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Marine Mill, the first commercial sawmill in Minnesota

Over a period of about six decades, the mill produced millions of board feet of lumber and provided construction material used in towns and cities throughout the state.

The sawmill operated by Walker, Judd & Veazie at the town of Marine Mills, later renamed Marine on St. Croix, circa 1880.
The sawmill operated by Walker, Judd & Veazie at the town of Marine Mills, later renamed Marine on St. Croix, circa 1880.
Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

Marine Mill was constructed by David Hone and Lewis Judd, two lumbermen from Marine, Illinois, who came to the St. Croix Valley in 1838 to find a suitable lumbering site. They chose to settle in the area for its proximity to fast-growing white pine trees in the northern St. Croix watershed. Hone and Judd built a small sawmill with a flutter wheel and founded the Marine Lumber Company on August 24, 1839. Over the next three decades, the mill’s lumber production grew enormously. During the winter of 1839–1840, it produced roughly 5,000 board feet of lumber. By 1877, it was producing two million board feet of lumber, 500,000 shingles, and 200,000 laths annually. A large steamboat levee spanned the length of the site. About fourteen men worked at the mill on a daily basis, and a 40-by-28-foot log boarding house on the site housed them.

The company demolished the original wood frame sawmill in 1852 and replaced it with a new one that had a forty-foot overshot wheel with a muley saw. It succumbed to fire in 1863. That year, tanner, Vermont native, and early Marine Lumber Company partner Orange Walker became the sole proprietor of the company. In 1868, with Lewis Judd and newcomer William Veazie, Walker formed a new company known as Walker, Judd & Veazie, and a new mill was constructed that year.

In the 1870s, the company expanded and was in its heyday, with income reaching $400,000 by 1875. The steamboat landing pier and log boom were also expanded to accommodate increased production. In order to keep up with competitors, the mill was rebuilt yet again in 1873. The company eventually constructed a telephone line to Stillwater for ease of business. By the winter of 1880–1881, Marine Mill produced the highest lumber yield of its existence. At its production peak, the site comprised a 102-by-56-foot board-and-batten sawmill, a wood frame planing mill, a stream drying house, and storage sheds. Additionally, there were areas for stockpiling the large amounts of lumber, laths, shingles, and other products Walker, Judd & Veazie produced.

Major setbacks devastated the mill over the years, including increased competition, a national economic depression, tornado damage, log jams, and occasional low water levels that made lumber transport difficult. After Walker, Judd & Veazie went bankrupt in 1885, creditors operated the mill for a while, and the company was sold to Anderson and O’Brien Sawmill Company of Stillwater in 1888. Town residents attempted to keep the mill in operation, but it ceased operations in 1895 after years of inactivity. Another company purchased the mill that year and sold the machinery to other lumbering firms. The various frame buildings were demolished thereafter.

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After the mill closed, the town’s name was changed from Marine Mills to Marine on St. Croix to reflect the absence of the milling industry. In over a half-century of operation, Marine Mill produced 197,000,000 board feet of lumber. The mill produced lumber used for construction in many towns and cities throughout the state in the late nineteenth century.

The Marine Mill site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970. The Minnesota Historical Society acquired it in 1972. Soon afterward, the site became a park managed by the City of Marine on St Croix with three distinct areas: an upper bluff, rocky cliffs, and a river-level floodplain. The site featured the mill’s ruins, including remnants of the sandstone sawmill and its overshot wheel, along with the planing mill and drying shed foundations. It also contained a stream, walking trails, interpretive signs, a beach, a canoe landing, and an observation deck.

For more information on this topic, check out the original entry on MNopedia.