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Last log through the boom: the end of the St. Croix’s timber industry

At 2:30 p.m. on June 12, 1914, the logging years of the St. Croix River watershed effectively ended.

Last log through the St. Croix Boom.
Courtesy of St. Croix 360

A century ago, prominent Stillwater photographer John Runk captured this moment in history at the Gap of the St. Croix Boom Company’s sorting works, just upriver from Stillwater. James Brennan, a veteran of the logging era and long-time boom superintendent, rides the last white pine log through the Gap at precisely 2:30 on June 12, 1914 — one hundred years ago.

That moment marked the end of a 75-year lumbering period, where logs were driven down the vast network of tributaries, to the St. Croix, and downriver to mills at Stillwater, and beyond. This monumental enterprise, to harvest the pine of the 7,900 square mile watershed, in Wisconsin and Minnesota, helped build a nation that was moving west. This logging era looms huge in the story of the United States.

Although logging, and a few small log drives, continued upriver for another decade or so, this event was the culmination of a colossal and epic period in the watershed’s history.

Gradually, after the logging, the river became a recreational river, and in 1968, it met the definition of a wild river under the Wild Rivers Act as being ‘outstandingly remarkable’ in several aspects of resource and historic excellence.

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Called the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, a corridor along the St Croix and Namekagon Rivers, is managed by the National Park Service for its diverse recreational opportunity, its historical significance, and its ecological uniqueness.

The end of one era, marks the beginning of another. The watershed, after 1914, saw the loss of the logging industry; quite a jolt to the economy of the entire region. Since then, the timbering era has been replaced by another defined by rural and small-town living, water and forest recreation, tourism, and a healthy forest ecosystem that has recovered from the over-harvest of the 19th century.

Farmers took the place of loggers, and gradually a tourism and recreation-based economy became the dominant economic enterprise in the watershed.

celebration of this centennial will be observed at the Boomsite Wayside on June 12, 2.75 miles north of the stoplight in Stillwater on Highway 95. The program starts at 2:30. Public participation in this historic remembrance and centennial celebration is encouraged. Come early and enjoy the festivities with other lovers of history, the St Croix River, and its watershed.

This post was written by Dave Thorson and originally published on St. Croix 360. Follow St. Croix 360 on Twitter: @stcroix360.

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