St. Croix’s History
“Where are the Falls?,” is the question most often asked by visitors. The falls are still there, hidden under the 60-foot impoundment of the century-old hydropower dam on the St. Croix River.
It was the potential power of the falls, not the spectacular beauty of the region, that drew the first settlers here in 1838 after the Native Americans ceded this land to the U.S. government. St. Croix Falls is the oldest community in this valley.
In the late 1700s, the bloody “Battle of St. Croix Falls” drove off the Sioux and Fox tribes and established this as Chippewa territory. This “Place by a Waterfall” as it was called by the Native Americans had long been their gathering place, where traders, trappers, explorers and missionaries came to meet with them.
The St. Croix Falls Lumber Company established this community to build a sawmill at the falls. Loggers were already cutting down the vast pine forest to the north, and it was predicted that this place was to become an industrial center, possibly even the capital city of a new state.
But the great expectations of the lumbering enterprise were wiped out by the force of the power it had set out to harness. The high springtime waters that carried the logs from the logging camps repeatedly wiped out the company’s dams and mills, and swept the logs on to the benefit of down river mills. Spectacular log jams in the narrow rocky dalles below the falls occurred regularly, attracting visitors to watch the frantic, dangerous efforts to loosen the massive jumble.
Still, the village prospered as people harnessed the power of the many springs that flow from the bluffs, and a flour mill and grist mill, woodworking shop, and even a ginseng washing plant flourished. Tote roads to the pineries carried supplies from the town, and men earned good wages as loggers.
As the pine forests were depleted, another development, the construction of the hydropower plant in the early 1900s, occupied the people. Again, the prospect of a great industrial center at the falls burned bright, but instead the electricity generated here was carried off to Minneapolis.
St. Croix Falls Historical Society & Chamber Office today, we appreciate having been spared industrial growth that would have despoiled the magnificent beauty of this “place by a waterfall.” The St. Croix Falls Historical Society is dedicated to keeping alive the rich history of the community.
On the last day of the last century, through generous donations, the society was able to purchase one of the most historic little buildings on the main street, and has restored it to its 1882 charm.
It serves as headquarters of the society, as well as the Chamber of Commerce office. Visitors are invited to view displays of interesting old photographs and artifacts.