without my morning coffee and toast with peanut butter, so I’m indebted to Charles Strite, of Stillwater, for his 1921 invention of the toaster.

Approaching the Soo Line Railroad bridge.
From the very beginning, Stillwater had all the ingredients for a rapidly developing community. It was on the stagecoach line, the large area of “still water” made it the natural site for log booming, and it became the supplying outlet for all the other sawmills along the river valley. Associated wood manufacturing followed to include roofing shingles, flooring, furniture, and windows and doors. Bayport, a suburb of Stillwater, is still the home of Anderson Windows and Doors.

Three of the five arches elevating the rails above the river valley.
The Minnesota Territorial Prison in Stillwater was built on the site of the last great battle between the Ojibwa and Dakota tribes, but is best remembered as the home of the Younger Brothers (Cole, Bob, and Jim), part of the Jesse James gang. They were captured by a posse of more than 150 men following a botched robbery attempt of the Northfield, MN, bank in 1876. Bob died in prison of tuberculosis in 1889, and Cole and Jim Younger were paroled in 1901. When Jim committed suicide in October, 1902, his body was found to still contain 14 bullets from his days as an outlaw.
The Stillwater lift bridge.
The Soo Line was a railroad created out of the combined assets of the Wisconsin Central Railroad and the Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Sault Ste. Marie Railroad. The name came from the phonetic spelling of Sault. Until this was done, Chicago and Milwaukee, with their direct railroad connections with Eastern markets, had control of the movement of the grain and flour coming out of the Great Plains. The Soo Line, with investments from the Pillsbury and Kellogg families, gave area farmers better prices and greater control over the marketing of the area’s grain crops. The orginal bridge across the St. Croix, built in 1884, was much lower and had substantial grades into and out of the valley, and required the use of helper-engines to conrol the speed of trains descending into the river valley, and to enable them to climb back out again, The high bridge was built in 1909 to eliminate this problem, and is a significant landmark along the river. It is 184 feet above the river, and 2,682 feet long, and rests on five steel arches that rise above the valley. 

Steamboats docked at Stillwater below the lift bridge.

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