This issue: Contents
Tuesday, October 7th, 2014
  • Editor’s Note
  • WCHS News: Hay Lake Speaker Series: Seventy-Five Years in the Woods
  • WCHS News: New Website
  • Photo of the Week: Emil Graf
  • Old News: Don’t Take Our Prison!
  • Featured Article: Has This Always Been Here?

Editor’s Note

Whew! What an exciting few weeks we have had here at WCHS. Just this past Sunday, the Warden’s House held a screening of a horror/thriller film and Hay Lake Manager Dustyn Dubuque represented the Historical Society during the Warner Nature Center’s Fall Color Blast.

Now, we are quickly approaching the end of our regular touring season for the Hay Lake and Warden’s House sites. So make your way to Scandia and Stillwater to see the museums before the last days of tours on October 31st!

Let’s hop into the issue, shall we?

The inaugural “Hay Lake Speaker Series” is hosting it’s last presentation of the season on October 19th. Local historian and WCHS favorite Bob Goodman will cover the history of the lumber industry in Washington County. Head down to our first News Article if you wood like to learn more about the event. (…that horrible pun took me really way too long to come up with…)

You may have also noticed that WCHS’ face on the internet suddenly looked very different last week…head down to our second News Story to find out about website’s make-over.

WCHS receives some truly wonderful donations and in the Photo of the Week I’ll let you take a peek at one of the latest additions to our collection.

In today’s Old News, you’ll see an opinion piece that’ll leave you scratching your head.

And finally, in the Featured Article we’ll explore an element of history that we don’t think often think about…but literally surrounds us whenever we walk down a city street.

Want to learn more about the history of Washington County? Become a fan of WCHS on Facebook or follow us on Twitter! See a new photo every week, read special articles, and stay up-to-date with the latest WCHS happenings.

Sean Pallas

Historical Messenger editor and Warden’s House Site Manager


Hay Lake Speaker Series: “Seventy-Five Years in the Woods”

Join local historian and author Robert Goodman, for a discussion covering “Seventy-Five Years in the Woods: The Rise and Fall of Lumber and Logging on the St. Croix” on Sunday, October 19th, 2014 at 2:00 PM.

In addition to holding various leadership roles at the Historical Society for the last several decades, Goodman has authored many WCHS staples such as Washington County: Gateway to Minnesota History, The Last Rafter, and is a leading expert on the father of Minnesota: Joseph Brown.

This presentation is free to the public and will be at the Hay Lake School Museum located at 14020 195th St. N. Marine on St. Croix, MN 55047. If there are any questions about this event please contact Dustyn Dubuque at (651) 433-4014 or at



New Website

If you’ve visited us online lately, you’ll have noticed the massive overhaul of our website. Instead of relying on out-of-date code languages, we will now be able to update our pages with up-to-the-minute information.

But I just wanted to point out a few of the features of our website, in case you might be interested in taking advantage of any of them.

First, if you’d like a quick overview of some of the key events of Washington County History – the County Timeline is a great place to start your visit to the new site.

You can quickly search our research library’s Name Index‘s 150,000 entries by using our online search function. If you want to know the history of any specific family or individual in Washington County – this should be your first step.

And oh, look at that, a new Store too!

Our website will be constantly evolving from this point forward. We’ll add more functionality, post information about our latest events, and for the first time, previous issues of the Historical Messenger are accessible online! Now you can easily share your favorite articles with your friends via email and Facebook!

I hope you enjoy the new!

Photo of the Week

Emil Graf

This photograph was recently donated to the Washington County Historical Society by direct descendents of Mr. Emil Graf. And just who is this gentleman pictured above? Emil Graf was one of the earliest settlers in the St. Croix River Valley, arriving in the area at age 10 in May of 1850.

He is wearing a uniform because on April 29, 1861, Graf joined Company B of the First Minnesota as a volunteer to serve his adopted country in the Civil War. Although injuries kept him out of some of the major action pieces the First Minnesota encountered, Graf served dutifully throughout the war and joined his fellow Company B comrades in creating the Last Man’s Club in Stillwater.

This photograph is particular interest to us at the Historical Society because until now, we only knew of this photograph featuring Emil and his wife. He wasn’t even photographed at the later Last Man’s Club meetings because even though he was still alive during them – his poor health prohibited any travel.

Visit his biography page on for a more thorough account of Emil Graf’s military record, life, and affairs in general.

old news

Don’t Take Our Prison!

Waaay back, when I first started as an intern here at WCHS I remember being rather surprised when I was told that the good folks in Stillwater actually liked the idea of having the State Prison located in their downtown. Today, I think most communities would balk at the notion of 650 inmates moving onto their Main Streets.

But here in this article you can watch as an editor of the Stillwater Messenger pleads with his fellow citizens and community leaders to fight to keep the prison close at hand!

Bad for Stillwater – Stillwater Messenger – October 7, 1905

It is generally understood that the state board of control favors the location of the new prison on the peninsula site a mile or so south of the city.

We think such a choice would be very disastrous to the welfare of this city.

The prison is recognized as a Stillwater institution. To locate it outside of the city limits would naturally influence a large number of officers and employees, in the course of time, to build residences, stores and other improvements and Stillwater would be the loser in the way of taxes, business, etc., that such an institution brings to a town, to a considerable extent.

We hope that our business men will awake to the danger that such a move would inflict on this city and make such representation to the board that might influence them to locate the new prison within the corporate limits of Stillwater.

The prison board met this week, talked the matter of locating the new prison over, but no final action was taken. It was generally understood, however, that the lake shore site mentioned was favored. We sincerely hope our people will take steps to change the apparent decision of the board in this important matter, so far as Stillwater is concerned.


Has This Always Been Here?

by Brent Peterson

Across the street from Meister’s Bar & Grill sits an odd shaped red brick building. Today it unassumingly houses the Charlsen Trucking Service. But the plain exterior masks its slightly flashier history.

It seems as though the building at 114 West Churchill Street was constructed sometime around 1915. The original use of the building may surprise many who drive past it everyday as they go to work. The building was called the “Hilltop Theater” and was one of the early Stillwater silent movie houses.

In the February 16, 1916 issue of the Stillwater Messenger, there is an announcement of new ownership. “The Hilltop moving picture house,” the article read, “will be re-opened immediately under new management. The new manager’s name is Samuel Carlson and he is a gentleman who has a wide experience in the moving picture business and knows how to cater to moving picture patrons.”

There also seemed to be a major problem to the theater when it was constructed according to the article. “Mr. Carlson states that the main drawback to the theatre, the lack of heat, has been remedied by the installation of a number of more radiators, and that the theatre will now be found warm and comfortable.” Carlson’s wife Pearl and daughter Ethel served as assistant managers at the theater.

By 1919, the ownership had changed again, this time the manager at the Hilltop was Fred W. Boll. Boll was the owner of BWF Amusement Enterprises and that company owned the Hilltop and the Majestic Theater on South Main Street.

The Hilltop remained in operation until 1924 when Barney Gunderson shutdown the theater and opened the Gunderson New Garage. Gunderson was an “Expert” in mechanical and electrical service and the “exclusive dealer in Gardner and REO Cars.” This is when the building became associated with automobiles in which it still is today.

Gunderson didn’t last very long. In 1927 Charles H. Peterson had the building and his business was the Stillwater Nash Garage, and later called Peterson Motors. Peterson would continue business in the building until the late 1950s when his manager, Edward A. Buege took over. In 1960, the Browning Motor Company owned by R.W. Browning operated out of there, and then Darrel Thibodeau started the St. Croix Body Works. Johnson Plumbing, owned by Wm. L. Wendt, operated out of 114 West Churchill for a short time in the mid to late 1960s. Willard Cote purchased the St. Croix Body Works around 1970 and spent the next 15 or 20 years making his living out of the old theater.

Back during its theater days many of the well-known silent films would be shown. There was also a place in the front for a piano so that music could be played that would follow the action on the screen. Cost to see a moving picture was only 5 to 10 cents. Some of the films that were shown at the Hilltop were “A Woman’s Honor” which was a four reel feature, “Alias Holland Jimmy” a two reel special, “The Feud” with Tom Mix, a 1921 Sunday Matinee was “Lessons in Love” with Constance Talmadge.

There were also serials that played. These were short movies that came in 15 to 20 parts. The serials would be printed in the weekly newspapers and the public could then bring in the written version and follow along on screen. In 1916, the Hilltop presented “The Girl and the Game” which was the story of mountain railroad life and billed as the “Greatest Serial of the day.”

Today the smell of truck exhaust fills the air near 114 West Churchill Street, but back in the early part of the 20th century, the smell of popcorn and the sound of piano music came from this plain, brick building.




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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.

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Washington County Historical Society

Mission Statement

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

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