Stillwater, Minnesota: Charm built on logging history

The mural of Stillwater’s lift bridge depicts life in the early 1900s, when the bridge opened.

Logs flooded St. Croix River so thickly that they needed to be guided downstream. Lumberjacks would balance themselves on the logs, driving the spring harvest to town. The log rollers enjoyed a special skill in balancing the lumber.

During its heyday, 10 logging companies dominated the local economy. Four railroad companies lay tracks to transport logs. Some were sent farther downriver by barge, often as far south as St. Louis. The logging industry collapsed and disappeared from the scene by the early 1900s.

It’s difficult to imagine the tranquil river town of Stillwater was once the epicenter of the logging industry. Today, the historic small city in eastern Minnesota is home to quaint shops, restaurants and tours.

The logging boom allowed for some beautiful homes and mansions to be built atop the hills and bluffs overlooking the river. We took in a tour of the historic residential neighborhoods with Stillwater Trolley.

Stillwater Trolley offers interesting tours looking into the city’s history.

While we viewed several older and stylistic mansions and houses, our tour guide focused on a few of his favorites. He has excellent taste, as they tended to be the group’s favorites, too. We even saw a house that was once owned and lived in by actors Jessica Lange and Sam Shepard. Lange is a native Minnesotan.

One of my favorite mansions once belonged to John O’Brien. The Maine native arrived in Minnesota in 1853. By 1870, he and a partner owned a logging company. O’Brein’s Queen Anne house was built in 1884. The family made a couple of side additions over the years.

A bed and breakfast now occupies the house. Several old mansions have been turned into B&Bs.

The Washington County Courthouse is a beautiful old building that looks out over the river and across the way to neighboring Wisconsin. The courthouse, which opened in 1870, is of Greek revival style. Limestone foundation and a brick façade are topped off with a dome.

The Washington County courthouse stands out with its dome.

Stillwater was a recipient of an Andrew Carnegie-sponsored library.  Stillwater was one of about 1,700 American communities to receive a library gift from the businessman and philanthropist. About 2,500 Carnegie libraries are located around the world.

Carnegie Library is one of about 2,500 opened around the world.

Following a delicious Sunday brunch at the Water Street Inn, we took a self-guided tour around the historic downtown.

During the logging era, Stillwater’s mills were among the largest in the country. Today, the former Staples Sawmill is home to an antique mall. Covering more than 10,000 square feet, visitors can find almost anything they may be interested in buying. Twins fan?  A Bert Blyleven autographed baseball could be yours for a decent price.

The old sawmill is now an antique store and restaurants.

A plethora of record albums allowed me to find one of the first albums I ever owned. Led Zeppelin? The Who? Jimi Hendrix? Um, the Bee Gees’ “Children of the World.” Hey, I have always had an eclectic taste in music, including the former artists mentioned.

You never what album you may find in an antique shop.

When I was a kid, we lived in small towns, so it was common for kids to be in bars with their parents. I always loved the lighted beer signs that adorned the walls. Steins, mugs, bottles and cans were in great supply at the store.

I remember Hamm’s signs in small town bars as a kid.

Anyone with a sweet tooth MUST stop at Candyland. The three-store chain was founded in 1932 in St. Paul, Minnesota. The third store is located in Minneapolis.

Candyland. yes, please.

The store has a great selection of candy, nuts, chocolates and popcorn. In fact, Candyland is famous for its Chicago Mix – a mixture of caramel, cheese and regular popcorn.

Candy and popcorn are in great demand at the store.

Downtown recognizes the city’s logging history with a beautiful mural showcasing logs in the St. Croix. The mural is on the side of Forget Me Not, a home décor shop.

The area’s logging history is honored on a downtown mural.

Stillwater is home to an outstanding winery and up and coming brewery. We visited the Northern Vineyards Winery. The wine tasting experience covered about half a dozen of the winery’s finest choices.

Northern Vineyard Winery has a great selection of wines.


Stillwater’s attractions stretch to the river. People arrived in town by steamboat during the 1800s. Now, you can ride a paddle boat along the St. Croix as a tourist. We saw at least three paddle boats during our visit.

Paddle boats along the St. Croix River hearken back to earlier time.

A lift bridge has served the region for about 85 years. The bridge has a vertical lift that is raised, allowing boats to proceed along the river. A new bridge will replace it later this year, alleviating traffic that sees about 18,000 vehicles a day traveling over the lift bridge. The lift bridge will eventually be turned into a walking and biking bridge. I’m excited to test my Fitbit on the walking trail during a future visit.

The lift bridge opened in 1931. It will become a walking and biking trail eventually.

We enjoyed our visit to Stillwater. Considered the birthplace of Minnesota, it’s easy to see why Stillwater was named as one of the “Top 5 Midwest Towns to Visit Now” and “One of the Top 10 Prettiest Towns in America,” by Forbes Magazine. I know we plan to return. The area looks like it would be the perfect spot for a fall foliage visit.

Thanks to Explore Minnesota, Discover Stillwater and

For more information on Stillwater and its attractions, please visit

Disclaimer: Our trip was complimentary, as part of a pre-TBEX travel bloggers conference outing. TBEX is Travel Bloggers Exchange. However, all opinions and views are ours.