ANCIENT POLK COUNTY HISTORY

Early History of County telling of the First Settlements, the first Settlers, Roads, Schools, Etc., Taken From Files of the Polk County Press.

Polk County in 1876

          Polk County is located on the western boundary of the state, on the St. Croix River. It contains 27 [24] townships of land, with an area of about 700,000 acres; 200,000 acres of this land is improved (1876). This land is general high and rolling in the western portion, near the river, but in the central and eastern part is level. Numerous large meadows abound, furnishing immense crops of wild grass. Some fine prairie land is to be found in the western portion. Pine, oak, birch, and maple timber is to be found in large quantities.

The improved land is in a good state of cultivation, the staple crops being wheat, barley, rye, Indian corn, and potatoes. Stock raising is becoming of considerable importance. Small fruits are raised in large quantities. The seasons are more favorable to the raising of corn and other smaller crops than they were at the first settlement of the country.

The first agricultural society was formed in 1860. Its fairs were successful and did much to awaken an interest among the farmers.

The principal exports are wood, lumber, wheat, lime, furs, and mineral water. All the small grain raised finds a ready market at home among the lumbermen, either in the natural or manufactured state. The manufacturing interests are principally of lumber and water power is used extensively. The products find a ready market in towns along the Mississippi River.

Early History 

          The Chippewa Indians originally occupied this country, and were removed to Lac Court Oreillas and BadRiver reservations in 1852, and since that time no organized bands have permanently lived in the country. Many Indians have been in the county temporarily, and are yet to be seen here. Winn was once a prominent chief of a band in the northern part of the county, who, at one time in a drunken brawl, endeavored to kill some whites, when he was arrested and taken to Prairie du Chein for safe keeping.

The first white men who visited this county were French Jesuits, missionaries among the Indians. This was as early as 1760 to 1765. Prominent among the traders who were here as early 12 1845 to 1850 were M.M. Samuel at BalsamLake and St. Croix Falls; J.D. Ludden at Round Lake; and Anson Northrup at St. Croix Falls, in 1843, one-fourth of a mile east of the present village on the NE quarter NW, Section 30, town 34, range 18.

The first permanent settlement was made at St. CroixFalls, July 30, 1837, by Franklin Steele, George W. Fitch, Col. Stambault, Emerson Maginnis and three others, who made a claim and “squatted” on the land where the present village now stands. This was eight years before the land was surveyed by the Unites States Government. In 1838 a company known as the St. Louis company, composed of W.S. Hungerford, James Livingstone, Franklin Steele. Dr. George W. Fitch, James Libby, B.F. Titcomb, and W.S. Holcombe, living at St. Lewis and near Aton, Ill. was formed to carry on a general lumber manufacturing and trading business. This company built a dam, large saw mill, several stores and shops, about twenty dwellings, did a flourishing business for a few years and then failed. The property soon came into the possession of James Pennington, an experienced lumberman from Maine. Returning from a trip-east in 1847 he met Caleb Cushing on a steamer on Lake Superior. Mr. Cushing came to visit the falls of St. Croix, was delighted with the location, invested largely; formed a new company, with a cash capital of $60,000, and business commenced anew, many improvements were made and matters prospered for several years.

“Quailtown,” the local name for an Indian town two miles above the Falls, was a notoriously rough place. There were several hundred workmen there, but no families, and no women. Many anecdotes are now told of the frequent visits of the settlers to the Indian town; of the dancing with the dusky maidens; the social visits around the camp fires; and other means of enjoyment.

St. Croix Falls is located on what was the Indians’ and trappers’ trail from St. Paul and FortSnelling on the Mississippi. to La Pointe on Lake Superior. James Pennington afterwards built the Willow river mills on what is now North Hudson.

The scarcity of provisions in the spring of 1844 created what has been known as the “Starving Time,” at which time the trials of the Jamestown colonists in Virginia, in 1909-10, came near being re-enacted at St. CroixFalls. None died, but those who were able cut a road through the wilderness, fifty miles to FortSnelling, where they took shingles and traded them for condemned army pork; they also picked meat from the refuse and garbage that had been cast aside through  the winter. George W. Brownell, a Geological Surveyor of the government, passing through this vicinity at the time, gave the settlement all the provisions he had. Thus the starving pioneers lived for two months, when a steamer came from St. Louis loaded with provisions.

From 1844 to 1848 Capt. William Kent, H.N. Setzer, Smith Ellison, J.L. Taylor, Daniel Mears, John Mower, Col. William nobles, Martin Mower, William J. Vincent, Harvey Walker, William Mahoney, —- Perkins, William R. Marshall, Philip Jewell, William Hungerford, John Weymouth, Harrison Schultz, Joseph Bowron, Robert Kent, and Anson Northrup were among the principal and leading men who settled here.

Capt. William Kent was the founder of Osceola, first county treasurer, and has long been a prominent steamboatman on the St. and Mississippi rivers. H.n. Stetzer is now a prominent lawyer in Duluth. Daniel Mears came from Boston in 1848, as an agent of the larger mercantile house of Dexter, Harrington & co., was first located at St. Croix Falls, afterwards at Willow River Mills, was State Senator in 1858, and has been for many years a prominent lumberman and leading citizen. Col. William noble surveyed the northern route to California. William R. Marshall afterwards became governor anda prominent citizen of the state of Minnesota. Joseph Bowron founded the town of Bowron’s Mills on Willow river and was in the State Senate one term. William J. Vincent held many important civil offices, and was county clerk for seven years. Robert Kent was county judge for ten years.

Settlers came in slowly in 1866 and 1867. the first store was built at St. Croix Falls, also the first blacksmith shop, first frame house, first hotel or boarding house for the mills, known as “Planters house,” and “Soap Grease Exchange;” these were all built by the St. Louis Lumber Co. the first grist mill was built at Osceola by the Kent Borthres, in 1844, and the first public hotel building, a large three story structure by Caleb Cushing’s company, at St. Croix Falls, the same year. The first bridge was built across the St. Croix river, between St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin, and Taylors Falls, Minnesota in 1856.