Washington County Historical Society

Gateway to Minnesota History

Month: June 2016

The Mysterious Mary Traveler


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This issue: Contents
Tuesday, June 28, 2016
  • Editor’s Note
  • WCHS News: Warden’s House Flashlight Tour
  • WCHS News: July Events
  • What Is This Thing?!
  • Old News: Afton Outbreak
  • Featured Article: The Mysterious Mary Traveler

Editor’s Note

Hello e-newsletter readers! I hope you’ve found a nice cool place to enjoy a bit of Washington County history today!

First off, thank you so much to everyone who made it out to our annual Beer Tasting. This is absolutely one of the best events we have here at the historical society and obviously, it’s only a success if people actually come out! Here’s a few photos of the festivities in case you missed it!

Another huge (but rarely discussed) avenue of support the public provides for WCHS is the donation of physical artifacts to our collection. Our museum would look pretty empty if folks didn’t want to share their own pieces of history with the historical society! Check out these photos recently donated by Tim Janilla. You’ll see a few shots of log jams and “lumbering life”, one of the “Devil’s Chair” that formerly sat along the St. Croix River, and even a pretty unique angle of the Old Stillwater Prison. Thanks Tim!

We’ll start off today’s News section by flicking off the museum lights and inviting you to a eerie flashlight tour of the Warden’s House!

And as busy and exciting as June was this year- we’ve got even more events coming straight down the pipe at you in July! Get the scoop on all five free programs we have scheduled between our three sites next month.

Last week’s “What Is This Thing?!” started off as a total mystery – and not a whole lot changed! We’ll check in on last week’s item before heading over to another challenge.

You’re in store for a little St. Croix Valley medical history in today’s “Old News” section.

Finally, we’ll wrap up this week’s e-newsletter with the story of the most famous mysteries of Stillwater’s past.

Sean Pallas

Historical Messenger editor and Warden’s House Site Manager



Warden’s House Flashlight Tour

Fan of History? Lover of all things spooky? Well we’ve got a little opportunity for you we need to talk about…

For all you night owls, we are offering an inaugural Flashlight Tour of the Warden’s House Museum on Saturday, July 9th. For the first time ever, see the Warden’s House in a different light (or lack thereof). Perfect for a unique date night or simply an eerie night for you and your friends, you’ll learn about the history of the Warden’s House, the old Stillwater Prison, and a bit about how our museum has earned a reputation as one of the “Most Haunted Places in Minnesota“.

Tickets are $15.00 per person and must be bought in advance. Tours will last about an hour. Space is limited. You can find more information and reserve your tickets online.

9:00 PM Tour

9:15 PM Tour

Will there be ghosts? You decide. Will it be fun? Definitely!


July Events

As I said up in the Editor’s Note – between the Warden’s House, Hay Lake School, and the Eder School, our July is completely jam-packed with events and programs.

Sunday, July 10th, 2 PM: History of Wrestling in Minnesota @ Eder School, Oakdale – Join George Schire, author of “Minnesota’s Golden Age of Wrestling” to learn about the long relationship between Minnesota and pro-wrestling.

Minnesota’s professional wrestling history can be traced back to the 1950s with the founding of the AWA. Mad Dog Vachon, Verne Gagne, The Crusher, and of course, Jesse Ventura, are just a few of the Minnesotan names to impact the pro-wrestling world.

Whether you are a current wrestling fan or have cherished childhood memories of screaming at your television, this program will be filled with rich history and stories from the “Golden Age” of Minnesota Wrestling.

Saturday, July 16th, 11 AM – 5 PM: Lumberjack Days Vintage Base Ball Exhibition Games @ Old Athletic Field, Stillwater – See how the game was meant to be played – with wool uniforms and no gloves!

Teams from across the Midwest will be making their way to Stillwater to cross bats with one another.

Be sure to come on out to cheer for your St. Croix Base Ball Club!

11:00 am – Afton Red Socks vs. Rum River Rovers / 12:00 pm – La Crescent Applejacks vs. Northfield Silver Stars / 1:00 pm – St. Croixs vs. Quicksteps / 2:00 pm – Rum River Rovers vs. Northfield Silver Stars / 3:00 pm – St. Croixs vs. La Crescent Applejacks / 4:00 pm – Quicksteps vs. Afton Red Socks

Thursday, July 21st, 5 – 7 PM: “Girl from Birch Creek” Screening @ Eder School/Oakdale Discovery Center, Oakdale – Lake Elmo’s Justice Rosalie Wahl, the first woman appointed to the Minnesota Supreme Court, fights for equal justice regardless of race, gender, or economic status in “Girl from Birch Creek“. The documentary also tells the story of the 1970’s women’s movement that helped make Justice Wahl’s appointment to the Minnesota Supreme Court possible.

The afternoon will begin with an open house of the Eder School from 5 – 6 PM. The screening of the documentary will begin at 6:00 PM across the street from the Eder School at the Oakdale Discovery Center.

Sunday, July 24th, 2 PM: “The Perilous St. Croix River Valley Frontier” with Ken Martens @ Hay Lake School, Scandia Local historian Ken Martens visits the Hay Lake School Museum to discuss the exciting and harrowing tales found in his book “The Perilous St. Croix River Valley Frontier“.

Sunday, July 31st, 2 PM: The Story of the Northfield Raid with Hayes Scriven @ Warden’s House Museum, Stillwater – Hayes Scriven, Executive Director of the Northfield Historical Society visits the Warden’s House to discuss the infamous attempted bank robbery perpetrated by the James-Younger Gang.

On September 7th, 1876, the typically quiet town of Northfield, Minnesota erupted into violence as Frank & Jesse James along with Cole, Jim, & Bob Younger and a number of other desperados attempted a bold broad daylight robbery of the town’s bank. Four were left dead in the ensuing gunfight and Northfield had secured its place in history.

During the free and open to the public program Scriven will detail every bullet fired and every dollar swiped during his city’s most well known historic episode.


Whew! And don’t forget to check out our Events page for our August and beyond programs!

What is This Thing?!

What Is This Thing?! (Round 39)

If you remember last week’s What Is This Thing?! item – even we at the historical society were asking that question! I turned it over to you and I definitely got a few interesting suggestions. A few folks wondered it if may have been a cannon ball. And it certainly is heavy enough to be one, but it would be pretty weird to find a cannon ball where this particular piece hailed from. Another reader suggested it may have been a scale weight – which seems like a pretty believable explanation. Either way, we still aren’t sure exactly what it is!

Thanks for the suggestions everyone!

But onto this week’s challenge! (And this time, we know exactly what this is!) I’ll give a hint that our example is missing some pretty important pieces it would have needed to function properly.

Can you identify the WCHS artifact photographed above? 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

Parts of it move!

Close Up

Old News

Afton Outbreak

The following bit of news was probably pretty terrifying to read for those living in Stillwater at the time. Small pox may only exist in laboratories today – but in the 19th century, it was a very, very serious and quick spreading disease.

It was actually fairly common practice for local media to hide hints at pandemics in their own cities, but highlight the outbreaks of their neighbors. Potential migrants or business opportunities may be scared off by news of the arrival of a deadly disease in the town. Once it was leaked in one paper, it often spread (much like a disease), to other regional and national publications.

I do think it’s a bit interesting that the “Dr. Millard” mentioned in the following article was apparently uninterested in any sort of doctor/patient confidentiality…just as the Stillwater Messenger was seemingly more than happy to sacrifice the confidentiality of their source.

Stillwater Messenger – Small Pox at Afton – June 28, 1872

They are having the small pox at Afton – on the quiet. We hear of five cases at Gilbert’s mills, two of them “confluent,” if you know what that means – something pretty bad you may rest assured. There are also three cases near the German church “convalescent” – which sounds more cheerful. Dr. Millard, of this city, was sent for by the town authorities of Afton, and it is to him that we are indebted for our information on the subject.

Featured Article

The Mysterious Mary Traveler

by Anita Buck

The gravestone is plain, a small rectangle of granite, set alone near the tool shed in St. Michael’s Cemetery in Bayport. The inscription is a simple one: “Mary Traveler 1852-1888”. The story it tells is brief – that of a young woman who lived a mere 36 years. (Photo by Ken Martens)

The story that is not told is much more complex and in many ways, something of a mystery.

A young woman was on a train passing through Stillwater in the year 1888. She had her son with her, a toddler too young to talk. Because she was ill, the woman and child were taken off the train. In spite of treatment, the unknown traveler died.

The townspeople had no clue as to who she was, where she had come from, nor her destination. If her son knew, he was too young to say. The people of the city gave her a proper burial. Rather than inscribing the headstone with an anonymous “Mary Doe”, they had carved upon it the more fanciful moniker – “Mary Traveler”, for that was all anyone really knew of her.

The little boy was now alone in a strange place. He was taken by the Crotty family of Stillwater and given the name Eddie.

When interviewed in 1977, Dick Kearney, a former resident of Stillwater, said he could remember hearing about Mary Traveler and her son. In fact, A. W. Kearney, Dick’s father, was a playmate of Eddie Traveler. A Stillwater city directory from the mid 1800s shows an A. W. Kearney living at 1004 Fourth Ave. A few doors away, at 934, lived John Crotty, a riverman.

Little is known of what happened to Eddie Traveler. Sue Kearney LeMire of Minneapolis said that she remembered Eddie moving to Canada. A picture of him taken when he was about 30 was done by a photographer in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

When Eddie was about 36, he wrote to Dick and Sue’s mother, then came to Stillwater for a visit. He tried to find out who he was, where he came from, by the simple gravestone offered no trace of his past. He returned to Canada and apparently never returned to his adopted home city.

Dick Kearny said that he had heard Eddie had become a successful agent for a New York Life Insurance Company.

But that is the end of the story – if there can be an end to a story with no real beginning. The origin and history of Eddie Traveler is the secret of the young mother buried in a remote corner of St. Michael’s Cemetery.



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.

The Warden’s House


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This issue: Contents
Tuesday, June 14, 2016
  • Editor’s Note
  • WCHS News: 9th Annual Hay Lake Beer Tasting – This Saturday
  • WCHS News: Warden’s House Flashlight Tour
  • What Is This Thing?!
  • Old News: Out for a Parade
  • Featured Article: The Warden’s House
Editor’s Note

Whew – we’ve got a lot to cover today, so let’s hop straight in it!

First off, thank to everyone who attended our “Giving Faces to the Names” last Sunday with Herb Reckinger. In case you missed it, Herb is part of an amazing national project to find photographs of people listed on the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, DC. As of June 10th, they are still missing photos of 11,464 American soldiers who were killed during the war. The families of these men and women deserve to be able to one day, not only see their loved ones’ names etched on a wall, but their faces along with it. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund will not let these people slip into the obscurity of history. Visit their website and feel free to search their photograph database, if you may know someone who has access to one of these missing photographs, please reach out to Herb at 651-459-7950 or nreckinger@msn.com.

Secondly, if you missed Olivia’s Washington County Barn Quilt Trail program at Hay Lake last month, fear not! We have links! From Hay Lake Site Manager, Dustyn Dubuque:

“Last month 13-year-old Olivia who is responsible for bringing the first Barn Quilt Trail to Washington County spoke at the Hay Lake School Museum. Our very own Johannes Erickson Log House is on the Barn Quilt trail. We at the Washington County Historical Society have partnered with the Barn Quilt Trail over the past year and wanted to share how to learn more about the trail and the upcoming second edition of the trail.

To find information on the Barn Quilt Trail check out their website.

Also “Like” them on Facebook!” (Photo: Dustyn, Olivia & her mother, Ann)

Alright, so I’ve already sneaked in two News Stories in the Editor’s Note, so I’ll fly through the rest of my normal spiel:

In our real New Stories you’ll read about the Annual Beer Tasting (which is this Saturday!) and the announcement of the first ever series of “Flashlight Tours” of the Warden’s House Museum!

Even us at the Historical Society have no idea what today’s “What Is This Thing?!” is!

Summer is the time of year for parades and in this week’s Old News you’ll read about a celebration during Minnesota’s infancy.

Finally, you may have visited the Warden’s House Museum before – but do you know it’s story? Today’s Featured Article will tell the tale of the building WCHS has called ‘home’ for the last 75 years.

Sean Pallas

Historical Messenger editor and Warden’s House Site Manager



9th Annual Hay Lake Beer Tasting – This Saturday

Everyone’s favorite blend of history and beer makes a triumphant 9th annual return to the Hay Lake Museum this Saturday, June 18th from 4:00 to 7:00 PM and promises to be bigger and better than ever. More breweries, more food, more music, more fun! And be sure to meet our special guests this year, the craft beer fanatics over at the “Taproom Travelers” webseries.

Your $15 admission not only helps the historical society, it will allow you to sample the latest and greatest alcoholic concoctions from Bent Brewstillery, Summit Brewing, Burning Brothers, Redneck Juice, St. Croix Brewing, Still H2O, Joseph Wolf Brewing, East Lake Craft Brewing, Tin Whiskers, and Lift Bridge Brewing.

You’ll also get a collectable tasting glass sponsored by Opinion Brewery.

Not to mention that dozens of Twin Cities businesses, sports teams, and theaters have also donated table-fulls of items and activities for our awesome Silent Auction.

Cheers to History!

Other Events


Warden’s House Flashlight Tour

Fan of History? Lover of all things spooky? Well we’ve got a little opportunity for you we need to talk about…

For all you night owls, we are offering an inaugural Flashlight Tour of the Warden’s House Museum on Saturday, July 9th. For the first time ever, see the Warden’s House in a different light (or lack thereof). Perfect for a unique date night or simply an eerie night for you and your friends, you’ll learn about the history of the Warden’s House, the old Stillwater Prison, and a bit about how our museum has earned a reputation as one of the “Most Haunted Places in Minnesota“.

Tickets are $15.00 per person and must be bought in advance. Tours will last about an hour. Space is limited. You can find more information and reserve your tickets online.

9:00 PM Tour

9:15 PM Tour

Will there be ghosts? You decide. Will it be fun? Definitely!

What is This Thing?!

What Is This Thing?! (Round 38)

Well, I thought I was being tricky with last week’s What Is This Thing?! but within 20 minutes of sending out the newsletter, someone had not only correctly identified it as a typewriter – but had even been able to say the exact brand!

Consider me impressed!

Yes, this is an Oliver brand typewriter from about 1912. I was hoping to confuse a few of you because this particular model of typewriter has a rather unique arm design. You can see what I mean in this brief (10 seconds) video.

As always, thanks for playing along!

This week’s item is a bit different. This time, I’m genuinely looking for your help! One of our board members found this in their yard and we’re just plain stumped. I can tell you that it’s metallic – maybe iron. It’s also very, very heavy. Much heavier than you’d expect. There seems to be a circle cut into the top of it – but that’s all the info I can offer. Take a look at both pictures linked below and hopefully you can help satisfy our curiosity!

Can you identify the WCHS artifact photographed above? 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!

Top Image

Bottom Image

Old News 

Out for a Parade

I’ve selected this article for two reasons:

First, in June 1859, Minnesota has just celebrated it’s first year of statehood only a month prior. So I think it’s pretty interesting to see just how much patriotism and civic pride these newly minted Minnesotan’s have even at this point.

Secondly, the “military” mentioned in this article are the local militia group Stillwater Guard. In two short years, the Stillwater Guard won’t be marching with down Main Street in remembrance of a historic battle – rather they’ll be marching eastwards towards battlefields of their own.

The members of the Stillwater Guard would be some of the first men to volunteer to fight the Confederacy and formed the majority of the members of Company B of the famous 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Many of these men would die at familiar sounding places like Bull Run, Gettysburg, and Antietam.

Stillwater Messenger – The Parade and Ball next Friday- June 14, 1859

We think we can safely assure our citizens and visitors who attend, a pleasant entertainment next Friday – Every effort is being made by the committee to render the occasion the most attractive ever witnessed in the State – The military, accompanied by the Afton Brass Band (fourteen pieces) will form at the Armory on Main Street at 2 o’clock, and after will repair to the parade ground on the bluff south of the city, where the companies will be reviewed and inspected by the Governor and staff and Regimental officers.

In the evening, the spacious Halls of the Sawyer & Buck’s Hotel building will be thrown open for a grand military and civic ball, which will be largely attend by the gallantry and beauty of the State and of the neighboring towns of Wisconsin. Taylor’s St. Paul Quadrille Band has been secured for the evening. The occasion promises to be one of much interest, and we trust our citizens will give our military that encouragement which their energy and perseverance in organizing and sustaining this arm of the public defense so richly merits.

Featured Article

The Warden’s House

by Miranda Zinnel

There are two major challenges when researching the history of the Warden’s House. Since the home was built and owned by the Territorial and then State governments of Minnesota, it was never on the tax rolls so the taxable value and other details were never recorded. Secondly, building permits were not required until the late 1880s and most additions to the Warden’s House were completed by the 1870s. These two facts right there immediately cut out two extremely valuable resources. Moreover, many records were lost or destroyed when the prison was moved to Bayport in 1914.

That being said, the efforts are certainly not hopeless or without results.

The Warden’s House is located at 602 Main Street North in Stillwater, Minnesota. It has been described as a “two story, low gabled roof structure designed in an early Greek Revival style with Federal influences.” According to the National Register of Historic Places the house is significant because it “represents the prison warden’s residence in Minnesota between the years 1853 and 1914. It is the only remnant of the Minnesota Territorial Prison established in 1853, and the only principle structure left standing of the original Minnesota State Prison at Stillwater.”

After the location for the prison was fixed, a call went out for designs for the new prison. The land was purchased in what was known as “Battle Hollow” from Stillwater’s first mayor, John McKusick and the region’s first physician, Christopher Carli for $100 per acre. Francis Roach Delano, Jacob Fisher, and Mr. Freeman submitted three different plans for the prison’s layout. After much discussion and debate, Fisher’s plan was selected. In July 1851, the prison board selected Jesse Taylor & Company’s bid to construct the prison for $17,000. The contract was approved the next day with the stipulation that Taylor could provide a bond with sufficient security. By August 25, 1851 the construction company had submitted a bond and their bid was officially accepted.

Work on the Warden’s House continued over the next year and a half, from grading the land to laying stone. On March 5, 1853, the Minnesota Legislative Assembly passed an act transferring the superintending of the prison from the Building Commissioners to the Warden. This means that after this day any reports on the Prison buildings appeared in the annual and later biannual Warden’s Reports. On April 4, 1853, Francis R. Delano became the first of thirteen Wardens to occupy the newly finished Warden’s House. But it seems that the construction process lacked staying power.

The years and weather were not kind to the home and by 1860 considerable repairs were becoming increasingly necessary. John Proctor, a Stillwater hardware dealer, took over as Warden on January 1, 1860. He noted on several occasions that the house was in dire needed of repairs. In his first report to the State Legislature, Proctor wrote, “the Warden’s House should, if it to be occupied as a dwelling, undergo some repairs before another winter.” Proctor added, “A cistern should be built, as the water we are obliged to use at present is totally unfit for most of the uses for which water was designed.” The pleas fell on deaf ears.

In the 1862 report, Proctor’s suggestions morphed into demands as he stated that, “the walls of the Warden’s residence have not yet fallen, but probably will.” Proctor finally received $600 for repairs to the house that year. Just over a decade later, during the term of John A. Reed, the house underwent another process of repairs and expansion. On March 15, 1878, Warden Reed was directed to spend $500 for repairs on the Warden’s House. The Stillwater Daily Sun in May 1883 noted that, “Warden Reed’s lots and residence are being enclosed with a handsome iron railing.”

The last Warden to occupy the house was Henry Wolfer. It was through his direction that a new prison in South Stillwater (now Bayport) was constructed. After the new prison was completed and all the prisoners transferred by 1914, Warden Wolfer retired. The old Warden’s House was then occupied by Thomas Ross, a Deputy Superintendent of the Prison and his family until 1941.

By then, only the original twine factory and the Warden’s House itself were the only two structures of the original prison that had not been demolished. There was some discussion of tearing down the Warden’s House but an impassioned state legislator convinced the State of Minnesota to offer the home to the recently formed Washington County Historical Society for $100. WCHS opened the historic home as a museum that summer and celebrates 75 years as a museum this year – the second oldest house museum in the state.

Over the past three-quarters of a century, WCHS has continued the legacy of continually repairing the Warden’s House. In the mid-1940s, an old “brooder house” was torn down and the wood used as scrap. The main part of the roof was redone in 1948 for $310.20. In the early 1950s, the windows, screens, and porch were repaired and painted. The chimneys enjoyed refurbishing and repairs in 1954. In December 1974, the Warden’s House was added to the National Register of Historic Places. In March of 1978, the Society was granted a $6,000 grant for repairs on the roof, windows, and doors. These little patch jobs had helped preserve the home…but just like under Warden Proctor, major renovations were becoming increasingly necessary.

After a structural assessment in June 1983, it was determined that the Society would need to raise $20,000 to prevent further deterioration of the property. That August, the roof was re-done with cedar shingles and in November, the rear portion, that had spent the last 100 years sinking into the ground, was raised and given a new foundation and basement.

In September 1985, Charles Nelson of the Minnesota Historical Society “agreed that the present porch is dangerous.” Thus, it was decided that the original and extremely damaged porch was to be replaced by a new porch resembling the original Territorial-era design. With a sense of historical irony, inmates of the current Stillwater Prison helped construct the new porch.

The history and changes to the Warden’s House are intertwined with the history of the St. Croix Valley and the State of Minnesota. The Washington County Historical Society will always place maintaining and sharing this important connection to our shared history as one of our top priorities – just as we have for the last 75 years.