Among the re-emergence of the hustle and bustle on the streets of downtown Stillwater, you will find a new group of curious walkers led by a guide telling the rich history of the community.
Rivertown Tours started providing this new service in July. The inspiration behind it comes from owners Sara Regan Letourneau, Christie Wanderer and Angela Fletcher, who thought of the idea last summer on one of their many walks together up the Stillwater Stairs.
“We have been walking together for the past few years and upped our game last summer as we were training for the Break the Bank at the (University of Minnesota),” Letourneau said. “It was on a training walk that Angela said she would love to work for a walking tour company since our town is so full of history and stories.”
That led to ongoing discussions and plans for the group to meet regularly at the Daily Grind Espresso Café to go over business development.
The tours are still a work in progress. So far, Rivertown Tours has six guides with two different tours — a Main Street tour and a South Hill tour. There is also an Instagram tour available. More tours are in the works to appeal to different people and groups.
“We plan on having a Lumberjack Tour that will end with guests throwing axes at the Lumberjack,” Letourneau said. “We have a whole list of tours we’re really excited about.”
On a test run in June, Letourneau guided a small tour along Main Street and the pathways near the river. Guests were treated to tidbits of history about the city’s logging days, hotels, the original state prison, the dairy milk bottling company, shoe company, the Lift Bridge, depot, opera house and many other historical buildings. She also talked about a few of the early citizens who were part of Stillwater’s early history such as Isaac Staples, John McKusick and Joseph Wolf, to name a few.
“We have spent many hours in the St. Croix Room at the Stillwater Public Library going through books and journals and old papers to get the basics down,” she said. “It has been a wonderful experience of seeing the history of our town come to life and how history relates to our present day.
“Sue DelCastillo, membership manager for the Greater Stillwater Chamber of Commerce, said, "The Rivertown Tours are a great addition to the already vast array of fun activities to do while you are in Stillwater, and the interactive history lesson of the area is so informative (that) even native Stillwaterians will learn something new."
Because the tours are open to both visitors and local residents, Letourneau says the history told on the tours will evolve. Guides welcome guests with historical knowledge to chime in during the tour.
“We have used mostly written history to develop the tours but know that the stories are what makes our tours interesting,” Letourneau said. “The true fabric of the community is wrapped up in memories of locals … Dates and history points are great for context, but when we talk about the people and personalities, this is what guests gravitate towards.”
During the pandemic, tours will be limited to nine guests and one guide. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Minnesota guidelines for outdoor activities will be followed, and social distancing and face masks encouraged. The business plan will also include group tours for businesses and organizations after it is deemed safe to do so.
To sign up for a tour, visit rivertowntours.com. Special accommodations can be made for handicapped accessibility.