St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Wolf Creek Store History

Wolf Creek Bar 1940s?

Wolf Creek Mill Pond

Wolf Creek Bar

Last Wolf Creek Mill 

Wolf Creek Methodist Church 1890-1958

Birmingham Store 1940 or so when rented by Eugene, Nettie and Alberta Hanson.  The house to the right
of the store is still standing and was the living quarters for the store and post office.  
Eight miles up the St Croix River from St. Croix Falls is the tiny settlement of Wolf Creek.  It is near the mouth of where the creek enters the St. Croix River.  For centuries, it has been a stopping place on the St. Croix River.

It is at the head of 6 miles of rapids that before the 1907 power dam in St. Croix Falls made navigation through this stretch treacherous by canoe and bateau.  Supplies coming up river were off  loaded at St. Croix or Taylors Falls (MN and WI had different names for the area that was composed of a set of steep rapids and short falls).   They were tranported north by road along either side of the river until they reached near the mouth of Wolf Creek where the river again was navigable.

In the winter of 1831-32, Joseph Renshaw Brown built an Indian trading post in this area.  Initially, it appears that it was located on the MN bank, although later trading posts were located on the east bank of the river, the site of Wolf Creek.

Wolf Creek was the stopping place after a walk or oxen trip up river, where 8 miles through the heavily wooded trails was slow and often needed delays to repair washed out sections where rains created new cuts in the road from the steep banks along the WI road.

The first trading post at Wolf Creek was burned in 1832 by the Indian agent, Henry Schoolcraft who didn't like the rumors that J. R. Brown was selling spirituous liquors to the local Indians.  He also didn't like it that Brown had gotten a license from one of Schoolcraft's subordinates.  Schoolcraft would have never allowed this location as it was on the boundary of Dakota and Ojibwe disputed territory, and it brought members of both tribes together, which often led to fights.  Just down river at the Lions Club park, one of the bigger battles is remembered by the historical marker there.

Well, Wolf Creek remained a small settlement with a power dam on the creek built by Samuel Deneen in about 1855, a school started then, the trading post, and other support for local farmers, settlers just coming into the area along with loggers who had been around since the 1837 treaty opened the lands to logging.

Massive log drives came down the St. Croix river every spring sending logs at first to a mill at  St Croix Falls, Marine on the St. Croix, and Franconia. One early spring flood flushed the logs through these local mills so they kept going on down until they got to some stillwater farther down river.  The loggers decided to put sawmills there, near Joseph R Brown's brand new log county courthouse, government offices, hotel and home on the west bank of the north edge of the stillwater (which of course became the city of Stillwater).

Well, Wolf Creek remained small, and calm except for the continuous history liquor and the excesses that came from folks of all origins imbibing to excess.  The loggers spreed, the Native Americans, and even the local farmers could be found on a Saturday night overdoing the drinking.

In 1888 things changed for Wolf Creek.  Loggers, tired of huge log jams down river at the falls, began to build the huge wooden dam at the Nevers home along the St. Croix a mile or so downriver from Wolf Creek (which by then had tried on different names including Avondale, Eightmile and Wolf Creek Crossings).  The presence of two to three hundred builders in the area made the town boom.  Read Rosemarie Vezina Braatz history of Nevers Dam

Several stores and new businesses sprang up.  For one summer there was even a newspaper.  The boom lasted a decade or so but as the 1900s came, the inexhaustible supply of white pines up river were exhausted and by  1914 no more log drives came through.  Nevers became a water regulating dam to hold back water until 3pm when it was released to reach the electric generating plant at St Croix Falls in time for the folks coming home from work to turn on their electric lights all the way to the Twin Cities.

Wolf Creek returned to slumber.  With the depression, the mill was torn down, stores closed and the core of a church, school. bar, store and post office remained.  The main last store was called the "Birmingham Store" from James and Alice Birmingham who ran it (she was the post mistress) from 1911 until 1940, (James died in 1939).  My grandparents and mother (Eugene, Nettie and Alberta Hanson) rented the store for three years.

Fred (Newell) Fisk store in Wolf Creek 1890s?

Alice Birmingham on the steps of her house next to the
Birmingham Store in Wolf Creek

This week, the Polk County Historical Society received an email from Sherry, the daughter of James and Alice Birmingham, wanting to find out about their parents and Wolf Creek.  So, I am digging out the materials from the Cushing Museum and my own records to see what we can find.
I hope to interview some of the local old timers Sunday at the Sterling Old Settlers picnic, noon potluck at the Cushing Community center, to see if they remember anything.
Still want to know more about Wolf Creek?
try these free online books

Wolf Creek School History

Stories of the St. Croix River Road