The history of our area begins with the glaciers that deposited the soils and created our lakes. In the past our planet was much colder and great sheets of ice moved in from the north, shifting rocks, creating soils, and shaping the landscape. The last period of glaciations in this area is called the Wisconsinian or sometimes the Wisconsin Age, and lasted for more than 60,000 years. During this time the ice sheets advanced and retreated regularly, scouring the land and carrying many rocks and soils from places hundreds of miles away. The last wave of ice, called the Woodfordian substage, lasted for about 3000 years and created our present landscape. About 14,000 years ago the climate changed and the sheets of ice finally began to melt. Along and just to the north of the maximum extent of this last ice advance are located the highest concentrations of lakes in Wisconsin, including our three lakes. As the ice retreated it left continuous deposits of rocks, sand and soils arranged in rounded hills and filling deep depressions. Some large chunks of ice broke off and were buried in the glacial drift. As these ice chunks slowly melted, they formed the lakes we see today. You can see evidence of these glaciers as you drive south from the area over hills of loose glacial deposits toward Star Prairie. There you reach the limit of the last ice sheet and the landscape becomes very flat. Note the high round hills that surround our lakes and the reddish soils that contain traces of iron ore from the north. You can prove this by dropping a powerful magnet onto the lake bottom. The magnet will pick up many tiny grains of magnetic iron ore that were moved here by the glaciers.
The first humans in the area were native peoples who arrived almost as fast as the ice melted. These peoples were hunters of big game. Eventually a nation of Indians calling themselves Dakota, meaning friend, rose up and they lived for generations in the St. Croix valley and surrounding areas. They hunted, fished, gathered grains such as wild rice, and were alone in the vast wilderness of the north and the plains to the west. Beginning in the 1500’s a new group of native peoples called the Ojibwa, who were pushed out of eastern North America by more powerful native peoples, had arrived in the area. These people had already made contact with white men and had obtained metal tools, knives, guns and knowledge of the fur trade. The Ojibwa noticed that the Dakota lacked this exposure to the white man and his tools, and using this power they began to easily push the Dakota out of the fur trapping areas to the north onto the western plains. A decisive battle was fought in 1745 at Kathio, on Lake Mille Lacs in Minnesota, and the Dakota were driven from all the forests to the north. An agreement was reached establishing the dividing line between the Ojibwa lands to the north and east and the Dakota lands to the south and west at Cedar Bend on the St. Croix River just south of Osceola. A century of Indian warfare then broke out as each group tried to gain back lost lands or advance into new territory. The last Indian fight took place in 1825 along the Apple River in Polk County not far from our three lakes. It was during these times that the first white men arrived.
The first white men to arrive in the region were French explorers in the 17th century. Although possibly not the very first explorers, Daniel Greysolon, Sieur du Luth, and his men made the first recorded trek down the St. Croix River in June 1680. It’s unknown how far from the river these men ventured, but their reports of the vast wealth of natural resources in the area caught the attention of financial and political leaders across the Atlantic. At the time, fur pelts were all the rage in Europe, and a beaver pelt was highly valuable and much sought after. These explorers who had come to exploit the fur trade were followed by waves of new arrivals seeking to exploit a variety of different resources and their own financial and political advantages. The fur trade began to reach its peak just about the time the British defeated the French in the so-called French and Indian War 1763. Great Britain was now in control and was eager to take its turn exploiting the region’s vast wealth. The only known British explorer in our region, who also traveled the St. Croix River, was Jonathan Carver in 1767. The fur trade era for the British in this area was brief and came to a close shortly after their defeat by the upstart Americans in the War of Independence in 1781. However, even under American control the fur trade continued. In their pursuit of beaver, the Americans thoroughly and methodically explored the entire area up until the end of the fur era in the 1840’s. All throughout this period a ragtag group of natives, French, British and Americans continued to trap for beaver until they were gone and beaver furs fell out of fashion. It’s safe to assume that at least some of these fur trappers visited our lakes and local rivers in search of beaver.
The vast resources of lumber in the area, especially the tall white pine, and the fine agricultural soil, astonished the explorers and fur traders. Soon the rush to exploit these resources was on. In July 1837, the Ojibwa made treaties with the United States giving up title to their lands in this area. Chief Buffalo representing the St. Croix band of Ojibwa and territorial Governor Henry Dodge of the Wisconsin Territory signed a treaty at Fort Snelling that transferred ownership of a vast stretch of northern Wisconsin and Minnesota for goods and payments valued approximately at $870,000. The next spring hordes of white men entered the St. Croix region and the trees began to fall. New settlements were established at St. Croix Falls in 1838, Marine in 1839, Stillwater in 1843 and at Osceola in 1844. The trees along the river went first. Then the lumberman moved inland cutting down the trees in the winter, and then floating the logs down the river to the mills in the spring. The entire area has been cut over at least once and some areas were cut twice. Only a few scattered pines remaining give us a clue as to the vast number of conifers that were removed from the area. At the time people believed that the lumbermen were doing a great service in clearing the land for agriculture. A land office opened in St Croix Falls in 1846. Vast tracts of forested land were sold to lumbermen, and farmers began to buy and clear their own plots of land. The flat area between the Village of Osceola and the hills our lakes are located in is called the Osceola Prairie. It was a treeless prairie stretching from Farmington to Dresser, easy to travel on and very attractive to the early settlers. Almost all the land in our lake region was cut over, cleared and brought into agricultural production over the next twenty-five years.
Contributed by Stephen Kramer, Big Lake
Quick Facts About our District
- Three different lakes in Polk County are named Big Lake. Four lakes within five miles of each other were called Pine Lake. The word church was added to Church Pine Lake to differentiate it from the other three which are called Upper, Mid and Lower Pine, and are located just a few miles south. There are over 100 lakes in Wisconsin named Round Lake. Wind Lake was named because of the noticeable breeze that occurs in the narrow passages between the lakes. The name Round Lake is a nickname for Wind Lake.
- 1912 – Polk County gives the right to vote to women. It’s one of just 14 counties in Wisconsin to approve a losing statewide ballot. Seven years later in 1919, the 19th amendment to the constitution is adopted giving the right to vote to all women.
- 1890 – Fifty percent of county land is now in agricultural production. Peak production reached in 1920.
- 1990 – Less than fifty percent of county land remains in agricultural production.
- Polk County ranks 43rd in generating tourist dollars.
- 32 percent of Polk County residents have some German heritage.
- The English settled in Somerset, the Danes in Alden Township, the Swedes in Dresser and Amery. New Englanders, mostly from Maine, settled along the river at St. Croix Falls and at Osceola.
- William H.C. Folsom, a lumberman with a very large family and one of the first area residents, wrote a book in 1888 called Fifty Years in the Northwest that chronicles much of the settlement and organization of the region. He purchased land near the Wagon Wheel Landing on the Apple River just to the southeast of our lakes. He made his home in Taylors Falls and had a fancy home built in 1855 on the hillside which is now a restored historic site open to the public. He is buried in the Wagon Wheel Cemetery on County Road C.
- The population of Osceola was 607 in 1930, 642 in 1940, 700 in 1950, 850 in 1960, 1152 in 1970, 1581 in 1980, 2075 in 1990 and 2421 in 2000.
- Trollhaugen ski area was developed in 1950. In 1956 the facilities could handle 5000 skiers per hour, in 1961 32,000, and by 1964 80,000 runs could be made in an hour.
- The Osceola Soo Line Depot was built in 1916 and full restoration began in 1993. The depot contains a transportation museum and a gift shop. The depot is open to the public on weekends and train rides are available during the summer months.
- The average last frost of the season is April 24th and the first frost ending the growing season is October 8th.
Contributed by Stephen Kramer, Big Lake
Ice Out Dates Data Table
|Year||Date||Days From January 1||Year||Date||Days From January 1||Year||Date||Days From January 1|
|1980||April 19||109||1993||April 19||109||2006||April 9||99|
|1981||March 29||88||1994||April 9||99||2007||March 28||87|
|1982||April 17||107||1995||April 12||102||2008||April 23||114|
|1983||April 12||102||1996||April 25||115||2009||April 8||98|
|1984||April 10||100||1997||April 14||104||2010||March 30||89|
|1985||April 11||101||1998||March 30||89||2011||April 13||103|
|1986||April 7||97||1999||N/A||N/A||2012||April 19||78|
|1987||March 24||83||2000||March 19||78||2013||May 5||125|
|1988||April 7||97||2001||April 15||105||2014||April 24||114|
|1989||April 19||109||2002||April 16||106||2015||April 15||104|
|1990||April 6||96||2003||April 10||100||2016||March 22||180|
|1991||April 6||96||2004||April 10||100||2017||April 12||101|
|1992||April 9||99||2005||April 9||99|
Rise And Fall Of Big, Round And Pine Lake Levels:
History Of The Dams
Several small creeks and springs flow into Big Lake (258.8 acres), Round Lake (38 acres) and Pine Lake (106 acres). These lakes have one common discharge: an outlet at the west end of Big Lake from which flows Forest Creek. This creek empties into Horse Creek, an ultimate tributary of the St. Croix River.
The following is an eighty year chronological history of the various dams and the fall, rise, fall, rise and, finally, the officially mandated controls of the outflow for Big Lake into Forest Creek (as ordered by the court through The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources).
1883… A timber dam was constructed one-quarter mile below the Big Lake outlet creating a pond to accommodate a sawmill. The stream was deepened at the lake outlet and a wooden bulkhead with moveable flashboard gate was installed so that sufficient water would be available to operate the mill’s waterwheels downstream. This apparently lowered Big Lake height to the point where it’s overall acreage was substantially less than it is today and the wide beach areas were known to support many raspberry bushes.
1924… The milldam ceased to be used for power and the dam’s owner constructed a dike on top of the upper dam (Big Lake outlet). A small wooden flume was placed in the dike to serve as a water flow control.
1933… An additional dam was constructed between Pine and Round lakes.
1934… The Pine Lake dam was declared unlawful by the Public Service Commission and was removed.
1938… The Polk County Sportsman’s Club built a concrete dam at the old downstream milldam site to create a fish-rearing pond. The club also cut through the dike at Big Lake outlet and installed a concrete dam with a stoplog gate. Both dams were constructed without authorization from the Public Service Commission.
1940… The Public Service Commission issued a mandate wherein it ordered owners of land containing the Big Lake outlet dam and the Polk County Sportsmen’s Club to alter the dam so that a gate opening of 10 feet would be available and the maximum elevation of the opening may not be higher than 94.46 feet.
1952… The Public Service Commission issued an order, establishing maximum (96.5 feet) and minimum (95.5 feet) elevations at Big Lake (“maximum” here implies no unusual increase of water level more than 12 inches above the minimum level). It was further ordered that the maximum level be held to no more than 96 feet until the outlet section of the dam was enlarged.
1967… A new dam was constructed at the outlet of Big Lake with a spillway width of 10 feet and an elevation of 96.47 feet. The spillway of this dam was unlawfully (and unfortunately) constructed one foot higher than allowed.
Also that year, waterway regulatory functions were transferred from the Public Service Commission to the DNR (Department of Natural Resources).
1968… The DNR held a hearing in the application of Sheldon A. Weiss to raise and enlarge the Big Lake outlet dam, but Mr. Weiss, it was determined, had no ownership or rights involving the said dam. The hearing was then postponed.
Alan and Jean Stewart deeded a parcel of land containing part of the dam site to the Town of Garfield. Garfield Township now owns all of the property containing the dam.
1969… The Town of Garfield then joined in the Sheldon Weiss applications and the hearing resumed. After 106 pages of testimony by landholders, petitioners, government employees, observers, and expert witnesses; the following conclusions and mandates were the result:
1970… FINDING OF FACT AND ORDER by the DEPT. OF NATURAL RESOURCES, WISCONSIN…Docket 3-WR-254, 02/26/70
- The dam’s maximum and minimum levels had already been set, based on sound historical parameters, and since flowage rights existed only to the maximum level (approximately the same as the approved high watermark) no further dam height was authorized.
- The Town of Garfield abstained from pursuit of further flowage rights and testified that they no longer intended to obtain them. They were not prepared to face payments to landholders claiming damages for lost property or infrastructure due to artificially raised water levels.
- The existing dam, however, still accommodated water levels one foot higher than allowed by legal paradigms.
- During dry summer months, the existing dam cuts off water outflow. Downstream riparians are thus deprived of at least 25 percent of the base flow, which would normally pass over the dam.
- To establish a higher set of operating levels would lead to longer periods of time with no outflow from the dam.
- The Department of Natural Resources, in its authority under section 31.02 statutes and in accordance with foregoing findings of fact, denied the application for any additional raising of the dam.
- The DNR further ordered that: The Town of Garfield construct a new dam or alter the existing one so that the levels of Big Lake will be maintained between the maximum level of 96.50 feet and the minimum level of 95.50 feet (Public Service Commission datum).
Garfield Township did alter the dam in compliance with the law.
Testimony in the 1968 hearing demonstrated that raising the dam’s maximum height only temporarily (often for only a matter of days) held the water higher than its natural level. This natural level is determined by several factors; mostly however, it is simply a visible manifestation of the surrounding water table.
In the 1960’s, a board was illegally kept in the dam and, during an extended dry period, with water prohibited from flowing over the board, the lake turned into a veritable cesspool. This, and other similar episodes served to accelerate the eutrophication process (dying) of Big Lake. In other words, actions by a few (probably well-meaning) property owners resulted in having the opposite effect from the anticipated one.
Our lakes lie geographically in a wide deep belt of drainy soil and all lakes in this general area are merely open manifestations of the existing water table. Wherever there’s a swale or depression in the terrain, a slough, pond or lake will appear. Depending on rainfall and drought cycles, lake levels usually only slightly and temporarily rise above or fall below their average height.
In attempting to raise and hold a higher lake level, we would be vainly trying to raise and hold the entire surrounding thousands of acres of water table to a higher level with one tiny dam!
The approximate average annual precipitation in this part of the country is 24 inches. About 75 percent of that occurs from April to September.
There are approximately 35 thunderstorms a year in this area and the single day record rainfall was 9.5 inches. It serves our needs best when such aberrational crests in our lake levels are abated as quickly as possible, thereby minimizing the infrastructure damage and destruction of lake health.
Other than surface runoff of water, the main processes for lake level reduction are transpiration, evaporation, and saturation: water is siphoned into the air via trees, grasses and other vegetation; heat from the sun turns lake surface water into vapor, drawing it upward; ground saturation, like a sponge draws away water, building up the water table; and middle/lower ground, via fissures in the geological structure, will channel water seeping down to artesian levels.
Interestingly: locally, water through these processes approximates a yearly draw-off of 29 inches, yet annual precipitation is but 24 inches.
The natural and ideal condition of lakes such as our chain is to have both the water supply sources and the outlet flowing constantly. When the water level falls below the dam height, all the nutrients and putrefying elements become trapped in the lake; they fall to the bottom. Weeds are replanted and fertilized; weed growth and algae growth is increased!
by Jerry Hazzard
History of The Dams ….Continued 1970 – 2015
1980… Milldam washed out in late March, 1980. Inspection of washed out Milldam occurred on September 2, 1980 and it was noted that the Milldam acts as a carp barrier (invasive species).
1982… The Church Pine, Round and Big Lake Protection and Rehabilitation District is formed – including Sanitary District powers.
1984… District Board investigates re-construction of the washed out Milldam as barrier to invasive species.
1985… September 6, 1985, the land at the Milldam site was quit claim deeded to the Lake District, (including an easement to the town road). November 1, 1985 the DNR received the permit application to reconstruct the Milldam.
1986… June, 1986, new earthen Milldam constructed.
1990… On January 26, 1990, the DNR advises E. A. Needels (resident) that any time a plank is in the Outlet dam, the lake would be above its authorized level (426-D) benchmark, as chisel marked on the right abutment wall of the dam.
1995… On August 22, 1995, E. A. Needels and 2 other parties recorded an 8 day rainfall of 9.5 inches from August 7 through 14th. Documentation of flooding and subsequent lake level drops recorded.
1996… On August 6, 1996, DNR decrees that no board may be installed in the lake Outlet dam. The DNR also decrees that Big Lake water levels are 96.5 feet maximum and 95.5 feet minimum. Any board in outlet spillway would be in violation of said maximum. This year the tax exempt status of Milldam property was documented.
1997… District disputes high water benchmarks. In a letter to the DNR dated May 21, 1997, a District Board Member stated that some confusion exists regarding actual high water mark and recorded benchmarks. On August 6, 1997, the DNR again stated that the Outlet dam spillway has a fixed crest. The elevation is 96.5 feet (already set at the maximum allowable height). The DNR recommends permanent removal of boards and metal holding brackets.
1998… On November 3, 1998, a steel stop log was found in Outlet dam spillway raising the lake level to 96.7 feet – exceeding the 96.5 feet maximum. On November 23, 1998, the DNR sent a letter to the Lake District requiring the removal of the stop log.
2000… District residents unsuccessfully complain of lower lake levels in a letter to the DNR dated May 28th, 2000. It stated all but one member of the District would prefer the level of the lake be 3.5 inches higher – requesting that the stop log be put back in the Outlet dam.
2002… Lake District Annual Meeting authorizes rebuilding the Milldam. Graham Construction of Deer Park reconstructs the north side of the milldam during fall/winter/spring of 2002 & 2003.
2003… Milldam repairs completed.
2004… Outlet dam north side was reconstructed by District volunteers. Unfortunately, the benchmark (426-D) was destroyed in the process. No permit was issued.
2005… DNR agrees to post-authorization of 2004 Outlet dam repair In a letter dated January 25, 2005, the DNR considers repairs made to the Big Lake Outlet dam to be necessary and appropriate, and agreed to previous verbal authorization.
2009… Lake District investigates dam inspection services and DNR grants for future repairs.
2011… The Lake District Dams Committee inspected the Dams and noted no visible changes from previous inspections. Videos, photos and maps of dams and adjacent properties were posted on District Website.
2012… The Lake District Dams Committee inspected the Dams and noted no visible changes from previous inspections. On April 3, 2012, Terry Margenau, DNR Fisheries Supervisor, St. Croix Basin letter stated that there are carp in the Horse Creek system and that sturgeon are a potential invasive species. At present, the Milldam is an effective barrier for Big Lake if carp are not currently present.
2014… In July of 2014 the Milldam was inspected by Warren White P.E., Board Members and Mike Rogney, DNR dam inspection specialist. It was determined that vegetation should be removed from the earthen dam and the stone walls on the spillway should be re-mortared. The brush and trees roots were removed in November. The surface was seeded and covered with erosion mats.
2015… Spring inspection of the Milldam spillway revealed the movement of some of the stones. It was determined the spillway needed to be stabilized. Concrete slurry was pumped in cavities behind the stones and sealed with tuck pointing. More rock was added to the spillway floor and sealed with concrete slurry. A new metal grate was installed on top of the sluiceway for safety and to prevent tampering. A final report on the project from Warren White, civil engineer, was submitted to the DNR and is on file.
By 2016 Dam Inspection Committee
The Seasonal Cycle
The most important event in the life cycle of a lake is the seasonal mixing of warm and cool lake water each spring and fall. Surface area, aquatic plants, light, temperature and wind affect the water, but nothing more than the chemical makeup of the water itself.
Water rich in oxygen supports the most life forms including plants and animals. The water in a lake needs a regular infusion of fresh oxygen each season in order to rejuvenate itself and support life. This happens each spring and fall when the water temperature of the lake reaches a uniform 39.1 degrees, and all the waters are able to freely mix top to bottom. All solids and liquids contract in size as they cool. But when water reaches 39.1 degrees, it begins to expand until it freezes, at which time it increases in size about 10%. This characteristic is responsible for the mixing of waters and chemical exchange of oxygen in the water, and also causes ice to float on the surface in the winter and warm water to pool toward the surface in summer.
In the spring, the sun heats up the surface. The warmer water is lighter and floats above the cooler denser water at or below 39.1degrees. As the season progresses and the lake warms, the thermocline boundary between the warmer and cooler waters goes deeper. Sticking a toe into the surface water in early spring does not give you any clue that much colder water lurks below. Jump in and you’ll find out!
Later in the swimming season, the thermocline may be many feet deep and you’ll have to dive deep to reach it. With low winds, the surface temperature of our lakes after a summer hot spell can reach well into the 80’s. As fall comes on, the sun slowly fades and the waters begin to cool. The lake finally reaches 39.1 degrees, and the waters begin to mix again. When the surface temperatures reach below 39.1 degrees, the colder water floats and eventually freezes to form the ice surface that lasts all winter.
The sun melts the ice in the spring and the cycle continues.
Contributed by Stephen Kramer, Big Lake
Lumberman of the Forest and
Farmers of the Prairie
In the early 1840’s, all settlement activity in the area was centered in the St. Croix valley. The earliest visitors came and went via the river, and all travel throughout the region was via the river, by horse or on foot. With a few exceptions, almost all of the area was heavily forested with white pine. The lumbermen used the river to reach the vast northern white pine forests, and to float the fallen logs down the river to the sawmills in the spring. Farmers arrived by steamboat from points south and east, staked their claims, cleared the land of stumps and brush, and sent their crops down river on the boats after the harvest in the fall. Most of the heavy lumbering was done by groups of men in the winter months leaving the warm season free for farming. It is still hard to believe just how many millions of board feet of lumber were actually cut from the area. Stumps up to four feet in diameter can still be found in deep undisturbed second growth forests in the area. Many lumbermen wishing to settle down a bit saved enough to buy a plot of their own land and became winter loggers and summer farmers. Likewise, many farmers left their claims to join the logging camps in order to earn extra monies for their budding farmsteads. Women were often left alone on the farm, sometimes with many children, while their husbands spent the winter earning extra income at the forest camps. Some folks moved on following the pine to the north and northwest, and some stayed on the cleared land and settled down as full time farmers. All the new communities were located on the river and served as the supply center and distribution point for the bounty of the land. The first steamboat, the Palmyra, had arrived in 1838 and soon after the wilderness was no more. A long list of firsts for the region began.
- 1836 Joseph R. Brown cuts lumber at Taylors Falls
- 1838 Steamboat Palmyra goes up the St. Croix
- 1839 Wheat crop harvested near St. Croix Falls
- 1840 Saw Mill at St. Croix Falls
- 1848 School taught by Miss Tainter at St. Croix Falls
- 1848 Grist Mill operated by the Kent brothers of Osceola
- 1848 Wisconsin becomes the 30th state
- 1853 Polk County Organized
- 1854 Steamboats built at Osceola
- 1854 Methodist Church at Osceola
- 1856 St. Croix bridge connects Taylors Falls with St. Croix Falls
- 1857 Baptist Church at Osceola
- 1858 Minnesota becomes the 32nd state
- 1860 St. Croixian Newspaper Published
- 1862 Osceola Agricultural Society Formed
- 1867 Geiger Brewery established at Osceola
- 1870 Saloon opens in Osceola
- 1874 Temperance League Formed
- 1886 St. Croix Falls High School
- 1887 Soo Line Railroad
- 1888 Bank of St. Croix Falls
- 1899 Polk County Courthouse opens in Balsam Lake
As time passed, settlers began to venture further from the St. Croix Valley into our lakes region. In 1846 Varnum Maxon filed a claim on the shore of nearby Cedar Lake. Harry A. Wiltse surveyed the region beginning in 1847 using stones, logs and irons to mark the section corners. Square stone markers were used after 1900. Osceola Township was formed in 1852. Garfield Township, where the north half of Big Lake is located, was separated from Osceola Township in 1886. Alden Township where the rest of our lakes are located was formed in 1857. The majority of new settlers in the region were lumbermen from New England and immigrant farmers from foreign lands. A large number of New England lumbermen, doctors, lawyers and wealthy tourists who visited the region on riverboats were so impressed by the natural beauty and productive potential of the land that they returned in following years with their entire families to start a new life. The most attractive areas for the new farmers were located along the Apple River, named for its abundance of fruits, nuts and roots growing along its banks, and on the treeless Osceola Prairie. The focus of settlement was on the land and not on the lakes. The lower Osceola Prairie extended southward from present Osceola toward East Farmington and Somerset. The upper prairie extended from east of Osceola northward toward Dresser and St. Croix Falls. One of the first settlers was Oscar Allen Clark who arrived on the upper Osceola Prairie in early 1851 from St. Alban’s, Vermont with his wife and parents. By 1852 Isaac White, Charles Tea, William Ramsey, Samuel Wall, Joe and Hiram Nason, Joel Scott, James Wright and others, all from New England and especially Maine, had arrive on the lower prairie and began to clear land and establish farming operations. Many others soon followed. By 1855 all the land within a few miles of Osceola had been claimed and was in production. The upper prairie settled a little more slowly, but by 1856 John Godfrey, Nelson McCarty, Ebenezer Ayers, O.A. Clark and others had all established their farms. The cost of land was $1.25 per acre for a quarter section of land. These New Englanders brought with them town government, public schooling, the local newspaper, plum and berry trees, and their Baptist and Methodist faiths. The farmers went upriver in the winter with the lumbermen to the logging camps to cut trees and then returned in the spring with enough cash to buy seeds, cattle or a plow. Farmers often made a weekly trek to the river villages to trade eggs and butter for supplies, staples and groceries that had come up the river by boat. The lumbermen were a natural and steady market for the early farmers who supplied wheat, oats barley, corn, rye, potatoes, poultry and livestock. Wheat was king and large amounts were grown and shipped from the area. By the mid 1850’s New England farmers of German, Scotch and Irish decent had made our lakes region their home. One of these pioneers, James D. Thompson, settled at Horse Creek in 1856. Delaney Kittel, Charles Vassau, J.L. Bridgeman and W.H.C. Folsom all established homesteads in Alden Township in 1856.
In the summer of 1869 125 Scandinavians arrived in the St. Croix Valley. A large group of five families from the Hadeland region of Norway settled in the area generally south and east of our lakes, and lived off the land. Many more family members, relatives and friends followed them in the following years. Pastor O.J. Hagestand arrived by horse and buggy to found the Immanuel Church in 1870 with 27 members. In 1876 the congregation became so large that it split into East Immanuel and West Immanuel churches. By 1880 the West Immanuel church had been built on the southeast corner of Church Pine Lake. Each church member contributed .75 cents for building materials. This church has been a focal point for activity in our area ever since. In 1934 the church constitution was written in English for the first time. In 1948 a copper box buried under the cornerstone was located under the church steeple while excavating for a basement. Inside the box were found silver dollars dated 1879, two books, a written history of the church and various documents. The steeple was hit by lightening in 1919 and caught fire, but the flames were put out in time to save the church.
Church members felt it was very important that their children receive some sort of education. In 1880 the Big Lake Ladies Aid Society was formed to raise money for a school and to pay the salary of a teacher. The ladies and their pastor met the first Friday of each month at a member’s home. Arranging to get a seminary student to be a teacher in a new land was not an easy task and required much planning. The pastor insisted that a strict religious curriculum be stressed. The ladies agreed, but preferred teachers that could also teach additional subjects. The classes were offered at a log house called the Hall on the Hill, supposedly located across the road from the church. Public schools were eventually established throughout the area. A Pine Lake School, at various locations, had been in use up to 1961. The Big Lake School began in 1916 was located on County Road K about a mile east of Big Lake where a marker now stands. That school was in use up until 1957. Other schools were located at Horse Creek in 1861, Nye in 1868, El Salem in 1873, East Lake in 1874, Ubet in 1903, and Meadowview in 1927.
Farmers spread out and isolated all over the countryside felt the need for news of the outside world, to relay messages and to be connected to the development of the growing region. Regular mail service by boat had arrived at St. Croix Falls in 1840 and at Osceola in 1854, but nothing existed for those who lived on the land, so country post offices began to sprout up. Now news could sent and received not far from the farm without having to go into town. The Alden post office started in 1869 and lasted until 1902, Wagon Wheel Landing 1866-1902, El Salem 1872 – 1903, Nye 1892- 1957, Dwight 1901-1904, Wanderoos 1917-1959, Sand Lake 1860-1903, Ubet 1897-1903. Most of these places were just a spot to drop off a letter or pick up a message. Over time all these country post offices were consolidated with larger area communities on rail lines.
The pace of development increased dramatically when the Minneapolis, Soo & Atlantic Railroad arrived in the summer of 1887. At that time St. Anthony Falls at Minneapolis, Minnesota was the center of the flour milling industry in the United States. Millers used the water power of St. Anthony Falls on the Mississippi River to grind bonanza wheat into flour and then ship it by rail to hungry eastern markets. Wheat was by far the principal crop of the region. Millers squeezed by the high shipping rates charged by railroad interests in Chicago began construction of a rail line from Minneapolis to Sault St. Marie, Ontario and on eastward, bypassing Chicago entirely. The Soo Line passed just north of Big Lake was completed in August of 1887, and brought a swift end to the steamboat era on the St. Croix River. By October 1912 twenty two trains, 12 freight and 10 passenger, passed through Osceola each day. The fare to downtown Minneapolis was $1.25 and the trip took about two hours. All kinds of goods and machinery were now easily available and could be ordered, purchased and delivered to the town depot in a day, and sometimes delivered right to the farm.
Towns began to quickly form along the railways. The line crossed the St. Croix River at Cedar Bend and continued up the bluff to Osceola. The line east of Osceola continued on to Dresser Junction, now called Dresser. Here one line went north to the ports on Lake Superior and the Soo Line continued east past our lakes to Sault St. Marie. Next on the line came Nye. Rail workers building the line on the south shore of Horse Lake where Horse Creek exits the lake reported cutting through an Indian mound 75 feet in circumference and eight feet high that contained primitive implements and human bones from sixteen individuals. The remainder of the mound was destroyed during the construction of county highway M. Another mound was said to be located near the southwest side of Round Lake. Nye was named for Bill Nye, a popular humorist of the time. While not much more than a speck today, Nye once boasted of two stores, a gas station, cheese factory, stockyard, lumberyard, potato warehouse, and a cucumber processing and salting factory. Telephone service came in 1906. Snow plowing on area roads began in 1924. Electricity arrived in 1930. Nye was also the home address for a famous turn of the century opera star, Madame Schulman-Heink, who summered each year on Big Lake. The next train stop was Dwight, later called Wanderoos, after I.K. Wanderoos, a Norwegian cheese maker. When townsfolk applied to the postal service for a post office in 1917, they found that the name Dwight had already been taken, so the name Wanderoos was adopted instead. The name Dwight was given to a small lake adjacent to Horse Lake, just to the northwest of Big Lake. Wanderoos at one time had a school, lumberyard, service station, two stores, cheese factory, pickle factory, hardware, bank, hotel, two restaurants, two bars, and mill and an elevator. The Lampert Lumber Co. was originally founded at Wanderoos and is still in business today. The next stop was called Deronda after a fictional character in a popular novel of the time. This spot on the south shore of Bear Trap Lake had been a fur trading post since 1872. The coming of the rails sprouted a lumberyard, cheese factory, elevator, blacksmith, school and a train depot. The next stop was Amery, the biggest city in the county. Horse Creek, while not on a rail line, had a store, school, post office, cheese factory, blacksmith, feed mill, shoe repair factory and a tobacco shed.
Agriculture completely dominated the area until the early 1950’s. Increased leisure time, automobile ownership, road building, and general ease of travel began to make area lakes more accessible and popular with the public. Once the railroad arrived, popular resorts were located on big lakes in the area like Balsam Lake and Bone Lake. Folks escaping the hot cities or a steamy southern climate came from all over the United States to “summer” at the lake and get relief from the intense heat. At one time there was even a small resort on the southwest shore of Big Lake. Guests were picked up at the train station and taken to the resort for days, weeks and sometimes months. Visitors could get a room or a cabin, had access to a rowboat, guide, and often all meals were included. With the arrival of widespread automobile ownership many smaller lakes were now within driving range and ripe for development. Beginning in 1953 local farmers began to sell off portions of their property that were not agriculturally productive and which might be attractive to private individuals as recreational property. A number of individuals interested in our lakes region were also developers and investors of several local ski areas including Trollhaugen, Englewood and Snowcrest. These folks envisioned the area as a year round recreational area. Plats were filed and soon lake lots were available for sale. On Church Pine Lake there was Paulson’s Plat. Round Lake Beach was developed on the west side of Round Lake. Big Lake featured the most plats with names like Big Lake Beach on the west side, Fairview Park on the southwest, Grandview Beach on the south, Big Lake Park on the northeast and Lake Home Shores on the northwest. Most of these plats featured small 50 or 75 foot lake frontage lots. Many men in the area were then hired to build one or two room seasonal cabins on the lots. There are only a few of this type of cabin remaining on the lakes. Today the entire available lake frontage is in private ownership. Many lake lots have been combined to make larger lots, large year round homes have been built, and many people live at the lake year round.