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The city of Stillwater is in eastern Minnesota, across the Saint Croix River from Wisconsin. It is the county seat of Washington County.

Prior to its settlement by whites, of course, the area was inhabited by successive Native American cultures. Burial mounds along the river date back to 1000 BC. At the time that white explorers and traders came into the region, the Dakota were the primary people in the region, although they were later supplanted by the Ojibwe, also known as the Chippewa. Another tribal group in the region were the Ho-Chunk (Winnebago).

The first white people to travel through the area were the French, then the British, and the Americans, but it was the Americans who decided to stay. In 1837, treaties were signed between the US government and the Ojibwa and Dakota tribes, allowing settlement in the Saint Croix Valley.

Its initial settlement is attributed to a young man by the name of Joseph Renshaw Brown, who established s warehouse at the wide spot in the Saint Croix River, which was then known as Lake Saint Croix, in what is now the northern part of Stillwater. This became the county seat of Saint Croix County and was known as Dacotah.

Not very many people settled at Dacotah, however. In 1842, Jacob Fisher was living in Dacotah. He diverted Browns Creek through a lake on top of a bluff, creating water power, then sold his claim to John McKusick and three other men, who established the Stillwater Lumber Company, running a mill operation there by 1844.

Settlers began coming to the area to work in the mill, and the village of Stillwater was formed. Platted in 1848, Stillwater became a city in 1854, named for the city by that name in Maine.

The Minnesota Territorial Legislature named Still water as the county seat of the newly created Washington County. Within a year, the Minnesota Territorial Prison was built in Stillwater.

The lumber industry was the biggest driver of Stillwater's economy, and the lumber industry expanded further during the steamboat era, supplying logs for Midwest and bringing settlers to the city. Sawmills were located all along the Saint Croix Valley. Settlers came to work in the prison, as well as in county offices and support services. New buildings went up in a hurry.

The railroad arrived in Stillwater in the early 1870s, further expanding the markets for the new city's timber and manufactured goods. The first to come was a branch line of the Mississippi & Lake Superior, which later became the Northern Pacific. Next was the St. Paul, Stillwater & Taylor's Falls Railway, which later became the Omaha Road. The city was connected to Chicago through the Hastings & Stillwater Railroad, later known as the Milwaukee Road. A fourth railroad was the Soo Line/Wisconsin Central, otherwise known as the Minneapolis, Sault Ste. Marie & Atlantic Railroad. When logging sites near the river were depleted, logs arrived in Stillwater by railroad. Besides wood products, Stillwater began producing farm machinery, steam engines, and rail cars.

Wealth brought opera houses, ornate brick buildings, gas lights, telephone service, and more than forty-five saloons, with six breweries to supply them. A bridge connected Stillwater with Wisconsin in 1876.

By 1900, the lumber was depleted, and mills began to close. The collapse of the city's lumber industry and a decline in its manufacturing industries coincided with the prison moving to South Stillwater, now known as Bayport. The diversity of the city's manufacturing businesses prevented Stillwater from failing, as many of its manufacturing plants remained and others came.

After World War II, the greater availability of automobiles and the development of good roads placed Stillwater within commuting distance from the Twin Cities. Residential development brought retail and service businesses, and its location on the river, as well as its several lakes, ponds, and parks helped to make the city a tourist destination. Although Stillwater's population declined from 1900 to 1940, it has increased every census year since.

Besides the St. Croix River, Stillwater has several lakes and ponds, including Lake McKusick, Lily Lake, Long Lake, and South Twin Lake. The Stillwater Country Club and Oak Glen Golf Course are in the north central part of the city. The city also has several parks and recreational areas, many build on its lakes and ponds. These include Benson Park, Heritage Square, the Jaycee Ball Fields, Legends Park, Lily Lake Ice Arena and Recreation Area, Lowell Park, Nightengale Park, Northland Park, Old Athletic Field, Pioneer Park, Ramsey Grove Park, Staples Field, Sunrise Park, and Washington Park.

Stillwater abuts Oak Park Heights to the south, Grant to the west, and Stillwater Township to the north. Bayport and Lake Elmo are nearby. State Highways 36, 95, and 96 are the main routes through the city.


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