Ben Leonard: We are at Marine Mill. This is a great site along the St.Croix River just in between Taylors Falls and Stillwater.
Anne Reich: This was the first sawmill in the state and one of the oldest European settlements in the state.
Essentially out of nothing, this group built not only a mill, but a community.
And being the first in Minnesota, I feel there’s tremendous significance there.
Much of the lumber that was cut in this particular sawmill ended up in St.Louis, Chicago. It helped build the Midwest.
The mill, as an industrial entity, just disappeared.
It was full of a lot of brush and growth.
There were a group of people who felt, really, it would be unfortunate if this property went into hands where it was blocked off from the rest of the village.
They just didn’t want to see it disappear into some kind of private ownership where the access would be restricted.
Charles Arnason: We got together and we talked about this, and actually formed a committee. And we called it the Marine Mill Site Association. And the idea was to get control of this property.
In my opinion, a real positive for the community to have the property in some kind of public ownership.
We entered into a contract in May of 1970 for a contract for deed purchase. And then we had the closing in 1972 for the contract and paid off. So then the Society took possession of the property.
In around 2009 the community began to collaborate with the Minnesota Historical Society to make the mill site more accessible to visitors and the community.
Ben Leonard: It’s a rustic site. There’s no visitor center or staff, but it's a great place to walk to trails and see the river and the brook and just experience nature as well as learning some of the history.
Not only is the mill site an interesting historic feature, but the town itself that grew up around the mill in the 1830’s remains in large part remarkably intact.
The ruins of the buildings that handle millwork are visible.
But somewhere under all that, there’s the ability to show, this is where people worked. This is where the logs came in from the river.
Ben Leonard: This is a success story when it comes to community grassroots effort and historic preservation. People like Chuck and Jack in the 1960s didn’t want to see this turn into condos, wanted to see this preserved.
Anne Reich: So it’s our responsibility really to take care of this place for the present and the future.
Charles Arnason: We need people interested. And there’s nothing so rewarding and satisfying as if you get on a project and you can see it through.
There are lots of towns who’d give their eyeteeth to have a park in the center of town. A place where visitors can come and picnic or interpret what came here before. We have that. We have access to the river. We can look at the river. I take a look at that and say, yeah, this has worked well.