(Editor’s Note: Last week’s article said it was written by Ann Kirn. Kirn emailed the article. Anderson actually wrote the story)
The writer Wendell Berry has said that homemaking is the unfinished business of humanity. Those who came to establish a sawmill enterprise and forge a settled community along the St. Croix River shared in common with others what the Scandinavians have come to call a holistic understanding of landskap, that is, “a lived territory.” This is the development of a strong sense of the meaning of place (e.g., home, town, county, state, nation, folk) with its physical features (e.g., landscape, scenery, climate, flora, fauna). It is little wonder that residents of Marine, or elsewhere throughout the St. Croix valley, have always had such a strong attachment to the land and their way of life together.
A group of New Englanders established Marine Settlement in 1818 in an area of southern Illinois central to the industrial traffic patterns of wagon roads and the Mississippi River. There was a pressing need for lumber to fuel Midwestern development. Word had spread rapidly of the Indian treaties of 1837, and a dozen or so entrepreneurs gathered in Elizur Judd’s tavern in the early months of 1838 sketching plans for a lumber company that would profit from the vast virgin white pine stands of the St. Croix. Elizur’s three sons—Albert, George, and Lewis—along with David Hone (New York), Orange Walker and brothers Asa and James Parker (all from Vermont) were among the dreamers and planners. Chosen to carry out the exploratory trip and make a claim, Hone and Lewis Judd boarded the steamer Ariel for Fort Snelling that September. From the head of Lake St. Croix (just north of the later settlement of Stillwater), they poled a flatboat up to the Falls and beyond to the mouth of the Kettle River. Along the way, they observed above the Dalles the then futile efforts of Franklin Steele and a ragtag group of laborers to get a sawmill up and running. Floating back downriver, on the west bank they found the perfect spot for them, where the cascading Fall River (so named by the Ojibwe) flowed into the St. Croix, tucked into a broad natural ravine. Here they “staked” their claim and returned home to Illinois to finalize plans with investors and those who would venture back with them in the spring.
The quest for profit breeds competition and, in this case, sheer opportunism. In the meantime, while the Marine Lumber Company was being formed in Illinois, the claim was jumped by three of Steele’s workers. They followed the ice-covered river down to the spot in December, cleared four acres, and built a log cabin. When the eight partners, along with Hone’s wife, returned in late April of 1839 on the Fayette and found the squatters waiting for them when they arrived on May 13th, being potential squatters themselves they had no choice but to cough up $300 to get back their claim. Work on the sawmill began immediately. Orange Walker was the boss, and three months later on August 24, the first log was cut by the muley saw, and commercial industry in Minnesota was born. By then a 28’ by 40’ log boarding house had been constructed for the company, Mary Ann Henry Hone fully in charge of all things culinary, including small vegetable gardens, to accommodate the expanding ranks of workers and would-be settlers.
Surely the new arrivals in Marine Mills had some inkling of the longstanding tensions between the Dakota, the Ojibwe, and the U.S. government, just that summer having reached another outbreak of tragic violence. During the third week of June, 900 Ojibwe from Crow Wing, Leech Lake, and the St. Croix converged on the fur post in Mendota to protest the change of annuity payments from the Falls at St. Croix to the Indian agency at La Pointe on Madeline Island in Lake Superior—a real hardship of distance and travel. Eight hundred Dakota were also camped at Fort Snelling to receive money according to the 1837 treaty. All seemed to go well between them with dancing, feasts, and peace pipes until July 2nd when an Ojibwe killed and scalped a Dakota hunter at Bde Maka Ska (Lake Calhoun). Two war parties were formed to pursue the Ojibwe up the Rum and St. Croix rivers. Only a day later, a group of Ojibwe was ambushed in a ravine just north of Stillwater, the location of a bloody massacre still known as “Battle Hollow.” Indian agent Taliaferro despaired at “the lamentable state of things on the St. Croix.”
In James Taylor Dunn’s 150th anniversary volume, Marine on St. Croix: 150 Years of Village Life, he described the town between 1839 and 1895 as a “Lumber Village.” Subsequent sections explore successive changes into a “Summer Haven,” and then to the present as “Metro-Marine.” Its first half-century was shaped by the timber industry, and settlers continued to arrive fashioning other commercial enterprises: blacksmith and carpenter shops, general merchandise and groceries, religious services by visiting Methodists, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists, hotels and eateries, and a post office. The first frame home was constructed by the lumber company in 1848 (still lived in), followed the next year by the first schoolhouse. By 1850, Marine had a dozen buildings and, according to the Minnesota territorial House Journal, the village had grown in a decade to 187 residents—156 males and 31 females—a pioneer mill town, indeed.
In the fall of 1850, the celebrated Swedish author and women’s rights activist, Fredrika Bremer, visited the Marine-Scandia area and predicted, “What a glorious new Scandinavia might not Minnesota become!” At precisely that moment the first of a tide of Swedish immigrants began inhabiting northern Washington, Chisago, and Isanti counties. Oscar Roos, Carl Fernstrom, and August Sandahl arrived in October and built a log cabin on Hay Lake, a few miles west of Marine. They stayed the winter and sold to the Daniel Nilson and Magnus Englund families; a monument has commemorated the spot for many decades. The story of this mass migration, melding a Scandinavian character into the old New England fabric in the village of Marine, is a fuller story than can be told here. If the impulse to homemaking is universal, it is important then to remember that the disruption and dislocation of the native peoples’ ancient homeland gave place to the unbridled dreams and hopes of the newly arrived.
Phil Anderson is an emeritus professor of history at North Park University in Chicago. Since 1989, he has been president of the Swedish-American Historical Society in Chicago. Anderson lives in Marine on St. Croix.