Although St. Croix county contains several cities and many flourishing villages, it is important principally as an agricultural locality, and its rich acres of dark clayey loam so well adapted to the raising of grass, grain and root crops, and its rolling surface admirably suited to the pasturage of stock have contributed not a little to the general prosperity of the state. It is one of the wealthiest agricultural counties of the Northwest, and poverty within its borders is almost unknown. The villages which were originally the sites of sawmills are now the shipping points for grain, vegetables, stock, fruit and dairy products, and a larger part of even the smallest hamlets have grain elevators, flouring mills, creameries and cheese factories. Although the lumber boom is now over and passed, the larger settlements all have lumber yards, and in several of the cities the milling of lumber still constitutes an important industry. The greater part of the county is now developed, few large tracts of wild or wood land remaining. Well kept roads bring the farms seemingly nearer to the villages, and the railroads which cross the county here and there place even the remotest places in close connection with the cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis on one side and Superior and Duluth on the other. Telephone lines also form a network of communication throughout the county, and aside from the main lines many local lines have been established for the use of various neighborhoods. The schools rank high, and this, together with the excellent climate, makes the county an ideal place for bringing up the sturdy children. Churches point their steeple upward from every hamlet, and meeting halls where lectures and entertainments are given in the winter time show that the higher life of the community has not been forgotten.
The county as at present constituted contains twenty-one townshipsBaldwin, organized in 1872; Cady, organized in 1870; Cylon, organized in 1859; Eau Galle, organized 1858; Emerald, Organized in 1861; Erin, organized in 1858; Forest, organized in 1881; Glenwood, organized in 1885; Hudson, organized in 1849; Hammond, organized in 1856; Kinnickinnic, organized in 1857; Pleasant Valley, organized in 1851; Rush River, organized in 1851; Richmond, organized in 1857; Springfield, organized in 1860; Somerset, organized in 1856; Stanton, organized in 1870; Troy, organized in 1851, and Warren organized in 1860. These townships form a parallelogram with slight irregularities on the east and west. Somerset, St. Joseph, Hudson and Troy lie along Lake St. Croix, rising for the most part in gentle, rounded bluffs from the water and rolling to the westward in rich farm land. Somerset, Star Prairie, Stanton, Cylon and Forest border on Polk county at the north; Forest, Glenwood, Springfield and Cady, along Dunn county on the east, and Cady, Eau Galle, Rush River, Pleasant Valley, Kinnickinnic and Troy along Pierce county on the south, while Hammond, Erin, Emerald, Warren, Richmond and Baldwin form the center tiers. The eastern portions are comparatively level and were originally heavily wooded, forming some years ago a portion of the territory then known as the "Big Woods." The early settlers for the most part settled in these woods and cleared and broke the land.
Nature has afforded excellent drainage and watering facilities and the soil is kept in the best condition the year around without the aid of artificial irrigation. The larger rivers are the St. Croix and its tributaries, Apple, Willow and Kinnickinnic on the east and Rush river on the west. Of these tributaries Apple River is the largest and in the early days was the scene of extensive logging operations. It rises in Polk County, where it is supplied by numerous lakes; enters St. Croix County and passes diagonally across the northwestern corner and empties into St. Croix Lake, above Stillwater. This river passes through a deep gorge in the limestone rock a few miles above its mouth, falling in its passage over several ledges of rock, producing falls far famed for their wilderness and grandeur. Kinnickinnic River, in the southern part of the county, is also noted for its beautiful scenery and for its waterfalls. It passes from St. Croix County into Pierce county and then uniting with its southern branch flows into Lake St. Croix. Rush River rises in Eau Galle and turns, thence flowing into Lake Pepin. These streams are unfailing, owing to their supplies from numerous springs and small lakes. Several small lakes in different parts of the county are well supplied with fish. The Bass, Twin, Bell, Perch and Cedar lakes are fine little bodies of water and furnish desirable resorts for the tourist.
While the soil is deep, the substratum of limestone crops out in many places, and has been quarried to a more or less degree for building purposes. One of the picture places of the county, aside from the never failing beauty and picturesqueness of Lake St. Croix and its surroundings, is a remarkable formation in the southern part of the county in the Kinnickinnic valley. This picturesque spot is known as the Monument and consists of a ledge of pure white sandstone rock, nearly circular and rising to a height of about sixty feet. It stands on a natural elevation and thus forms a very conspicuous object. The base is forty or fifty feet wide and the summit is turret shaped, about fifteen feet wide. The part upon which the turret rests is dome shaped, being worn into deep furrows by the rains of many ages. Years ago a solitary tree grew upon the summit, but after a brave fight succumbed to the elements. The Monument itself is being gradually worn away by the action of wind and rain and weather.
Although there are in the county many new settlers who have been attracted by the wealth of the valley and who have even after short residence here already become loyal sons of the county, the residents of the county are for the most part ones whose fathers and grandfathers settled here in the early days, a few of the old pioneers themselves still remaining to tell the story of the hardships endured in paving the way for the present prosperity. The sons of the county are out in the world, making a success of nearly every vocation in life, some of them having attained world-wide fame, but for the most part there have always been one or more sons who have remained upon the old farms with their parents and taken possession of them upon the latters death, and in the majority of cases the farms are still owned by the descendants of those who first pre-empted the land or bought it of the government. The people are a sturdy, honest and hard working race, ones who know what hardships are and who because of this knowledge all the more appreciate the benefits of modern conveniences. The people believe in education and the farmers of the county are every day making sacrifices that their children may be kept in school and thus acquire a good education. In nationality the Americans from the east, the Irish, the Norwegians, Swedes, Hollanders, Danes and Germans predominate. There is also a sprinkling of English and French with a few Swiss.
The early history of St. Croix county is identical with the history of the St. Croix valley. For centuries the region was a wilderness of unbroken solitude save for the crashing of some old monarch of the forest as it fell to the ground, the ripple of the brooks, the roar of the waterfalls, the sweep of the cyclone or the war-whoop of the Indians. While the sturdy Puritans, the gay cavaliers, the grave Quakers, the devout Catholics, the rigorous Wesleyans and the commercial Hollanders were peopling the Atlantic coast, the rich land of the St. Croix valley lay unbroken, and untraversed by white men save for an occasional French explorer or trader or a dark-robed Jesuit going from Indian camp to Indian camp preaching the gospel to which his life was devoted. In 1819 the valley was placed under the jurisdiction of Crawford County, Michigan, although at that time no limits were definitely defined, and little was known about the locality. There were no white inhabitants save Indian traders. In 1836 the territory of Wisconsin was organized, comprising a vast region west of the great lakes, including the present states of Wisconsin, Minnesota, a part of Michigan and much of Iowa. St. Croix valley, being included in this region, thus became a part of Wisconsin instead of Michigan. About this time, following treaties between the United States and the Indian tribes, settlement started and a few families located in the valley, for the most part lumbermen, as the agricultural possibilities of the valley were not then realized. The real organization of St. Croix county as a county dates from January 9, 1940, when Joseph R. Brown succeeded in getting the measure through the legislature, of which he was a member, sitting as a delegate from the northern part of Crawford county. It is with this organization that the real history of the St. Croix Valley starts.
The act was to take effect August 1 of the same year, and designated the borders of the vast territory which was to be included within the county limits. The county as designated embraced a part of Pepin, Dunn and Chippewa counties, and Bayfield, Douglas, Burnett, Barron, Polk and Pierce counties, as well as a part of Minnesota, and formed the whole western boundary of the territory, from what was then called Porcupine river, on Lake Pepin, on a line running west, and on the north to Montreal river, and from Montreal river west into Minnesota.
On the first Monday in August 1840, an election was authorized. A vote was to determine the location of the county seat. Two places struggled for the distinction"Prescotts Claim," at the lower end of Lake St. Croix, and "Browns Warehouse," at the upper end of the lake, the present site of Stillwater. The polls were opened at two pointsthe Falls of Chaumakan, on the St. Croix, and at La Pointe. Some idea of the extent of the population at that time, or the interest manifested in the election, may be realized by remembering that the whole number of votes polled was fifty-eight, forty-five being for Browns Warehouse and thirteen for Prescotts Claim. The returns were made to the clerk of the county commissioners of Crawford county at Prairie du Chien. Hazen Mooers, Samuel Burkleo and Calvin A. Tuttle were chosen commissioners. The tract of land described in J. R. Browns claim was sold to him by the commissioners for $800 cash, reserving one-half acre for county purposes. Arrangements were also made with Mr. Brown to furnish suitable buildings for the use of the county for four years. At this election the county officers chosen were Joseph R. Brown, treasurer; register of deeds and surveyor, Orange Walker; Joseph Haskell and Philander Prescott, assessors; Phineas Lawrence, collector, and J. S. Norris, coroner. C. J. learned, of Crawford County, certified to the election. In April 1844, an act was approved making the county a probate district and appointing Philip Aldrich judge. In 1845 the county was reduced in size by creating the county of La Pointe, leaving it with 11,000 square miles and the Mississippi as the western boundary. The population was then estimated at 1,500one person in seven and one-third square miles.
A settler who came up the river about this time thus describes St. Croix county as it was when he came here. "The shores were as yet almost without inhabitants. On the east bank below the mouth of the Willow River, where Hudson is now situated, were three log houses owned by Peter Bouchea, Joseph Manesse and Louis Massey. On the high hill west nearly opposite the Willow River stood the farmhouse of Elam Greeley. Paul Carli had a home at the mouth of the Bolles creek, on the west side of the lake; there were a few French residents also on the west side, and on the same side within view of what is now Stillwater stood the residence of John Allen. With the exception of these few dwellings the shores of the lake were untouched by the hand of man and were spread before us in all their primitive beauty. There were gently rounded hills, sloping to the waters edge and crowned with groves of shrubby oak, amidst which, especially at the outlet of the streams into the lake, the darker pines stood out in bold relief."
When in 1846 Congress passed an act permitting the territory of Wisconsin to become a state on condition that people would adopt a constitution and accept certain boundary lines, there was considerable opposition in the St. Croix valley to the suggestion that the St. Croix and not the Mississippi should be the western boundary for the upper part of the state. And in the constitutional convention of 1847 a vigorous effort was made to have this line changed. The delegate from St. Croix county was William Hocombe, and he was chairman of the committee to consider this question. In his report it was urged that the line should be middle of the Mississippi. This line was not accepted by Congress, but in 1848 Wisconsin with her present state borders was organized. The boundary on the west was formed by a line running directly south from the rapids of the St. Louis river to the main branch of the St. Croix River, thence down the main channel of the stream to the Mississippi. Previous to this, in 1846, the territorial legislature had added to the election precincts already established at Gray Cloud, mouth of the St. Croix, Maine Mills, falls of the St. Croix and Pokegama two more St. Paul and Stillwater, the latter being designated as the county seat, in accordance with the vote of 1840, which has located the county seat as "Browns Warehouse," which later became Stillwater. In 1847 the county was endowed with judicial functions and all the rights of other counties. W. H. Crosby once stated that he voted in the territory and state of Wisconsin and the territory and state of Minnesota, at the same place and in the same box, all within a few years, his residence being at Stillwater.
It was thus be seen that the locating of the boundary line in the channel of St. Croix river and lake left St. Croix county without a county seat and destroyed her organization. It thus became necessary for the county to have a new county seat, which requirement was met by the legislature in an act approved June 8, 1848, which located it at the mouth of the Willow river on sections 4 and 5. In August 1848, the act was amended by locating it on section 24, the present site of Hudson, requiring that the courts be held in some house in that section until special buildings should be erected.
That same year the last court was held at Stillwater, as the county seat of St. Croix County. Judge Aaron Goodrich presided. Harvey Wilson was clerk; H. M. Mitchell, United States district attorney; H. L. Moss, attorney for the county, and John Morgan, sheriff. In August of the same year a special election was held to elect officers for the new county. The first board of county commissioners met at the home of Philip Aldrich on September 9, 1848, commissioners present, Ammah Andrews and W. H. Morse. Ammah Andrews was appointed chairman of the board, W. R. Anderson clerk. On motion Philip Aldrich was appointed treasurer of the county. It was voted to establish a new voting precinct. All that part of the county lying south of a line running east of the mouth of the Kinnickinnic to the east line of the county was formed into a new election precinct, entitled the mouth of the St. Croix precinct, thus forming four voting precincts in the county, namely: Kinnickinnic river, Willow river, Osceola and Falls of the St. Croix. It was voted at the same meeting that the scroll of the pen should denote the seal of the county. At a meeting of the county commissioners called at the house of Philip Aldrich, October 2, 1848, Harmon Crandall in the chair, on motion, Moses Perrin was appointed collector for St. Croix County. At the same meeting it was voted that the retailers of liquors shall pay for license $20 and not be allowed to retail less than one quart; it was also voted that the rate of taxation should be seven mills on the dollar; also voted by the board to accept and locate a certain lot of land donated by Philip Aldrich and designated on the plot of the town of Buena Vistaafterward known as Hudsonsurveyed and platted by H. Wilson for the purpose of erecting county buildings thereon.
Philip Aldrich was appointed commissioner in 1848 to locate the state school lands in St. Croix County, at that time including Polk and Pierce Counties. It is said that Dr. Aldrich would climb to the summits of the highest mountains and casting his eyes east, west, north and south would proclaim such and such numbers or sections as school lands. Where all were so arable and fertile there was no use in discriminating.
In the early times, with Prairie du Chien as the nearest seat of justice, and only a single magistrate, with a limited jurisdiction, it is easy to believe that justice was often dispensed with in a most remarkable way. At one time a man made an assault upon another and beat him to a jelly, as the witnesses testified. This was up the river some seventy-five miles. The man was arrested and the complaining witness came down with a party of his friends. They procured five gallons of whisky, and went down to Cottage Grove to try the case before Esquire J. S. Norris. The court was duly opened, a jury of six men empaneled, and, about the time the jug was empty, a verdict was found fining the man $300 and costs, or, in default, to go to jail at Prairie du Chien. The prisoner had no money, and, as it would cost the county at least $100 to get him down there, the finding was finally changed to placing the man under bonds to keep the peace for one year in the penal sum of $300, and the complaining witness and the justice jointly went on the bond! Thus patriotically saving the county the expense of further proceedings.
In the year 1849, and for several years, Hudson seemed destined to outstrip St. Paul as a metropolis of the Northwest, on account of the obstruction of the navigation of the Mississippi at "Pigs Eye" Bar. Minnesota was organized as a Territory in March, 1849, and the village of Hudson, being on the Wisconsin side of the river, the residence of the Governor was established at St. Paul, and Hudson, with all its advantages of river communications, was comparatively lost sight of by men seeking homes in that region. A land office was established in Hudson in 1849, F. P. Catlin, register, M. S. Gibson, receiver, John O. Henning was afterward receiver and Dr. Otis Hoyt, register. In 1861, the office was removed to the Falls of St. Croix. There were twenty tax-payers in 1849, owning property valued at $4,949, and eighteen voters only could be mustered. The assessment roll a few years later was, 1852, $25,513; 1853, $32,238; 1855, $45,000; 1856, $140,000.