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This issue: Contents
Tuesday, November 18th, 2014
  • Editor’s Note
  • WCHS News: Warden’s House Holiday Event
  • Photo of the Week: First Post Office in Forest Lake
  • Old News: A Newspaper Narrative
  • Featured Article: Sliding Into Winter

Editor’s Note

Thank you to everyone who donated during Give to the Max Day last Thursday! WCHS relies on your support to help with everything from running our free programs throughout the year to performing artifact preservation to even just simply keeping the lights on!

And if you were out of town or just missed Give to the Max Day and would still like make a donation, our Donation Page is live 365 days a year!

Again, thank you to all our supporters! And speaking of those free programs…

Even though the museums are closed for the season, we do still have one more event on the 2014 calendar. Head down to our News section to learn a little bit about our Annual Holiday Event at the Warden’s House.

You definitely won’t want to miss today’s rather artistic Photo of the Week.

Read an actual mystery story straight from the pages of the Stillwater Messenger in this issue’s Old News.

And finally…I can’t close out today without a quick comment on the weather. My opinion on the matter can be summed up simply as, “Boo! Nobody likes snow and it’s too cold! Boooo!”

Even though I may be less than enthusiastic about the forecast, there are probably a handful of you out there saying, “Now wait a minute! The snow is so pretty and what about skiing, ice skating, and snowboarding?” First off – you people are crazy. But, you’re not alone in your bizarre mindset.

Check out the Featured Article and learn just how seriously Stillwater took tobogganing in the 1880s…you’ll also learn about an element of women’s winter apparel that was viewed as surprisingly alluring.

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 

Warden’s House Holiday Event

Join us for a Christmas tradition!

On Saturday, December 13th, the Washington County Historical Society invites the public to our Annual Holiday Event at the Warden’s House Museum, which runs from Noon – 4:00 PM.

Avoid the aggressive department store crowds and instead have a truly unique holiday shopping experience while enjoying Caribou Coffee, meeting local authors, and listening to live holiday songs provided by local student musicians at our book sale. Not to mention that some of our most popular titles will be up to 50% off their normal price!

Our books and DVDs cover a wide variety topics such the histories of various Washington County communities, notable historical figures from the area, Minnesotans in the Civil War, and of course, the Old Stillwater Prison and the infamous Younger Brothers.

This year’s featured authors Robert and Nancy Goodman (In Their Own Words, The Last Rafter, and more), Nicole Helget (Stillwater), Ken Martens (The Perilous St. Croix River Valley Frontier), and Brent Peterson (Stillwater: The Next Generation) will be on hand to chat about their newest works and sign copies of their books. This is the perfect personalized gift for the lover of history in your life!

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

Please contact Sean Pallas at 651-439-5956 or for more information on this event or to arrange a tour of the museum.


Photo of the Week

First Post Office in Forest Lake – Warden’s House Museum, Stillwater – Photograph by Marilyn Rau

I think a few months ago, I actually already used a picture of this same desk as the Photo of the Week. But the boring picture I took with my iPhone can’t really compare to this. I’m in the musuem almost every day and at this point, I’m afraid that at times I can take our collection a bit for granted.

Recently, a local photography club visited the museum and captured some amazing and artistic images (including the above photograph). These photographers have allowed me an opportunity to re-visit and remind myself that the artifacts here at WCHS truly are gorgeous and unique.

Marilyn Rau has given me permission to share this wonderful image and a few others that you can expect to see sprinkled throughout our online content over the coming weeks. So a huge thank you to Marilyn and if you’d be interested in learning more about her photography – you can send her an email at:

The desk itself did in fact serve as the first official post office in Forest Lake. With the coming of the railroad in 1868, Forest Lake became established as a U.S. Post Office and Captain Michael Marsh, owner of the Marsh Hotel, served as the first postmaster. The desk was located in Marsh’s hotel that consisted of six rooms, a kitchen, dining room and sitting room. In addition, he also had a store to supply grocery items for the few early settlers, thus eliminating trips to Wyoming. Various ink stains are still visible on the surface of the desk even today.

Full Image

Old News

A Newspaper Narrative

During the November 4th issue of the Historical Messenger, I discussed how historians have to be able glean information from in-between the written lines of historical documentation. The example I used was that although nowhere in the newspaper specifically discussed the weather, by reading reports of a man slipping while shoveling snow and lumber mills closing due to ice on the river – you would be able to imply that the St. Croix Valley was having a pretty cold transition from fall to winter.

Reading between the lines is not necessary in today’s Old News.

On the same page of the above mentioned reports, a story of two missing young men began on November 4th, 1905 and would appear in the Stillwater Messenger as the investigation developed over the next four weeks.

The first story that appeared November 4th reported that, 20 year old Allan Fagley and 19 year old Philip Dodson had used a “frail” “canvas boat” to venture out onto Lake Elmo to hunt ducks. During the night of October 28th, a “farmer living on the other side of the lake” heard “shots and cries for help”. By the next day, the locally famous dead body recoverer John Jeremy had begun searching for the missing youths.

By November 11th, there had been little progress made in the investigation. Fagley and Dodson were still missing and presumed drowned. Their concerned and desperate parents had resorted to throwing dynamite in the lake in attempts to dislodge their bodies. The editor of the Stillwater Messenger lamented the use of this method, “because it has killed tons of fish and will make that favorite resort barren of fish life for a good many years to come.”

Finally a clue surfaced and was reported on 109 years ago today.

Held for a Reward – Stillwater Messenger – November 18, 1905

A foolish story has gained credence that the bodies of Allan Fagley and Philip Dodson, who were drowned while hunting at Lake Elmo, have been recovered and secreted in hopes that a larger reward will be offered for them.

Evidence, it is said, pointing to this theory is in the hands of the St. Paul police.

A shovel, bearing marks of little use and of recent purchase, was found by the searchers for the bodies near the shore of the lake.

Marks on the shovel, of it’s make, have given the authorities some grounds upon which to work and an effort is now being made to locate the store in which it was purchased.

Country Searched

The Country around Lake Elmo has been carefully gone over in hopes that some evidence leading to the solution of the hiding theory might be found.

One of the opinions of the detectives who have worked some on the case is that the bodies were buried in the lake near the shore in order that all evidences of their whereabouts would be covered up.

H.W. Fagley, father of Allen Fagley, says that he does not believe the bodies have been hidden, but admitted that a shovel which had been used very little had been found in the lake.

The theory that the boys met with foul play and that the upturned boat was only a blind to cover up the deed is given little credence by Mr. Fagley.

But this mysterious shovel was nothing more than a red herring. The pair had not been murdered, nor were their bodies being held for ransom.

On November 28th, the Stillwater Messenger confirmed a lack of foul play in the pair’s deaths. John Jeremy, “using a dragging rig, freely interspersed with heavy iron hooks, discovered the body of Philip Dodson, on Wednesday near the spot that Allan Fagley was found in the day before.” Their families were finally able to have proper funerals for the unfortunate friends.

Featured Article

Sliding Into Winter

by Brent Peterson

Stillwater has always been a great city for sledding. The many hills in town make for quite an assortment of options for the kids. Back in 1886, the first year of the St. Paul Winter Carnival and the ever-popular toboggan slides; Stillwater built its own toboggan slide, which was enjoyed by most of the city during the winter months.

In the January 20, 1886 Stillwater Gazette, Stillwater City Alderman Kilty asked that a hill be designated for a toboggan slide in Stillwater. He stated that “members of the [toboggan] club had requested me to ask that south second street be set apart for the purpose of a splendid slide that could be cheaply made by making use of the stairs, already in existence, to reach the top after a slide.” The matter was referred to Chief of Police Matt Shortall and David Bronson with the power to act accordingly.

The proposed toboggan slide was first to be located on South Second Street, on the eastside of the steps. It would be about 100 feet long, with an angle of 45 degrees. With those dimensions the toboggan slide would give a person a slide of nearly 500 feet, going nearly to Chestnut Street.

The slide eventually was placed on South Sixth Street. It was 800 feet long and 15,000 feet of lumber was used in its construction.

While the toboggan slide was under construction, there were two toboggan clubs formed in Stillwater. The first, led by photographer Lawrence Wiklund and Dr. Donald, was called the Stillwater Toboggan Club and the other was called the

Netaska Toboggan Club. The Netaska club also had a ladies club associated with it.

Toboggans could be purchased for $4 from the Northwestern Manufacturing and Car Company. There were also special toboggan suits for men and women. The suits for the ladies caught the eye of many men in town and the paper commented that, “a toboggan suit has a surprising effect on a young lady’s appearance. If some of them could wear their suits all the time there would be more weddings and less old maids as well as bachelors.”

The grand opening of Stillwater’s toboggan slide took place on Saturday night, January 30th. Many people turned out, and Mr. and Mrs. David Bronson, whose house was located across from the slide, illuminated their residence with Chinese lanterns in honor of the formal opening of the slide.

It was estimated that a speed of 60 mph was reached for the tobogganers as they went down the slide. There was a curve in the slide in which several sledders could not handle, and they continued “straight ahead bounding into the air like a fiery steed.”

The Stillwater Toboggan slide attracted many people. There were even out of town groups that came in just to use the slide. With all of that activity, there were bound to be accidents, and in one report, a “tobogganer lost part of his ear while going down caused by the thing [his toboggan] tipping over.”

The Gazette kept its readers informed on what was going on at the slide. On February 26th, the paper reported: “Tobogganing is still continued on the Stillwater slide to some extent, no accidents have been reported recently.” On March 9th, the paper said that the “toboggan slide still attracts a fair sized crowd nightly.”

As spring began to approach, and Mother Nature warmed the air and melted the snow, the toboggan season came to a slushy end. On March 25, 1886, the paper reported that the “toboggan slide is now a sweet memory of the past.”


Upcoming Events

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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

Mission Statement

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

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