This issue: Contents
Tuesday, July 1st, 2014
  • Editor’s Note
  • WCHS News: Beer Tasting Recap
  • WCHS News: Assassination of President Lincoln Presentation
  • Photo of the Week: Stillwater High School Band
  • Old News: New Rules to Live By
  • Featured Article: Mud Turns to Gold

Editor’s Note

Hello, True Believers! …oh, wait, that’s a different editor’s greeting…anywho, welcome to the latest issue of the Historical Messenger – the official e-newsletter of the Washington County Historical Society!

I’d like to start my little note here by mentioning that WCHS recently received an award from The Minnesota Alliance of Local History Museums for producing the documentary, “Girl From Birch Creek”. The film chronicles the life of Rosalie Wahl who was the first female Minnesota Supreme Court Judge. Thank you MALHM!

The weather held out last weekend and we had a beautiful afternoon for the 7th Annual Beer Tasting. If you missed the fun, check out our first news story and try not to get too jealous.

Of course we still have plenty more events on the horizon. The next item on the calendar is a presentation covering a few conspiracy theories regarding Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Scroll down to our second news story for more information.

WCHS intern Anna Peterson is spending the summer delving into the history of the Stillwater Area High School band. Join Anna as she mans the wheel at the e-newsletter helm for this issue’s Photo of the Week.

Our Old News details a few new laws for Minnesotans of 1911. You may find yourself wondering why one of these activities was still legal in 1910…

From the museum’s front steps, I’ve spent this past week watching the Stillwater Marina’s parking lot gradually disappear beneath the swollen St. Croix River. Thankfully, here on the west side of Main Street, the Warden’s House is safe from the flood waters. Minnesota has had a record setting amount of rain this year – but this isn’t the first time we’ve had an exceptionally wet spring. We’ll close out this issue of the Historical Messenger by discussing a *watershed moment in Stillwater history – the Mudslide of 1852.

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

*…I’m so sorry, but I just can’t seem to help myself with these lame puns.


Beer Tasting Recap

Thank you to everyone who helped make this year’s Annual Beer Tasting a huge success. This appreciation is extended to all of the great breweries who were in attendence, the many donors who provided items for our silent auction and raffles, and last but certainly not least, all of you wonderful folks who made the trip out to Scandia!

And a special thank you goes out to Autumn and Derrick Lehrke from Opinion Brewery for being our guest speakers at the tasting.

We had a bit more than 150 attendees this year and we also raised a bit more money than the 2013 Tasting. So all and all, a pretty solid event!

If you missed all the fun, feel free to click through these links to see a few pictures from the Beer Tasting.

Anna Peterson Greets Our Beer Connoisseurs (…and checks their IDs!)

Lots of folks preferred to sample in the shade.

Chris Peterson and Board Member Becky Pung keeping glasses full and tasters happy!

This year, attendees could buy Raffle Tickets by the ‘arm full’ from intern Emily Batroot.

2013 Intern Nick Jensen stopped by to say hello – so we put him to work!

We’ll see you next year, Saturday, June 20th 2015 for the 8th Annual Beer Tasting!


Assassination of President Lincoln Presentation

Join author Dean Urdahl on Sunday, July 13th, 2014 at 2:00 PM at the Warden’s House Museum as he discuses the conspiracy and theories surrounding one of the most famous murders of American history – the assassination of President Lincoln.

Before becoming a member of the Minnesota House of Representatives, Urdahl was an American history teacher for 20 years. He has also authored several books on American and Minnesotan history including the historical fiction, “Conspiracy! Who Really Killed Lincoln?”

John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Lincoln in Ford’s Theater on April 15th, 1865, but that isn’t even close to the whole story. At this free and open to the public presentation, Urdahl will detail the network of co-conspirators involved in the plot and delve into their cloak-and-dagger activities.

The Warden’s House Museum is located at 602 Main Street N., Stillwater, MN.

Please contact Sean Pallas at or 651-439-5956 with any questions regarding this event or to schedule a tour of the museum.

Photo of the Week

Stillwater High School Band – Historic Courthouse, Stillwater – 1946

This photograph is of the Stillwater High School band. It was taken on May 27th, 1946 standing in front of the old Stillwater High School, which burned in 1957. This was the first photograph taken of the band in their new uniforms at the end of the school year.

The band director at the time was William H. Bastien and there were a total of 35 musicians in the band. Mr. Bastien taught at the high school from 1933 until 1949 and was succeeded by Mr. George Regis.

Currently there is a project going on collecting information on the Stillwater High School band. If you have any photographs, information or memories you would like to share, contact WCHS!

Old News

New Rules to Live By

A good place for an outsider to begin to understand a culture is by examining their society’s laws. Our laws reveal what we citizens, as a a whole, find important. For example, many of our current laws are designed to protect children from harm. From specifying what type of car seat must be used to determining the amount of time set aside for their education – our laws reflect the importance our culture places on our young’s well-being.

So what does looking at the laws of the past tell us? Below, you can read five laws that went into effect June 1st, 1911. You can see the growing temperance movement that would lead to wide-spread Prohibition within the decade. Several of these also impart limits and regulations on manufacturers, which shows that the Minnesota government was becoming more and more concerned with the rights of the consumer.

But we also must keep in mind that 1911 is still in a period of transition from the Old World to the Modern. Only a few years later at the outbreak of World War I, the French will send mounted calvary in Napoleonic uniforms against machine guns. So one of these laws will look a bit strange nestled in-between production regulations. As you read these five new laws, you can almost imagine the dueling banjos as you hit law number four…

“Five News Laws in Effect Today” – Stillwater Messenger – July 1, 1911

Five new laws of general importance passed by the last legislature will go into effect today. They are:

-Prohibiting the sale of ‘malt’ outside of licensed drinking places or drug stores.

-Creating a state department of weights and measures.

-Prohibiting the sale of oleomargarine colored to imitate butter.

-Prohibiting the marriage of first cousins

-Requiring rubber tires and casings to bear the name of the maker and date of manufacture.

The ‘malt’ bill was the most important temperance measure passed by the last legislature. It prohibits the sale of any kind of malt drinks except in licensed saloons or in drug stores for medicinal purposes. The object of the measures is to do away with a number of refreshment stands in dry territory that sell semi intoxicating drinks and to make it impossible for blind piggers to plead they were only selling malt when they were selling beer.


Mud Turns Into Gold

by Brent Peterson

In 1852, the burgeoning village of Stillwater was getting a foothold in the lumber industry and was starting the assent to become the nations leading lumber center. At this time, the St. Croix River was the lifeline to the outside world, but the shoreline was shallow and marshy. That all changed when the earth let go after heavy rains and created much of the downtown area of present day Stillwater.

During the month of April 1852, the rains came to this area and stayed. Lake McKusick was full and the sandy soil soaked and all the conditioned were right when the thunderstorm of May 13th hit.

With the onslaught of more water, the dam at Lake McKusick broke. Water raced down the ravines carrying with it tons of soil. The powerful rush of water caused trees to uproot buildings to be ripped in half or totally covered in mud and all heading down to the St. Croix. One slide led to another and the early morning hours of May 14th must have been as frightful as any ever seen in the village of Stillwater.

One eyewitness to this event was Webb McKusick. He was a boy of fourteen at the time and was asleep in his room in Union Place on Main Street when he heard the excited shouts of John Columbus, an “erratic old fellow.” Columbus was swearing as only he could that the world was coming to an end. McKusick quickly ran out into the street and the events that he saw he would tell people the rest of his life.

“The roaring of the mighty flood of water down the steep hillside” said Webb, “mingled with the deep grinding and crashing of rocks and boulders borne down with the current was an appalling sound. But the sight of black oak trees, two feet in diameter torn from their deep foundations now standing upright, floating majestically along with the stream, was a weird sight!” The extent of the ground covered was about six acres to and average depth of ten feet. The lower story of John McKusick’s mill was completely filled with dirt and the machinery buried. It was believed at the time that the machinery was ruined, but after the subsidence of the flood the water from the flood was turned into the mill and all the mud removed, even the large wheel partially submerged, was found in good condition and ready for business.

After the landslide and the cleanup began, John McKusick thought that this “calamity” would certainly set him back financially. However, as the mud settled, it was learned that what was once marshland was now suitable for building. The Minnesota Pioneer of St. Paul stated that “Altogether it was a very extraordinary movement in real estate.” The land that John McKusick owned went from a value of only $1.25 an acre to $500 an acre in only one night.

Today, the land downtown from east of Second Street to the river and south of Myrtle to Commercial Street was formed because of a landslide that created some “weird” sights to one young man who woke up to the screams of the ending of the world.