This issue: Contents
Tuesday, July 29th, 2014
  • Editor’s Note
  • WCHS News: Hay Lake Day Book Sale
  • WCHS News: The Warden at the Warden’s House
  • Photo of the Week: Bicycles at the Fair
  • Old News: Last Eleven Men’s Club
  • Featured Article: Remembering the Days of the Log Jam

Editor’s Note

Oh hello! I didn’t see you come in! No, no, no imposition at all! I’m just settling in with the latest Historical Messenger. You might have heard of it…E-Newsletter Quarterly* recently listed it in the Best 100 E-Newsletters East of the Mississippi and West of the St. Croix. It’s kind of a big deal… Well, as long as you’re already here, keep scrolling down so you can learn about all the latest happenings here at WCHS.

Quickly approaching are Hay Lake Day and Warden Michelle Smith’s upcoming visit to the Warden’s House Museum. Check out our first two news stories for more details.

If enjoying my wit and sense of humor only once every two weeks just isn’t enough for you, the Washington County Fair is a perfect opportunity to fill that void in your life! …or the perfect opportunity to beg me to stop trying to be funny…no matter your motivations, head down to our Photo of the Week to see some interestingly dressed cyclists and learn about WCHS’ Washington County Fair schedule.

In today’s Old News, we’ll uncover a bit of history concerning one of my favorite artifacts in the historical society’s collection.

And finally, now that the inaugural Stillwater Log Jam Days is behind us, we’ll take a look at the festival’s namesake – actual log jams!

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

*Definitely not a real thing.



Hay Lake Day Book Sale

Interested in helping a good cause and making some space on your bookshelf?

If you would like to make a donation for the book sale we are accepting books now through August 9th. Donations can be dropped off at the Hay Lake School Museum in Scandia on weekends (Saturdays and Sundays) during the museum hours of 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM, as well as at the Warden’s House in Stillwater, MN from Thursdays through Sundays noon to 5pm.

Arrangements for making donations can also be coordinated by contacting Dustyn, the Hay Lake Site Manager, at (651)-433-4014.

The Book Sale will be a part of the annual Hay Lake Day Celebration which will be on August 9th. There will be crafts, music and other unique events going on that day from Noon to 4pm.

The Hay Lake School and the Johannes Erickson Log Home are on the National Register of Historic Places and both will be open for tours and your viewing pleasure. The School Museum and the Erickson Log Home sites are located on the corner of County Road 3 and Old Marine Trail N, about a mile south of Scandia, MN.


The Warden at the Warden’s House

Join the current head of the Minnesota Correctional Facility – Stillwater, Warden Michelle Smith on Wednesday, August 13th at 7 PM at the Warden’s House Museum.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Stillwater prison moving from downtown Stillwater to it’s current location just south of the city. In commemoration, Warden Michelle Smith will visit the historic Warden’s House Museum to give a free and open to the public presentation.

Warden Smith will dive into the day-to-day operations and challenges she encounters while leading a 100-year old facility with roughly 1,600 male inmates. She also will detail her personal career path; from corrections officer to warden of the Stillwater Prison and discuss some of the improvements and goals of her tenure as warden.

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

Bicycles at the Fair

Photographed above are Ed Conrad and Hal Richardson showing off their high-wheeled bicycles.

The Washington County Historical Society will be at the upcoming Washington County Fair in Building C from Wednesday, July 30 through Sunday, August 3rd.

This year the Historical Society will be bringing three vintage bicycles out of their collection to show those attending the fair. One is a high-wheeled bike from the 1880s, another is a Dayton brand with wooden rims from the 1890s and the last one will be a Schwinn Bicycle from the 1960s. These bicycles have been donated to the Washington County Historical Society by residents of the county over the past 80 years.

Also at the Fair, the Washington County Historical Society is excited to announce that local history writers Robert & Nancy Goodman will be at the Historical Society’s booth in Building C on Thursday, July 31st from 10am to 1pm signing copies of their books which include; Paddlewheels on the Upper Mississippi; Joseph R. Brown: Adventurer: In Their Own Words: Washington County Residents in the Civil War; and The Last Rafter.

On the last day of the Fair, Sunday, August 3rd, the St. Croix Base Ball Club will play a match against the Afton Red Socks at 1pm next to the demolition derby pit. The match will be played by the rules of 1860 and is free to those attending the fair that day.

For more information about the Washington County Historical Society and their upcoming fair experience, please call 651-439-5956 or email at:

Old News

Last Eleven Men’s Club

The Last Man’s Club was organized in 1882 by the surviving members of Company B of the First Minnesota Volunteer Regiment. Company B was raised from Stillwater citizens in the earliest days of the American Civil War. They participated in some of the most well known battles of the conflict including First Bull-Run, Gettysburg and Antietam.

Those who were fortunate enough to survive the hostilities formed the Last Man’s Club to honor those who had died during the war and those who had been gradualling passing away as the years rolled on.

They entered an agreement to meet every year and to hold a bottle of wine in reserve for the Last Man to drink and toast his fallen comrades. This bottle of wine is now one of the most prized artifacts in WCHS’ collection and can be seen in person at the Warden’s House Museum.

The last meeting would occur in 1930 when Charles Lockwood became the sole survivor. As you can see below, it is worth noting that for whatever reason, Mr. Lockwood did not attend the 1911 meeting of the club.

“Last Man’s Banquet” – Stillwater Messenger – July 29, 1911

The 29th Annual Last Man’s Banquet was held at the Sawyer House last Saturday afternoon, with the usual exercises. There was a good feast for the old boys furnished by Mr. Ostrom. There were no formal addresses.

There were present Myron Shepard, president; Wm. M. May, vice president; Adam Marty, secretary; Samuel Bloomer, treasurer; A. C. Hospes, John S. Goff, William Kelly, F. L. McKusick of the Soldiers’ home, E. A. Stevens, Minneapolis, Samuel Johnson and Andrew Peterson, Saldier’s (sic) home; Oscar Van Kuster, Hudson, Wis.


Remembering the Days of the Log Jam

Sometimes the best history is found in the “Letter to the Editor” section. Back in 1940 an old lumberman wrote into the Pine Poker-Pioneer from Pine City. This letter was then sent to and printed in the Stillwater Post-Messenger. The gentleman describes his days working in the lumber camp of Stillwater Lumberman J.E. McGrath.

“To the Editor of The Pine Poker:

Last Fourth of July, I was a visitor at Pine City. Pine City being my old home town, these visits always revive old and pleasant memories. While there this last trip I read The Pine Poker-Pioneer, the issue carrying the tragic story of James E. McGrath of Stillwater.

After having read the article in your paper, telling the story of Mr. McGrath becoming lost in the woods and the subsequent search, and finding him dead, I began a some 40 odd years ago, back to reminiscence of a period of time, a period when stalwart pioneers were blazing trails through the forest to their 40 or 80 acres of wild timber land, there to hew their existence and livelihood out of the timber, and then to till the soil. Back to a time when telephones were not heard of in the rural districts and messages were carried by means of walking miles through whatever kind of weather we happened to have. Back to the time when the old kerosene lamp and lantern were the only means of illumination.

That was back during the time when Snake river was filled with pine logs on their way to the great sawmills, there to be made into lumber to build a future Minnesota.

Every spring, as soon as the ice was gone, the logs used to begin coming down the river, greatly hampering the fishing for the boys, when they had an opportunity to go to the river and we a line. We often spoke our minds about the logs interfering with our fishing, hoping that the logs would go into a jam, somewhere up river, thereby leaving the river clear of obstacles so that we might go on fishing uninterrupted.

And then one morning in late July, 1901, we discovered a great jam. A log such as had never been seen in the Snake River. The river was filled from bank to bank, 14 feet high and reaching from what we used to call the Big Bend, back about three-quarters of a mile. The log drivers worked all that day trying to unlock the key logs that had to be removed before the jam would break, but with little or no success. This log jam was the talk of the settlers, and everyone wondered how the jam could be broken.

Late in the evening of that day, we were just finishing up our chores and going into the house, when a tall dark man walked into our yard and spoke to my father. The man had come up from the river about a quarter of a mile away. He told my father that his name was James E. McGrath, and that he was the owner of the logs in the river, including the great log jam.

He asked my father to take him up to Chengwatana dam. He said that he had been working all day long with his men at the log jam, but had come to the conclusion that the only way to break the jam was by using dynamite, together with an avalanche of water, rushing from the dam. He was on his way to the dam to have the dam closed, and wait unit the dynamite could be planted, and then have the water turned on again to assist the logs on down the river when the dynamite had exploded and thus broken the jam.

Mr. McGrath told my father that he would give him $1 if he would take him up to the dam, about six miles up the river. A dollar in those days looked as large as a $10 bill does today, so we hitched up our team of horses to a lumber wagon, this being the only style of vehicle my dad owned in those days, and proceeded to give Mr. McGrath a ride to the dam. I went along with my dad and enjoyed the trip immensely. Mr. McGrath carried on a conversation relative to his logging holdings up at the source of the Snake River, telling about the many logging camps he was operating during the winter months. He told us also that he had his home in Stillwater, where he also owned and operated sawmills.

During the ride to the dam, I asked Mr. McGrath if there would be a chance for me to get a job in one of his logging camps the following winter. He assured both father and myself that at any time I wanted a job in the camps or in any of his mills, I was to write him at Stillwater, and he would personally see to it that I would be given some job. This with the result that I went to the “woods” the following November, and worked as a Cook-ee in what was then the George Glendenning camp. This winter was followed by four more that I worked for old “Jim McGraw,” as he was called, making it five winters in all.

Well, the great log jam was broken, and became history. Great improvements have taken place since that day so long ago. Today you would hardly believe that such a change could be possible. Now the farmers think nothing of running into Pine City and back home again before breakfast, where in the old days it was an all-day journey to go to town.

Sincerely yours,

John P. Ekberg

Minneapolis, Minnesota