The history of Stillwater begins with the commercial production of lumber. The industry fed the local economy for 75 years, and to this day Stillwater is known as a lumber boomtown. There is, however, another aspect to Stillwater’s early years that has not been noted as much: Stillwater’s agricultural history.
Not only was Stillwater the home of five lumber mills at one time (including the mill on the other side of the river), but it was also the market to which farmers would bring their goods. Several flour mills dotted the streetscape of Stillwater, but the one that was the most visible was the Florence Mill.
W.F. Cahill and J.H. Townshend constructed the mill in the fall of 1872. The mill was originally 40 feet by 50 feet in size, two stories high and furnished with three run of stone, with a capacity of 50 barrels per day. The motive power was an overshot wheel, 44 feet in diameter, probably one of the largest wheels of the kind ever built in the state at that time. The water for the mill was brought down from a dam located where the Pitman House once stood, now the northern portion of Trinity Lutheran Church, and supplied by a brook from McKusick’s Lake.
In 1873 the firm became Cahill, Townshend and Company, with Baron Proctor becoming a partner in the firm. A few years later Townshend bought out Cahill and the firm built an addition on the north side of the original mill, 30 feet by 56 feet and four stories high, at the same time adding to and improving the older property, both being brick-veneered.
In 1878 the company purchased a new 75-horsepower Corliss engine. This engine was particularly adapted to use in a flouring mill because its movement was so uniform. A new engine house was constructed at the rear of the mill, made of stone and brick and covering an area 26 feet by 40 feet on the ground, one story high and protected by a gravel roof. According to the Stillwater Lumberman newspaper of Aug. 2, 1878, “The mill with the improvements will have a capacity of 150 barrels per day, as against 100 per day now.”
In 1880, Proctor sold his interest in the company to Townshend, who then formed a partnership in the firm with Dwight M. Sabin under the name Townshend & Co. To help with the handling of the product, a spur of railroad track from the St. Paul and Duluth railroad, with yard room for 10 cars, was added. The new company also built new and larger offices. In 1881, the mill was producing up to 300 barrels a day and employed 20 men including the head miller, Henry Drews, who had started working for the mill in 1875.
In 1885 the mill had stopped operation and the machinery was taken out of the buildings. The principal brands of flour manufactured at the Florence Mill over the years included “Butterfly,” “Crusade,” “Baker’s Extra” and “Standard.”
The building remained for another 15 years as a ghostly symbol of the great companies past on North Second Street. It was eventually torn down to make room for a new creamery.
The creamery came and went, and now the site of the old Florence Mill is home to condos. Stillwater’s history is documented with the many lumber mills and lumbermen that carved the early days of our history. It should be remembered as well that Stillwater was the marketplace for many different agricultural companies.
Brent Peterson is the executive director of the Washington County Historical Society and author of "Stillwater: The Next Generation." He can be reached at 651-439-5956.