St Croix Valley History


Located on a unique stretch of river, the charming sister cities of St. Croix Falls, WI and Taylors Falls, MN sit just north of Osceola, WI and are the Gateway to the Upper St. Croix River Valley. This Valley carved hundreds and thousands of years ago by glaciers, is a popular vacation destination featuring parks, ample recreation, delicious dining, unique shopping, and convenient lodging.

The St. Croix River Valley and its surrounding area were originally occupied by the semi-nomadic American Indian Tribes. These people lived mainly on wild rice, fish and game. As the valley moved into the eighteenth century, two primary tribes inhabited the area, the Ojibwe and the Dakota. Eventually, the Dakota were driven out of the area after the Battle of Kathio.

In the 1830s, immigrants began to settle on both sides of the Upper St Croix River Valley. A lush history of French fur trade, interchange with the native people of the St. Croix, and western expansion led to a period in history that began the logging and immigration eras that forever changed the St. Croix River Valley. Taylors Falls and St. Croix Falls became the northernmost site navigable by steamboat attracting entrepreneurs of all kinds.

The famous log jam of 1886 intrigued reporters and photos of the colossal log piles were published all over the world. These piles reached into the Dalles and backed up for nearly seven miles north on the river. This region soon became threatened by the mining industry prompting community leaders from both the Minnesota and Wisconsin sides to take action to preserve this exquisite valley. These leaders worked together to establish the first interstate park in the nation consisting of approximately 1,600 acres.

In 1912 the river’s great power was harnessed by the creation of a hydroelectric dam. This dam supplied power to the Minneapolis and St. Paul metropolitan areas and served as the entry to the upper St. Croix River. It has been protected since 1968 under the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act.

In addition to all this production, historic buildings are found in both communities. A neighborhood reminiscent of a New England-style village, known as the Angel Hill District, is one of the attractions on the Taylors Falls side of the Valley. This district is home to the 1855 Folsom House (a Minnesota State Historic Site and stately home of a lumber baron), the 1861 United Methodist Church (the second oldest operating church in Minnesota), and the oldest schoolhouse in Minnesota built in 1852. The Baker Land & Title Building (Queen Anne Style) and the Auditorium are located on the St. Croix Falls side and are both on the National Register of Historic Places. These historic places are nestled amongst many historic commercial and residential buildings.

The geology of the Upper St. Croix Valley is unique in itself as it hosts claim to a scenic gorge, exposed cliff rocks remnant of ancient flood basalts, potholes, moraine deposits, and the Wellness Esker. Explorers of all ages are sure to enjoy the great St. Croix River Valley. Visit the itinerary page today to plan your adventure.

What is Wannigan?

A Wannigan (from the Ojibwa word waanikaan) is a floating shack, similar to a houseboat. They were typically 25 to 30 feet in length, built low to the water for stability on swift-running rivers. The cabin was large enough to accommodate a cook, basic supplies and a sleeping area. Lumbermen used Wannigans on the St. Croix when it was still used as a logging route.

What is a Dalles?

The origin of the word Dalles comes from the French, plural of dalle gutter. It is simply the rapids in a river that run between the steep walls of a canyon or gorge.

Where are the Falls?

The falls were a string of pouring rapids that went upstream 4-5 miles starting at St. Croix Falls and Taylors Falls. When the hydroelectric dam was built in 1906, the falls came to an end.

What is a Pothole?

Potholes are deep circular holes in a riverbed. They are formed by the swirling of sand, gravel, and rock in a spinning whirlpool of water. The constant grinding of these materials creates the smooth round cavities.

What is an Esker?

Produced as a result of running water around a glacier, an esker is a long, winding ridge of stratified sand and gravel.