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This issue: Contents
Tuesday, December 30th, 2014
  • Editor’s Note
  • WCHS News: Winter Ice Cream Social
  • WCHS News: WCHS Annual Membership Meeting – Cathy Wurzer
  • Photo of the Week: New Year Greetings
  • Old News: Tragic Foreshadowing for the Warden’s House
  • Featured Article: Pulling Up Tracks
Editor’s Note

Whew! Congratulations to all of you for surviving yet another hectic Yuletide season! Between driving to the in-laws, scrambling to find those last minute gifts, and, of course, frantically wrapping said presents as your guests arrive – I’d be willing to wager that many of you haven’t found a single moment to sit and relax in weeks!

Well my holiday-weary friends, it’s time to toss your feet up on your desk, try your best to ignore whoever is still listening to Jingle Bells in the office next door, and let yourself enjoy today’s issue of the Historical Messenger.

One of my favorite events of the WCHS Calendar is just around the corner – scroll down to our first News Story for the inside scoop on how to start your 2015 off with free ice cream!

Our Annual Membership Meeting date has now been officially set for March 26th. See the second News Story for more information.

Stop by our the Photo of the Week for a New Year’s greeting from your favorite county historical society.

In today’s Old News, we’ll take a look at the middle of a story that we already know has a sad ending.

Only 8 days ago on December 22nd, the locomotives of the Minnesota Zephyr were loaded up on trucks to begin their permenant departure from Stillwater. The Minnesota Zephyr was operated as a popular dinner train from 1985-2008 until raising costs and diminishing interest caused it’s owner and operator to lose $1.6 million in the last two years of the attraction’s run. Until last week, the train sat, unused and for all practical purposes abandoned, across the street from the Warden’s House Museum. It’s removal marks the end of another chapter of Stillwater’s story.

But this isn’t the first time a piece of iconic railroad history has disappeared from Stillwater. Head down to our Featured Article to read about the unfortunate and short-sighted loss of the Stillwater Union Depot.

Want to learn more about the history of Washington County? “Like” WCHS on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

Sean Pallas

Historical Messenger editor and Warden’s House Site Manager

WCHS News 

Winter Ice Cream Social

On Saturday, January 17th, the Washington County Historical Society you to a Winter Ice Cream Social, which runs from Noon – 4:00 PM.

Why on Earth would we hold an ice cream social in the middle of January??

Well, first off, the ice cream doesn’t melt. Secondly…um…I guess that’s really the only advantage. But trust me – it’s fun!

Join your neighbors and fellow hearty Northerners for some free Leo’s Malt and Grill Shop Ice Cream, Root Beer from Lift Bridge Brewing, Hot Chocolate from Pub 112, and Daily Grind Coffee while we scoff at Father Winter’s best efforts to keep us indoors!

Chili from Leo’s will also be available for a nominal fee.

More Events


Annual Membership Meeting – Cathy Wurzer

We are excited to announce that Cathy Wurzer will be the special Guest Speaker at the 2015 WCHS Annual Membership Meeting! The meeting will take place on Thursday, March 26th at the Water Street Inn in Stillwater, MN. The event begins with a social hour at 5:30 PM. Dinner will then be served at 6:30 PM followed by a brief meeting and vote for WCHS Board Members. The presentation is scheduled to begin at 8:00 PM.

Cathy Wurzer is the host of Morning Edition for MPR News. She is also the co-host of Almanac, a weekly public affairs program produced by Twin Cities Public Television for Minnesota’s statewide public television network. Wurzer has won four Emmy Awards for her work on Almanac. Prior to her return to radio, she was an anchor and reporter for WCCO-TV, the CBS affiliate in Minneapolis. She has also been a talk show host for WCCO-AM radio, a producer for KMSP-TV, and political reporter for KSTP-AM radio.

She will be discussing and selling/signing copies of her 2008 book, “Tales of the Road: Highway 61“.

Tickets are $20.00 for Members of WCHS and $25.00 for Non-Members.

Reservations are required. Reservations can be made online or by calling 651-439-5956.

Photo of the Week

New Year Greetings it just me, or is this News Years card pretty weird?

I totally understand the clock about to strike midnight…but everything else in this picture just raises questions.

Who has allowed these young children to operate a truck? What’s in the sacks they are transporting? What does the million written on each one mean? Do they each have a million dollars? Are these two kids driving around with at least 11 million dollars…? They are going pretty fast through the middle of a snow covered field, far away from town…in the middle of the night…is something illegal happening in this picture? Is this a depiction of the aftermath of some kind of heist? That would definitely explain their creepy expressions…

And the most important question – where the heck are their necks?!

…in all seriousness though, Happy New Years from WCHS! Thank you all so much for the support over the last year. During 2014, we increased our attention and focus towards hosting programs at both the Warden’s House and the Hay Lake School. Because of this shift, both of our sites saw significant increases in attendance this year when compared to 2013 and you can expect that change in tone to continue through the 2015 season.

Keep your eyes on our website and this newsletter and make sure you’re part of the fun we’re having at WCHS this coming year!

Happy New Years!

Full Image

Old News

Tragic Foreshadowing for the Warden’s House

Just in the last issue of the Messenger we discussed how newspapers of the past didn’t shy away from publishing private personal matters. While this may have upset the subjects of the stories at the time, it really does allow historians a very intimate look into the lives of these people.

Warden Henry Wolfer was the longest serving Warden of the Old Stillwater Prison. Since he was the resident of our humble museum for 20 years, we know a good deal of information concerning not only his professional life but also his personal and family happenings. The main drama of the latter being the death of his daughter Gertrude.

After marrying the prison physician, Gertrude and her new husband moved across the state to Blue Earth, Minnesota around 1907. Unfortunately, shortly after the birth of their first son Winston, the young mother suffered a case of appendicitis and passed away.

Although I had always imagined to be a case of a sudden and lethal bout of unhealthiness – the following short article reveals poor Trudy’s appendix woes to be part of a longer pattern. It also tragically records her family’s ultimately futile efforts.

News Briefs – Stillwater Messenger – December 30, 1905

Mr. and Mrs. Warden Wolfer and daughter Gertrude leave in a few days for Florida, to be gone a couple of months. They go in the hope of benefiting their daughters’ health, which has been poorly of late.

Featured Article

Pulling Up Tracks

by Brent Peterson

There have been many buildings that have come and gone in Stillwater either by fire, flood or by just being torn down. Some don’t bring many memories back, some bring a few, but no other building brings back the flood of memories than the old Stillwater Union Depot.

It was the Stillwater and St. Paul Railroad that constructed an 18-mile railroad track from White Bear Lake to Stillwater. The track reached the north part of Stillwater on December 29, 1870 (144 years and a day ago) and that was when Stillwater was connected with the rest of the world.

Within the next 15 years, Stillwater was the end of the line for four branch lines of three different railroads. This made for much passenger confusion, so a petition was passed around by Stillwater residents for the creation of a “Union Station.”

The transfer company, which linked the railroads together, took on the depot project. The head of the transfer company was Dwight M. Sabin, a Stillwater resident and U.S. Senator.

The transfer company was in “receivership” or what today we would call chapter 11, but the company went ahead with the construction of the new depot in July 1887. Chicago architects Edward Burling and Francis Whitehouse were contracted to design the building and local contractor L.W. Eldred was hired to build it.

The building opened to the public on February 7, 1888 to a great charity ball. The headline in the Stillwater Gazette read, “For Sweet Charity’s Sake” and continued with “The opening of the Union Station a Brilliant Success.”

The exterior of the building was done in the Gothic Revival style with stone arches, gables and at the northwest corner, a 75-foot clock tower. The building was built with “drab colored cut stone, furnished by Henry Furst & Co. of Chicago.” Each stone was numbered and fit in the place for which it was designed in a “snug” manner. The foundation walls were constructed with Stillwater stone furnished by C. Colgren. The roof was made of slate with tin and copper rain spouts. All the pine timbers used in the construction were purchased from Hersey & Bean lumber company and from John G. Nelson. F.H. Lemon, of Stillwater, did the painting and decorating of the building.

Inside the building there were oak, maple and pine floors, along with beautiful stained glass windows and terra cotta fireplace mantles. It had 20 functioning rooms on two floors that were ornately decorated with tongue and grooved wainscoting and bevel edged mirrors. The depot was equipped with electricity, but it also included gas lighting.

The total cost of the depot was $45,000 and Sam Hadley was the proprietor of the “cozy little barbershop” and Dan Harkins was in charge of the baggage room while George Hill oversaw the “check room.”

Three transfer companies operated the depot at one time or another, all failing. James J. Hill’s Northern Pacific Railroad purchased the final transfer company in 1902. Northern Pacific stopped passenger service from the depot in 1927, but kept a ticket office there until 1954.

In 1903, just after Hill purchased the transfer company, a new ticket agent started at the depot. Joseph Carroll, later known to most of Stillwater as “Papa” Joe Carroll would work and live at the depot for more than five decades. The depot went through many changes of occupants during its life. Morey Crotto operated the lunch counter starting in 1932. The ladies waiting room was converted into the bus depot in 1946. By 1952, the bus depot closed and the place was used by the St. Croix Valley Arts group until 1955.

Russell Gilbert took over ownership of the depot in 1955 where he began his business called United Fabricators and Electronics [UFE]. He sold the depot to Hooley’s in 1959 when his new building on South Greeley Street was completed (which, of course, WCHS purchased and is the process of converting into the new Washington County Heritage Center).

Hooley’s torn down the old depot in April 1960 to make way for a new and modern supermarket.

It has been more than 50 years since the Union Station was hauled away from the skyline of Stillwater’s downtown. It is probably the most felt and grieved building that was lost in Stillwater, but not the only one. As Stillwater prepares itself for another transformation with the construction of the new St. Croix River Crossing, let us not lose sight of what once was and vow to not to lose anymore than we already have.

Full Image of Depot



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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.

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

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