This small city, across the mouth of Bolles Creek from Afton, is a quiet, residential area with a population of about 350. Its history is associated with some of Minnesota’s earliest pioneers. Several French-Canadian families settled in the area before 1837.
The first record available of a land transaction on the point dates back to 1844, when the area was still part of St. Croix County, Wisconsin Territory. That March, Gaspare Bruce sold his claim on the point to Henry Sibley, agent for the American Fur Company at Mendota. In July 1844 Sibley sold the claim to Joseph R. Brown, founder of Dacotah (now part of Stillwater). The price for the 160 acres of land lying between the lake and the north side of Bolles Creek was 100 bushels of oats and 25 barrels of potatoes, any deficit in oats to be payable in turnips at 75 cents the barrel or potatoes at $1 the barrel. These transactions are recorded in Sibley’s books.
That year Brown’s half-sister Lydia Ann and her husband Paul Carli moved to the area from Stillwater to open a farm. Brown hired Jake Fisher and Joseph Hall to build a two-story frame house on the point, which the Carlis to moved into in November. Although older settlers referred to this place as Brown’s Farm, Brown never ran it. It was operated by Paul Carli until his death in 1846. After Paul’s death, Lydia Carli moved back to Stillwater and Brown sold the western part of the farm to Lemuel Bolles. Over the winter of 1845–46 Bolles, a New Yorker, built the first flouring mill in the valley on the creek that bears his name.
In August of 1848, when land sales in the valley opened, speculators began to buy. According to W. H. C. Folsom, James A. Carr surveyed the point in 1855 and Thomas W. Coleman platted St. Mary Village there. This speculation must have been short-lived. In 1857 the village of St. Mary was again laid out by St. Paul investors Alexander Cathcart and William R. Marshall (who later became Minnesota governor) as a prospective industrial town. These men were drawn to the area by the early success of sawmills in Lakeland and Afton.
In St. Mary Village several lots were sold and houses built. The ambitious plat of about 100 blocks provided a steamboat landing along the entire river frontage. A sawmill was erected in 1857 by investors from Pennsylvania, but unfortunately burned the following year, so the village never benefited from the lumbering industry that developed much of the St. Croix Valley. In 1881 St. Mary Village was a near ghost town crossed by the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad, called the Peanut Line, which came into the valley on a new bridge at Hastings and followed the valley north to Stillwater.
Around 1900, investors from St. Paul and elsewhere, anticipating the St. Croix recreation boom, found the land at what was now called St. Mary’s Point ripe for development. People were concerned with the heat and disease rampant in cities, and those who could fled to the country during the summers. In 1910 railroad and lumber baron John Humbird bought 40 acres along the river in St. Mary on which he built four summer homes for his four daughters and their families. In 1915 George Slater built a home and 12 cottages on the river bank. The cottages, which were constructed of concrete blocks made with sand from the river, were rented out with their own rowboats to city folks during the summers.
The City of St. Mary’s Point is today a peaceful residential neighborhood of about 150 homes, a quarter of which are along the river, and no commercial development. Its population was about 400 in 2005.
The Village of St. Mary’s Point, encompassing 246 acres, was incorporated in 1951, and achieved City status in 1976. City Hall was constructed in 1958.
Relevant Online Indexes
- 1881 Washington County History
- 1901 Northwest Pub. Plat Book
- Names in WCHS Scrapbook Index
- Poor Farm deaths compiled by WCHS
- Poor Farm Register, Volume 1
- Stillwater Gazette Photo Collection
- Washington County in the World War, 1917-1918-1919
- WCHS Biographic Files
- WCHS Deeds
- WCHS Photograph Collection
- WCHS School Scrapbook