In common with the other small Washington County communities near White Bear Lake, Birchwood was originally a part of Grant Township and became a part of Lincoln Township in 1918. Although land sales began in this area in 1854, after the government surveys were made, the land west of Wildwood Park was still farmland, woods, and swamp in the late 19th century. Much of it was owned by F. L. Saunders and Warren B. Preston.
Development was inspired by the extension of streetcar service from Wildwood Park to White Bear Lake along the southwestern end of the lake in 1904. The village of Birchwood was incorporated in 1921 from developments laid out 20 years earlier as Lakewood Park and Orchard Homesites. These early plats featured small lots and generally modest cottages. Later plats had larger lots advertised with “tracts for orchards, gardens, vineyards, and chicken ranches.”
The Lakewood Park Association advertised: “The way to get the most out of life and save money is to live at the lake during the summer, when the rent you save in one or two seasons will build your cottage. All lots are serviced by the electric car that crosses the back of the properties, with convenient stops. A 600-foot center park with driveway on either side is located in the middle of the plat, and each lot has water piped to it from the water plant. . . . Health, recreation, and the enjoyment of Nature in its more delightful forms can be obtained at Lakewood Park. It is one of the most beautiful spots, unexcelled for sailing, rowing, bathing, and fishing.”
Residents could also travel to shop in White Bear Lake by water. Two lake steamers, the Wildwood and St. Paul, would stop at Birchwood to take on and discharge passengers. Year-round residents sent their children to school in Mahtomedi on the streetcar.
Villagers and summer residents got their groceries from farmers who delivered fresh produce and milk, as well as ice. A small grocery store was conveniently located next to a ball field at Churchill Corners. In the 1930s the store also featured penny and nickel slot machines.
By 1940 there were about 90 year-round residents, their numbers swelled in the summer by dozens of renters. However, the growing popularity of automobiles caused streetcar riders to decline. In 1932 the streetcar company got permission to abandon its line. In 1940 the village bought the right-of-way to put through a road, now Hall Avenue. The problem of getting to White Bear Lake and St. Paul was solved by the South Shore Transportation Club, which operated a twice-daily bus.
The 1950s brought many improvements to lakeside living including water, gas, sewer, and blacktopped roads. Today most of the modest summer cottages have been replaced by large, year-round lake homes that make it difficult to see the lake. However, dock associations let residents have access to shore and lake.
By the time it became the City of Birchwood Village in 1974, the community had grown to around 900 residents, as new developments sprang up around the edges. By 1990 the population peaked over 1,000 and has been dropping off since.