City of Stillwater: A Brief History

Tagged: Joseph Brown, Lumber town, Stillwater Convention, City of Stillwater, CIty History, Henry Sibley,

The beautiful town of Stillwater is located on the St. Croix river in the St. Croix River Valley and is known as the Birthplace of Minnesota.  The early days of Stillwater were uncertain and uneasy as the land was fought over for many years. The coveted land transitioned from being part of Wisconsin territory to being included in Washington county in 1938. All the while, lumbering interests drew many to the area and white settlers took up residence in Stillwater. One former soldier, Indian trader, Justice of the Peace and promoter, Joseph Renshaw Brown had been in the area since 1820. He had set up a store and farm at Grey Cloud Island and kept a warehouse at the head of Lake St. Croix to supply upriver fur trading operations. This warehouse, which was located where North Stillwater stands today, grew into a small village that he called “Dacotah”.  In 1840 the first ferry was licensed to operate across the St. Croix.

In 1841, Joseph Brown’s family traveled from Chicago to join him in his new village. Homes were built along with a courthouse, jail, and eventually a sawmill. After much research and negotiations, Jacob Fisher, John McKusick, and Elam Greeley formed the Stillwater Lumber Company and Stillwater became a Lumber Town. McKusick is actually credited with naming Stillwater because of his fondness of Stillwater, Maine, which was close to his hometown, as well as the still waters of the St. Croix.

The mill was the first building erected in Stillwater, and when word of this new Lumber Town got out, more settlers flooded the area. The John Allen family and the Northrup family were among the first to settle in the area. Anson Northrup claimed everything south of the mill.  The building of the mill was followed by McKusick’s boarding house, company store, blacksmith shop, and eventually Northrup erected a hotel. Within a short time, he sold this hotel and built the Cosmopolitan Hotel closer to the mill. Reverend William T. Boutwell, having traveled the St. Croix River Valley to give sermons, eventually settled in Stillwater during this time and became one of the founders of the First Presbyterian Church. The mill was so prosperous that most of the settlers in Dacotah moved south to Stillwater. Stillwater became the new seat in St. Croix County in 1846, and continued to draw settlers to the growing area.  

Eventually, in 1848, Wisconsin became a state which left all of the lands west of the St. Croix and Mississippi rivers without government. So Joseph Brown gathered settlers in this region and formed the Stillwater Convention to draft a Memorial to send to congress suggesting that this new territory be created and called “Minnesota.”  Henry Sibley delivered this petition to congress and helped speed the process along, and the Minnesota Territory was officially organized in March of 1849. This, after all, is why Stillwater is referred to as the birthplace of Minnesota. On March 4, 1854, John McKusick was elected Mayor of Stillwater and Stillwater was incorporated as a city.

If you have any questions regarding the city of Stillwater, Minnesota, or if you would like to sell or buy a house in the area, please feel free to visit or call 1-800-909-1953.

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