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Where 2 Rivers Merged, MN Came Together
 
 
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DENMARK TOWNSHIP: The Trees, the River and the Land
 
By Mavis A. Voigt, DTHS board member
Denmark Township Historical Society (founded in 2000)
December 2004

Denmark Township's scenic beauty and natural resources attracted settlers well before 1849, when Washington County became the first county in Minnesota Territory. French explorers had visited the area in the 1600s, and for hundreds of years before that, Native Americans lived in the St. Croix valley. Beginning in the 1830s, white settlers came for the trees, the river, and the land.

Denmark Township is at the southern tip of Washington County, south of 60th Street (the boundary for the town of Afton) and east of Cottage Grove. The St. Croix and Mississippi rivers forming the eastern and southern boundaries create a triangle where the lumber town of Point Douglas grew. The village was located around what is now the intersection of County Road 21 (St. Croix Trail) and Highway 10, the highway to Prescott, Wisconsin.

Today, Denmark Township has no town, no post office and no schools. Residents' mailing address is Hastings, and children attend school there, across the Mississippi river in Dakota county.

 
 
 
Point Douglas
Denmark Township
Basswood Grove
Transportation
 
The Land
Churches and Cemeteries
Schools
 
Town Hall, Parks, Orchards, and Nature Centers
Credits

Point Douglas

Pioneer Joseph Mozoe built the first log hut in the Point Douglas area in 1838. In 1840 entrepreneurs Levi Hertzell (also spelled Hurtsill) and Oscar Burris opened a mercantile store housing the first post office in Minnesota outside of Fort Snelling. Their store became the major supplier of goods for the interior. David Hone, one of thirteen men who composed the Marine Mill Company, moved to the area in 1843 and built the Union House hotel the next year.

Other settlers soon followed: William Dibble came in 1845, Martin Leavitt and Simon Shingledecker in 1847, and Ephriam H. Whitaker in 1848. Caleb Truax, G.W. Campbell, Thomas Hetherington, H.A. Carter, and James Shearer came in 1849, as did Thomas Wright, whose brother Mark came in 1852. John Allibone came in 1851 and Burton Davies in 1852. Treaties in the 1850s opened Minnesota to settlement on a wide scale and in the next few years the trickle of immigration became a flood.

Hertzell, Burris and Hone platted the village of Point Douglas in 1849. They named it for Senator Stephen Douglas, who was instrumental in forming the Minnesota Territory. The triangle of land between the St. Croix and Mississippi had become a "no man's land" when Wisconsin became a state in 1848 and chose the St. Croix as its western border. Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and the Dakotas had been part of the former Wisconsin Territory, and the area was left without a governing body. Senator Douglas and Henry Hastings Sibley went to Washington to recommend the formation of the Minnesota Territory, which took place in 1849.

Levi Hertzell built the first grain elevator in 1851 and served as postmaster until 1856, when he mysteriously disappeared with more than $20,000 while on a buying trip east. It was rumored he went to California to search for gold; many years later his son located him there.Table of Contents ^

Denmark Township

James Shearer, Thomas Wright and David Hone established Denmark Township in 1858, the same year that Minnesota became a state. By then, Point Douglas was a thriving lumbering and supply center with a busy sawmill handling logs floated down river from the forests up north, a church, a school, two general stores, a post office, a blacksmith shop, two hotels, 15 to 20 homes, four warehouses, and ferry sites to Hastings and Prescott, Wisconsin. It was the regular stopping place for steamboats to take on wood for fuel and to transfer passengers and freight bound up the St. Croix Valley. The village thrived until the supply of big trees ran out and the competing towns of Hastings and Prescott flourished, then it gradually faded, becoming a ghost town by the end of the 19th century. Most of its buildings either burned or were moved to other locations. Hertzell's store/post office, built in 1873 to replace one that had burned, was moved in 1904 to the Nicoll farm on 110th Street South, where it still serves as a residence.Table of Contents ^

Basswood Grove

A school and store once stood near St. Mary's Episcopal Church on St. Croix Trail, built in 1863 and still serving the community. Basswood School, built in 1854, closed in 1957. The first store built in the early 1870s by John Olson was later made into a home; a second store built by Samuel Dangerfield in 1874 burned two years later. In 1876 Asa Clothier opened a store that was also used as a town hall, for parties and meetings of the Grange, and a post office. Asa's son Edson later operated a feed mill at this location.Table of Contents ^

Transportation

Early settlers depended almost entirely on the river for water and transportation. According to James Taylor Dunn, author of The St. Croix: Midwest Border River, "It was their lifeblood, their glistening highway, and they desperately needed the stern-wheelers and 'double wingers' to help settle the country, to bring in supplies, and to keep in touch with the outside world."

Ferries were the first means of crossing the rivers. A ferry between Point Douglas and Hastings was established in 1849, and was replaced in 1895 by the Spiral Bridge connecting Denmark Township to Hastings. It was torn down in 1951. A ferry between Prescott and Point Douglas was established in 1851 and replaced by a bridge in 1923.

In 1850 Congress approved funds to construct four roads in the territory, two of which started in Point Douglas, one continuing through Stillwater to the St. Louis River; the other through St. Paul to Fort Ripley. This road was later moved ¼ mile east and is now County Road 21, or St. Croix Trail.

In 1879 the first railroad line, a branch line of the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad, began making daily runs along the river from Hastings through Point Douglas to Stillwater. The "Peanut Line" operated until 1978.Table of Contents ^

The Land

Agriculture replaced lumbering as land became available following treaties enacted in the 1850s. Minnesota Farmers' Diaries , published in 1939 by the Minnesota Historical Society, states "Agriculture as an independent occupation did not exist in Minnesota until 1840. Before that some incidental agriculture had been carried on about the fur posts, forts, missionary stations, Indian agencies, and lumber camps. Among the earliest farmers in Minnesota, and probably the earliest in Washington County, were Joseph Haskell and James S. Norris, who began farming as partners near Afton in 1840. Using four yoke of oxen and a cast-iron plow, these men turned three acres of sod in six days at a cost of fifteen dollars an acre. They planted corn and potatoes, and the following winter baked bread on a barn shovel, an indication of the poverty of kitchen utensils in a pioneer bachelor's establishment. The early settlers in Washington County did not have long to wait for mills in which to grind their wheat and other grain. About 1845 Lemuel Bolles, on the creek bearing his name near Afton, erected the first privately owned mill in Minnesota for grinding corn and wheat. It operated until 1875."

The Whitaker farm on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi river in Denmark Township is "the oldest family farm in Minnesota," according to the Minnesota Historical Society. Ephraim Whitaker came up the Mississippi from Kentucky and built a log cabin in 1846 on the outskirts of Point Douglas. He built a large house in 1854, the second floor of which was used for community socials, dances and meetings. Whitaker died in 1903 at age 84 and used to boast that he had lived in two territories and a state without ever moving. His land started out in the Wisconsin Territory, then Minnesota Territory, and finally in 1858 became part of the state of Minnesota. Ephraim's son, Clarence, built a new farmhouse on the bluffs to replace the old homestead that was demolished for the railroad. In 1972 Clarence's son, Ken, built a one-story home next to the bluff-top farmhouse. After Ken died in 1999 his grandson, Mike Kelz, moved into the house.Table of Contents ^


Six "Century Farms" were formally recognized in 1995:
Ephraim Whitaker Farm (1846) on Highway 10
Thomas Hetherington Farm (1848) on St. Croix Trail
Oscar Davies Farm (1852) on St. Croix Trail
George Van Alstine Farm (1862) on 90th Street
O'Connor, Frost, Stoffel Farm (1883) on St. Croix Trail
Frederick Gorgus Farm (1883) on Neal AvenueTable of Contents ^

Churches and Cemeteries

Religion played an active role in the development of Denmark Township. According to Lyla Davies, a founder of the Denmark Township Historical Society, a Methodist minister named Joseph Hurlbut preached at Point Douglas in 1843. In 1856 Reverend Timothy Wilcoxson organized an Episcopalian parish at Point Douglas called St. Paul's. The church was later moved to Prairie Island. In 1863 Reverend Wilcoxson organized St. Mary's Episcopal Church at Basswood. A few families separated from St. Mary's in 1883-85 and started a new parish called The United Brethern. They met at "The Meeting House" on the corner of 90th and St. Croix Trail.

There are four cemeteries in Denmark Township:
Leavitt Cemetery on Highway 10
Basswood Grove Cemetery on St. Croix Trail
Greenwood Cemetery on 90th Street
Point Douglas Cemetery across St. Croix Trail from Carpenter Nature CenterTable of Contents ^

Schools

Valley School District #34 in Point Douglas was the first school in Minnesota, beginning in 1844 when Sarah Judd taught classes in the Dibble/Shearer home. Mary Hone taught in 1845. Valley School was officially organized in 1850 and a log building was built that burned two years later. The existing schoolhouse was built in 1852 and still stands on its original site on St. Croix Trail, just before it reaches Highway 10. The school closed in 1946.

Denmark Township Historical Society is seeking to save and restore the Valley School as an educational and community resource.

Denmark Township Elementary Schools:
  • Basswood Grove District #35, built in 1876, closed in 1957 and the building was moved across St. Croix Trail to the Herman farm.
  • Concord Hill District #49 or "Mark Wright School," was built in 1867 just north of the old Mark Wright farm on St. Croix Trail. It was torn down.
  • Eden Grove District #45 or "Shingledecker School," was built in 1867 and is now a private residence at 70th and Oakgreen.
  • Dalrymple District #58 or "Harris School," was built in 1877 at Neal and 122nd Street. It was used as Riverside Routers 4-H Club meeting place for several years, then moved to the Alan Gorgus Apple Orchard.
  • North Star District 59 or "John Wright School," was built in 1874 at the corner of 90th and Neal. Dwain Marshall bought the schoolhouse, moved it to his farm and uses it for a hog and chicken barn.Table of Contents ^

Town Hall, Parks, Orchards, and Nature Centers

The Denmark Town Hall at 90th and Oakgreen was built around 1880 and remodeled in 2002.

Washington County's St. Croix Bluffs Regional Park on St. Croix Trail opened in 1996 on a site purchased and developed in the 1940s by architect Thomas Ellerbe. It later became the Control Data-Ceridian employee park.

Carpenter Nature Center on St. Croix Trail originated as a residence and apple farm developed 1939-43 by Thomas Carpenter, President of Sperry Office Furniture Co., and his wife, Edna. They established a foundation that still owns the property, which became a nature center in 1981.

Lost Valley Prairie was part of the old Mark Wright farm on 110th (entrance off Norell Street). It was developed by the Department of Natural Resources and is open to the public (foot traffic only).

Point Douglas Park and Beach on Highway 10 is a popular area for swimming and picnicking.

Afton Alps Ski Area opened in 1963 with its primary entrance on St. Croix Trail.

Apple orchards in the township include Fischer Croix Farm Orchard, McDougall's Apple Junction, Whistling Well Farm, and Afton Apple Orchard.Table of Contents ^

Credits

Note: For more information about the Denmark Township Historical Society, contact President-Emeritus Walter Pechacek (651.437.8383) or Jean Boyd (651.436.8031) or search our web site.

Sources:
Lyla Davies, longtime resident of Denmark Township
James Taylor Dunn, The St. Croix: Midwest Border River (1965)
Minnesota Farmers' Diaries (1939) Minnesota Historical Society
History of Washington County and the St. Croix Valley (1881) North Star Publishing Co.
Historical Whisperings (1985) Washington County Historical Society interview of George B. Davies
Mayme Johnson, Senior Naturalist, Carpenter Nature Center

 

 

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