Isaac Staples Sawmill, North Main Street
Written by Robert Molenda
The photos on this page show the north Main Street location of the Isaac Staples Sawmill. This is not the same sawmill as the Hersey-Staples Lumber Mill that was built south of downtown Stillwater. Staples went into business for himself in 1869. He took over the Sawyer & Heaton Mills, renaming it the St. Croix Lumber Mills and operated it until the 1880's.
The chimney is prominent in any photograph of the north end of Stillwater. Below the eighty foot chimney was housed the powerhouse and equipment used in this enterprise. The building was also used as a flour mill. Stillwater Manufacturing Company moved into the building array in 1888. Stillwater Manufacturing Company products included doors, windows and sashes.The sawmill products included flooring, siding, shingles, lath and pickets. Stillwater Manufacturing Company was a subsidiary of The Northwest Thresher Company. A fire destroyed the mill in 1894, but the stone powerhouse was saved. Stillwater Manufacturing Company constructed a four story metal sided building just south of the powerhouse in 1900. The latter building still stands there today. Staples also built a mansion atop the bluff above this sawmill. He walked to his sawmill from his mansion. Staples was one of the wealthiest of the lumber barons in the nation.
The Isaac Staples sawmill was not the first in the Stillwater area or on the St. Croix River. The first sawmill was located in Marine on St. Croix, upstream from Stillwater. The second sawmill was located in Stillwater and was built by Jacob Fisher. It was called the Stillwater Lumber Company and it featured a 40 x 65 foot building with a waterwheel that was 36 feet in diameter. The water powered McKusick Sawmill designed by Jacob Fisher was in operation in April 1844. The McKusick sawmill was near Main Street. The Hersey-Staples Sawmill was regarded as there most modern facility of its kind with machines doing most of the moving of logs and lumber during the milling operation.
Isaac Staples came to what is now known as Stillwater, Minnesota in the year 1853. He came here from Maine as did other early settlers in the Minnesota Territory. I like to look upon Isaac Staples as an "advance man" to scout out new locations for the lumber industry headquartered in Maine. Although Staples was not the first to come to the St. Croix Valley to take advantage of the pine lumber and transportation resources, he was a real mover and shaker toward taking advantage of the experiences gained in the logging business in Maine.
He must have liked what he observed in the St. Croix Valley and surrounding areas. He went back to Maine and met with his financial backers and drew up a plan to build a modern sawmill in this new territory. His principal backer and investor was another successful Maine logger by the name of Samuel Freeman Hersey. Hersey became the president of the new company and Isaac Staples became the resident partner of the Hersey and Staples Sawmill. The first day of operation was June 1, 1854. This sawmill was located just south of the present downtown Stillwater, across the road from the Oasis Cafe and Slab Alley itself.