Washington County Historical Society

Gateway to Minnesota History

Month: January 2016

Troubled Bridge Over Equally Troubled Waters

 

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This issue: Contents
Tuesday, January 26, 2016
  • Editor’s Note
  • WCHS News: WCHS Annual Meeting with Jumpin’ Jim Brunzell
  • WCHS News: Boutwell Update
  • What Is This Thing?!
  • Old News: Stillwater’s 1864 Interests
  • Featured Article: Troubled Bridge Over Equally Troubled Waters
Editor’s Note

Howdy readers!

I’d like to start off by saying “Thank You!” to everyone who braved the cold for our Ice Cream Social on the 16th. With a -20 wind chill, the turn out wasn’t huge – but it was definitely enthusiastic!

Head over to our Facebook page to see a few photos from the day (and please join us in crossing our fingers and wishing for a warmer day next year!)

We’ve very excited to announce that retired professional wrestler and author Jumpin’ Jim Brunzell will be leaping from the top-rope as our Featured Guest speaker for our Annual Membership Meeting on Thursday, March 31st. Head down to our first News story for all the details.

I swung by the Historic Boutwell House last week and I’ll give you a quick update on the status of WCHS’ preservation efforts in our second bit of News.

Later on, I’ll try to step-up my game for this issue’s “What Is This Thing?!”

In today’s Old News, we’ll discover what news items on the national stage captured Stillwaterites…Stillwaterans…Stillwaterese..people from Stillwater’s attention in January of 1864.

You probably read that the current St. Croix Crossing construction project has been delayed – well, this is only keeping with the long tradition of having trouble with bridges in the St. Croix Valley! At least the new bridge hasn’t collapsed into the river! Check out our Featured Article to read about the Lift Bridge’s rickety predecessor.

Want to learn more about the history of Washington County? “Like” WCHS on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

Sean Pallas

Historical Messenger editor and Warden’s House Site Manager

spallas.wchs@gmail.com

WCHS News 

WCHS Annual Membership Meeting with Jumpin’ Jim Brunzell

The Washington County Historical Society Annual Meeting will be held at the Water Street Inn in Stillwater on Thursday, March 31st.

The evening will begin with a social hour at 5:30 PM followed by dinner at 6:30 PM. The meeting will begin at 7:30 with an election of board members and conclude with our Featured Speaker – “Jumpin” Jim Brunzell.

Over the course of his 21 year long career, Brunzell trained under the legendary Verne Gagne with Ric Flair and the Iron Sheik and even faced former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura in the ring. At the meeting, Brunzell will discuss his long history with professional wrestling in Minnesota and his association with the Minnesota Wrestling Hall of Fame.

Brunzell will also be selling and signing copies of his new book with “True Stories from the Wrestling Road: MatLands

Reservations are required.

WCHS Members – $20.00 Reserve Tickets Online

Non-Members – $25.00 Reserve Tickets Online

For more information or to make reservations contact Brent Peterson at 651-439-5956 or brent.peterson@wchsmn.org

WCHS News 

Boutwell Update

The Washington County Historical Society’s preservation efforts at the historic Rev. Boutwell House are continuing through the snowy months.

Working with professional architects, preservationists, and contractors – we are doing our absolute best to preserve the integrity of this beautiful piece of Washington County history.

As you can see in the photo – one of the biggest improvements is the closing of the giant hole in the back portion of the house created when the demolition process began last year.

We’re also happy to report that we have been able to save some of the original wood beams of the home and will be able to recycle them back into the re-construction of the home.

Stay tuned for more updates!

Thank you everyone who has supported the project up to this point!

Preserving the Boutwell House is a massive undertaking for the Historical Society…not to mention an expensive one! Honestly, the best and most direct way to support the Boutwell House is to make a tax-deductable Donation!

Thank you and we’ll see you at the Boutwell Open House this Spring!

What is This Thing?!

What Is This Thing?! (Round 26)

I guess I was way too easy on all of you for last week’s What Is This Thing?!

Last issue’s item generated the biggest response I’ve ever gotten for a “What Is This Thing?!” challenge! And all of you knew the artifact was indeed a carpet beater. (Although a few folks also offered that they were good for whacking grasshoppers and leprechauns).

I even got a few personal memories from a few readers! One of you wrote that:

“This entry is one that leaves me exhausted. I recall beating the carpets with one of those nasty things. Two things come to mind: the cloud of dust that inevitably rose from a beaten carpet (even when ostensibly kept clean) and the weariness that I felt in the arms after a session of spring cleaning.”

I absolutely love to hear when folks have personal connections to the artifacts in our collection!

Thanks to everyone who took a guess at last week’s item!

Can you identify the WCHS artifact photographed above? Can you guess its use? If you’d care to venture an answer, you can send an email to me at spallas.wchs@gmail.com, tweet @WCHSMN, or post your guess on our Facebook page.

Good luck!

Full Image

And if you still aren’t sure – here’s the reverse of today’s item with some writing on it…maybe that’ll give you a hint! Reverse Image

Old News 

Stillwater’s 1864 Interests

By 1864, the Civil War, which everyone had assumed would draw to a swift and decisive conclusion, was somehow entering it’s third year.

And all throughout those years men from Stillwater and Washington County had been out East fighting and dying in the Union’s efforts to put down the South’s Rebellion.

But what of those back home? Naturally, as you’d expect, many of the articles discuss the on-going war. Including an article highlighting the then-current events featured in John Christgau’s Incident at the Otterville Station.

Below is a small sampling of national news blurbs re-printed on the pages of the Messenger.

Note the consistently dismissive attitude towards news from the Confederacy. The editor’s comments insult both the “rebel Navy” and Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

The list also interestingly shows an interest in astronomy of the general public at the time.

News Briefs – Stillwater Messenger – January 26, 1864

- John B. Gough and E. P. Whipple are lecturing in Washington

- There are sixty-six woolen factories in Rhode Island, having 225 sets of cards.

- The rebel navy numbers 507 officers and 874 men The latter are certainly well officered.

- They are having snow shoe races in Kingston, Canada

- A moose for the King of Italy, arrived in Boston on Saturday, from Halifax.

- There are now 187 National Banks organized [illegible] capital of thirty millions.

- Four comets, and three planets were discovered last year.

- Three hundred and six thousand and five hundred and forty-two barrels of mackerel were inspected in Massachusetts last year. The largest number since 1852.

- Two noblemen have been heavily fined in England for shooting peas at ladies on top of a cab. Dignified recreation!

- Over fifty thousand dollars was paid out in the city to farmers last week for wheat and pork. That is a tolerable fair week’s work. Prices have generally ruled high, thus giving the farmer a good profit on this labor and time

- A Nashville paper gives the following, showing the number of men Tennessee has furnished to the Federal cause:

Calvary: 12,000

Cavalry mustered into the service in new regiments not full: 1,300

Infantry: 11,000

Artillery: 1,100

Infantry [negroes]: 5,960

Artillery [negroes]: 2,600

Total: 33,360

This is doing well when we consider the difficulties which have been encountered by authorities. Recruiting still goes on briskly.

– Prof. James Watson, who recently discovered the new comet, writes to the Detroit Advertisers that the comet is now rapidly approaching the earth, and receding from the sun. Its distance from the earth, January 12th, was 45,000,000 miles. It will continue to approach the earth until February 1st, when its distance will be only 15,000,000 of miles, and its brilliancy five times greater than at the present time. It is probably that it will then be visible to the naked eye. After February 1st, it will recede from both the earth and sun. Should the comet become visible to the naked eye, it may first be seen on the evening of January 25th – before the moon rises – in the north-west, about 10 degrees south, and a little east of the bright star Alpha Cephei.

- A refugee from Richmond, a man of note, who has just reached Baltimore, predicts that when the crisis comes Jeff Davis will cut his throat! He says the same of Pickens of South Carolina, and some others.

Featured Article

Troubled Bridge Over Equally Troubled Waters

By Brent Peterson

The first river crossing at Stillwater across the river was opened in 1876. It was a grand site and even though it was a toll bridge, people seemed to enjoy the convenience of going right across to the Wisconsin side. There was a pontoon section that would swing open and allow the rafts of logs and lumber go through. All seemed to be working well until Sunday October 10, 1886.

On that date a cattle dealer named John Foster arrived in town during the morning with 98 horses and mules which he had driven overland from River Falls and going to St. Paul. The animals were stopped on the approach span of the bridge on the Stillwater side at the request of the bridge master. There about a dozen men were counting the horses and mules when suddenly with a crash that was heard more than three blocks away, the span gave way and the animals and men dropped twenty feet into the water. Thankfully all the men and all but three mules survived the crash. The Stillwater Gazette said: “an examination of the span which broke disclosed the fact that there was not a sound piece of timber below the platform. All were rotten, the rusty iron rods pulled through the spongy wood, and the worm-eaten supporting beams gave way at once. Many people who examined the span asked the question: ‘How in the name of common sense do you suppose it held up the heavy four horse loads of lumber which have been passing over it so long?”

The bridge was quickly repaired and life went on as normal. But eleven years later the bridge again would collapse because of too many cattle on the spans.

On Friday September 10, 1897 a herd of 50 cattle were being driven across the bridge to the Wisconsin side. These cattle belonged to Isaac Staples and many of the cattle were coming from his Maple Island Farm and were going to pasture in Wisconsin. The span next to the pontoon on the Stillwater side started to creak and then gave way. About 30 cattle fell into the water while others had crossed the span just before it collapsed.

A portion of the bridge that fell landed flat in the water creating a raft of sorts. Several of the animals were trapped on that, one cow landed on its feel on the lower platform without even getting wet. However, the vast majority of the animals that fell went directly into the water. They were unable to gain any footing and were swimming about in a terrified and helpless manner, snorting and bellowing with fear. The Bronson & Folsom steamer, “Baby,” came quickly to rescue the animals and help with the clean up of the debris. Again, the breaking of the principal cross-timber caused the accident. The break was caused by one end of the huge timber being rotten. Another collapse of the wooden pontoon bridge happened on September 15, 1904 when the wooden structure caught fire. After the fire department and spectators gathered on the burning bridge, it collapsed sending fire fighters and spectators into the water. This collapse caused the death of three people.

After the collapse in 1897 the newspaper said that the incident had raised “considerable talk among the business men” in Stillwater about building a new bridge. Even one city council member remarked: “the old bridge had already caused the city more outlay than would have been necessary to put up a handsome steel one.”

The Stillwater’s current and iconic lift bridge was constructed in 1931 and has thus-far served travelers much more reliably than her predecessor.

Upcoming Events

More information: WCHS Events >>>

Preserve the Past, Share in the Future!

Become a member of the Washington County Historical Society!

Membership is one way that you can help support the Washington County Historical Society. Your membership helps us collect, preserve, and disseminate the history of Washington County for county residents and visitors in the belief that a historical perspective enhances our understanding of community and sense of place.

Benefits of membership:

  • FREE admission to the Warden’s House Museum in Stillwater and Hay Lake Museum Complex in Scandia
  • Discounts on purchases in the museum gift shop (10% Individual & Family members, 15% Patron & Sustaining members)
  • FREE use of WCHS library and research center
  • Subscription to Historical Whisperings, the society’s quarterly newsletter
  • Discounts on tickets to membership meetings
  • Knowing that your membership dollars support the preservation of our treasured past for generations to come

The Washington County Historical Society has depended on membership ever since it was formed in 1934. Please show your support for the organization by becoming a member today.

More: WCHS Membership >>>

Mission Statement

Washington County Historical Society collects, preserves, and disseminates the history of the county and state of Minnesota.

“Dancing With A Crowd of Swedes”

This issue: Contents
Tuesday, January 12, 2016
  • Editor’s Note
  • WCHS News: Winter Ice Cream Social
  • What Is This Thing?!
  • Old News: Lumbering Moves North
  • Featured Article: “Dancing With A Crowd of Swedes”

Editor’s Note

Woah, woah, woah. What happened to our mild winter!? I was really enjoying those 30 and 40 degree days back in December…I suppose kicking off the New Year in the single digits is just about as Minnesotan as you can get.

The only thing more Minnesotan than enduring Arctic-esque blasts is to have an ice cream cone in them! Our annual Winter Ice Cream Social is this Saturday! Head down to our News section to get the scoop.

I’ve got another mystery item from WCHS’ extensive artifact collection eagerly awaiting your attempts at identification down in today’s “What Is This Thing?!”

Although the lumber industry was the catalyst that birthed Stillwater and the surrounding communities, the supply of natural timber couldn’t survive the onslaught of industry. By the turn of the 20th century, fresh lumber in the St. Croix Valley was hard to come by. In this issue’s Old News, you’ll read a little about the fate of some of Stillwater’s now unnecessary lumbermen.

And staying on the topic of lumbering, we’ll read a letter from one of these lumber camps from way back in 1873. And just as a note, this letter was written from January 26th to the 30th. That’s right, winter was the season when the men were actually out in the woods felling trees.

The lumberjack writing the letter makes mention that his birthday fell on January 28th. According to the Stillwater Messenger covering that week, January 28th, 1873 “seemed to be one of the coldest days of the season, though the mercury in our reporter’s thermometer only indicated 26 degrees below. We heard reports as low as 38 degrees, but they were probably incorrect.”

It was 26 degrees below zero on this guy’s birthday and he didn’t even mention how cold it was!

Frank Briggs was outside swinging an axe in this kind of weather and I barely want to run from my apartment to my car…they were a hearty stock back then.

Want to learn more about the history of Washington County? “Like” WCHS on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

Sean Pallas

Historical Messenger editor and Warden’s House Site Manager

spallas.wchs@gmail.com

WCHS News

Winter Ice Cream Social

Are you going to let a little bit of snow and freezing temperatures keep you indoors?! Of course not! We’re Minnesotans!

January is the perfect time for an Ice Cream Social!

Join WCHS this Saturday, January 16th from Noon – 4:00 PM for  everyone’s favorite seasonally-inappropriate winter event!

With FREE ice cream from Leo’s Malt Shop, you won’t even notice those cold gusts of wind off the river! Head over to North Lowell Park in Stillwater, don your warmest winter wear, grab your ice skates, and join us in helping continue this fun (but admittedly a bit silly) Stillwater tradition!

Coffee will also be provided & chili will be available for a nominal fee.

What is This Thing?!

What Is This Thing?! (Round 25)

So most folks were able to tell that last issue’s What Is This Thing?! was a case that held binoculars…but a few were even able to tell that these are specifically Opera Glasses!

Stillwater used to actually have it’s very own Grand Opera House!

In 1888, author W.H.C. Folsom described it in his Fifty Years in the Northwest as follows: “The opera house occupies the site of the old Lake house, on Main street between Nelson and Chestnut streets. It was commenced in 1880 and finished in 1881, under the supervision of L.W. Eldred, architect. Its size is 90 x 120 feet, ground plan, and four stories in height, or seventy-one feet from lower floor to cornice. The style of architecture is a blending of the Queen Anne, Victoria and Gothic. The entrance to the upper part of the building is a stairway twelve feet wide, in a lofty, ornamental turret. The auditorium is 64×120 feet, and beautifully and elaborately finished and furnished, and is capable of seating over 1,200 persons. It is well lighted, being supplied with 130 gas jets, warmed by steam, and well ventilated. The stage is 39×64 feet, complete in all its appointments, and supplied with all the necessary stage scenery, wings, border bridge, balcony, interior and other decorations. The ceiling of the auditorium is superbly frescoed and the cornice is adorned with medallions of Shakespeare, Haydn, Schiller, Goethe, Dickens, Handel, Scott, Longfellow, Mozart, Tennyson, and Beethoven. The parts of the building not occupied for stage purposes are apportioned to halls, offices and stores.”

Over the years, the Grand Opera House hosted a plethora of amusements, including everything from plays, operas, and masquerades, to boxing exhibitions, the John Phillip Sousa Band, and even Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.

The opera house was unfortunately destroyed by fire in 1902 and never rebuilt.

Thanks to everyone who took a guess at last week’s item!

Can you identify the WCHS artifact photographed above? Can you guess its use? If you’d care to venture an answer, you can send an email to me at spallas.wchs@gmail.com, tweet @WCHSMN, or post your guess on our Facebook page.

Good luck!

Full Image

Old News

Lumbering Moves North

Since Stillwater’s population was first officially counted in the 1860 Census, every decade had seen an increase in population. However, 1910 marked the beginning of a new trend.

Over the next few decades, Stillwater would lose about half of it’s “Golden Era of Lumber” population shrinking from almost 13,000 in 1900 to around 7,000 in 1940. Without the raw trees to support the industry, the lumbermen and many other workers were suddenly out of a job – and they didn’t stick around.

But where did they go? Well, naturally they followed the trees; specifically, into Canada.

One of the most interesting elements of this article is that the editor apparently understood that over-harvesting had completely destroyed the St. Croix Valley’s timber resources – but makes no mention or comment that the process was seemingly being repeated by the same men in the Great Saskatchewan Valley.

On a slightly less depressing of a note, the other bit of this article that jumped out at me is the very familiar name of one of the lumbermen…

Old Timers in the Far North – Stillwater Messenger – January 12, 1907

Dan Elliot, who is working for the Prince Albert Lumber Company, writes an interesting letter to the Gazette of the out look in that far away lumber district. Prince Albert is the capitol of Saskatchewan, and is located about 800 miles northwest of Winnipeg, on the Canadian Northern railroad. It contains about 10,000 inhabitants and is a thriving little city. In the three camps of the Prince Albert Lumber Company are a number of Stillwater men who have employment. Such well known loggers as Jas. R. Brennan, Jerry Donovan, Dick Carrigan, Dave Heffron, Ronald McDonald, Tom Ruseel, Tom Wadden, Arthur Farnham, Norman Russel and others, who have nearly depleted the forests of the St. Croix, are repeating the act in the Great Saskatchewan valley. The weather in that region is favorable to logging interests and a vast territory is being worked over by numerous companies that are engaged in cutting tress and getting ready to manufacture the logs into lumber and to ship the product east, west and south, and a great deal of it finds a market north, clear to Hudson Bay.

Featured Article

“Dancing With A Crowd of Swedes”

Frog Creek. Jan. the 26th, 1873

Respected Friend

Being it is Sunday morning and I have nothing else to do, I will improve my time in writing to you. I am well as [can be], hope this will find you the same. There is no one drunk to day, there were six of them the other night. I had most a fearful time. They went off and had a dance to another camp. They kept me up til twelve o’clock at night writing to you and [illegible]. One wanted one thing and one wanted another. Got my socks, moccasins, jacket in the morning. I hadn’t clothes enough to put on. We have quite a decent crew when they are sober. There is six Swedes in camp, three Frenchmen, nine Irishmen, four Americans, one Englishman. Quite a mixture don’t you think so? Our cook is Swede, he gives us good grub. Have lots of cranberries, Apples, everything that is good.

I don’t know what I wrote to you the other night – not half, I couldn’t think of anything [when] them lads more than went for me…Anderson did not say anything about them cranberries nor I to him. They were too busy a dancing. Don’t you think I was in big business dancing with a crowd of Swedes. Winnie and I danced one set. Got Bill Soule dancing with a nice young ladie and then made him call off. It was better than any circus I ever went to. I went to bed at ten o’clock, went to sleep about three in the morning – all the noise you ever heard…but then all would dance a while then drink a while. When I got to sleep I had to get up and feed the horses.

Well I will change the subject a little. The cook says he must have the table for it is dinner time. So I am obliged to stop for awhile. Well Cass I will try to finish this sheet. Today is the 30th, my birthday was day before yesterday. Wouldn’t you like to [have] pulled my ears? The supply team comes tonight. I will send this down tomorrow. I don’t know but I shall [buy] another horse. Old Tom is not extra well. The teams here are all getting por. Wm. Soule came very near his last-end. He was loading a log had a rope fast to a tree. He started his team and pulled the tree over onto his head. He hadn’t his senses for awhile, he is better tonight.

I have got a great little partner. He tends shed for me. He is French, lives in Little Canada. It is getting late so I will c lose hoping to hear from you soon. Give my respects to all the folks and a share to yourself.

From your friend,

Frank Briggs

I will give you Directions not knowing if you got my other letter.

Frank Briggs

Rush City, Minn.

Harrigan & Sullivan Camp

Upcoming Events

More information: WCHS Events >>>

Membership

Preserve the Past, Share in the Future!

Become a member of the Washington County Historical Society!

Membership is one way that you can help support the Washington County Historical Society. Your membership helps us collect, preserve, and disseminate the history of Washington County for county residents and visitors in the belief that a historical perspective enhances our understanding of community and sense of place.

Benefits of membership:

  • FREE admission to the Warden’s House Museum in Stillwater and Hay Lake Museum Complex in Scandia
  • Discounts on purchases in the museum gift shop (10% Individual & Family members, 15% Patron & Sustaining members)
  • FREE use of WCHS library and research center
  • Subscription to Historical Whisperings, the society’s quarterly newsletter
  • Discounts on tickets to membership meetings
  • Knowing that your membership dollars support the preservation of our treasured past for generations to come

The Washington County Historical Society has depended on membership ever since it was formed in 1934. Please show your support for the organization by becoming a member today.

More: WCHS Membership >>>

Mission Statement

Washington County Historical Society collects, preserves, and disseminates the history of the county and state of Minnesota.