Trivia from Our Archives

Check out fun facts and photos from the St. Croix Collection, the local history resource of Stillwater Public Library!
Browse through books, photographs, maps, and clippings files focused on the city of Stillwater, the St. Croix Valley, and Washington County, Minnesota.

What is this river relic?

A belt buckle made from a mussel shell from the St. Croix River. 

In late 1916, Richard and Walter Kaiser formed the St. Croix Pearl Button Company of South Stillwater (now Bayport) and joined the multimillion dollar mussel industry in the United States. Shells were cut and stamped into blanks from locally harvested mussels and from mussels shipped in from other areas. The blanks were sent to finishing factories in New York to be made into mother-of-pearl buttons, buckles and other ornaments for high-end apparel.

While the St. Croix River was never in the top five rivers nationally for production, over 50 tons of mussels were harvested from the riverway in 1917 alone. Clamming or mussel harvesting was a popular activity for many. People waded and raked the shorelines in search of mussels. Some built special hooked rigs to drag along the river bottom from the back of boats. (Click to view a photo of a clamming boat on the Mississippi River in Red Wing in the Minnesota Reflections digital archives collection).

By the 1920s and 1930s, overharvesting and habitat destruction had significantly affected the supply of mussel shells. Parts of the St. Croix were closed for mussel harvesting due to steep population declines. Lack of supply combined with the invention of plastic buttons and zippers slowed the industry along the St. Croix.

Learn more about freshwater mussels and the button industry in the following articles: St. Croix River Mussels, Native Mussels in Minnesota, and From Freshwater Pearls to Button Factories.  Read more about the St. Croix Pearl Button Company in an article by Brent Petersen, Washington County Historical Society. 

What was the first Last Man’s Club?

Thirty-four surviving members of the volunteer infantry from Company B of the First Minnesota Regiment of the Civil War formed the “first” Last Man’s Club of Stillwater in 1885. After World Wars I and II, Last Man’s Clubs formed across the United States. The Last Man’s Club of Company B of First Minnesota claimed to be the first.  

In April of 1861, eighty-nine men from Stillwater marched away to the Civil War as Company B of the First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment. The company fought in the battles of First Bull Run, Antietam and Gettysburg. The regiment was mustered out of service in 1864 with only 43 men coming home. In 1885, the survivors gathered for a reunion in Stillwater, calling themselves “The Last Man’s Club.” They decided to meet annually on July 21 on the anniversary of the Battle of Bull Run.

The above photo, from left to right, is of Adam Marty, Peter Hall, John Goff, and Charles Lockwood. The photo is believed to be from July 21, 1921, when 4 of the 5 living members attended the reunion. In 1930, Charles Lockwood was the last surviving member of the Last Man’s Club. Lockwood passed away in 1935.

Read more about the Last Man’s Club in an article by Brent Petersen, Washington County Historical Society and an article from the Pioneer Press archives. Stop by the library’s St. Croix Collection to browse biographies of the members of Company B or view the documents online on the Minnesota Reflections digital archive.

What was the class yell and motto of the Stillwater High School class of ’19?
1919 that is.

Class Yell: S-e-n-I-o-r-s, S-e-n-I-o-r-s, Seniors, Seniors, SHS!
Class Motto: Out of the valley, into the open road!

Photos, invitation, graduation program and class information is from The Girl Graduate, Her Own Book. This special scrapbook journal details Bessie Bernstein’s years at Stillwater High School as a member of the class of 1919. Bessie’s graduation photo is shown above.

Stop by the St. Croix Collection and check out this amazing scrapbook by a Stillwater Senior one hundred years ago, or view the scrapbook online at Minnesota Reflections digital archive.

Our thanks to the Bernstein family for this donation.

Where is Little Venice?

North of Stillwater on the St. Croix River between the High Bridge and Boom Site Landing

The tree-shaded channels of the St. Croix River between the High Bridge and Boom Site Landing were nicknamed “Little Venice” by locals in the early 1900s. This 1924 photograph by John Runk depicts a canoe pass between the isles of Little Venice. A unique segment of the St. Croix River, Little Venice marks the transition between the meandering river to the north and the deep lake-like water to the south. The islands are formed from sand deposited by the slowing St. Croix.

Read more about the history of the river and find mentions of Little Venice in two books found in the library’s St. Croix Collection —The St. Croix River: Midwest Border River by James Taylor Dunn and Stillwater by Brent Peterson. Stop by the library to view historic photographs of the St. Croix, part of the Runk collection featuring Stillwater and the surrounding area between 1860 to the 1960s.
 
“From here to Stillwater the main channel was not for us. We explored, instead, the sylvan, shaded wonders of Little Venice Canal – one of the many catfish trails of the lower river . . .”
-Author James Taylor Dunn, The St. Croix River: Midwest Border River

What year was The Teenagers Dike created to help save downtown Stillwater from flooding?

1965
Heavy rain and snow runoff raised the St. Croix River above flood stage in 1965. Residents, students and even inmates from the Minnesota Correctional Facility came together beginning April 10 to build a dike to save downtown Stillwater. There were so many teens helping fill sandbags, there was a sign naming it The Teenagers Dike. By April 15, government officials closed off downtown to foot and vehicle traffic. The River crested at 694.07 feet above sea level on April 18. The Teenagers Dike held fast! Downtown reopened April 21. You can see still the sign at the Washington County Historical Society (wchsmn.org).

What building served as Stillwater’s first reading room and public library?

The Jassoy Building
Immediately west of the junction of Chestnut and Third Street is the Jassoy Building, built by Theodore Jassoy in 1886. He and his son Herman owned and ran one of the finest harness and saddlery shops in Stillwater and in the state.  The building, known as the Jassoy block, housed the family on the second level of the building with businesses on the first and a meeting hall for the Stillwater Lodge No. 7, Knights of Pythias on the third. In a blurry photo of the building taken in 1898 (not shown), the southernmost window of the lower level has the words “Public Reading Room” inscribed. The year the photo was taken was the year the first Board of Directors of the Stillwater Public Library was formed and had their initial meeting in August. At this meeting, it was moved that the first floor of this block ‘will be leased for a term of 3 years at a rental of $50 per month’ from Jassoy for use as a library, with the understanding that the rooms on the first floor would be connected and supplied with additional lighting and adequate heat. This was the inception of the library that has transformed into what we now have today.