Before the Hinckley Fire, logging was a very important industry in Pine and Kanabec counties.
The area’s logging industry was booming by 1850, after Elan Greely of Stillwater built a large log sluicing dam on the Snake River at the outlet on Cross Lake. By doing this he enabled small steamboats to supply logging camps on the river west of present day Hwy 65.
Because of the primitive nature of the area, all timber cut had to be moved by water using a series of dams on all rivers large or small with logging camps accompanying these dams. Early logging operations stayed near the rivers, cutting timber along the nearby banks and adjacent areas moving upstream, rather than inland due to convenience and abundance of timber. Before the railroad came through, all logging operations had to be supplied from Stillwater using river batteaus (a flat-bottomed boat with raked bow and stern and flaring sides) and/or rough and undeveloped tote roads.
Because of the difficulty involved, logging operations were small. Oxen were used to transport supplies and laborers. At the time, oxen were cheap to buy and could be fed by grazing. Horses on the other hand were expensive, one could purchase six oxen for the same price as one horse. An additional expense with horses was they had to be fed grain and hay which had to be hauled in.
These smaller operations used smaller gauge sleighs and skidding drays (A low horse-drawn cart, often without sides, and used especially for heavy loads) instead of the huge sleighs that would be used in later years. Camps usually consisted of 20-30 men. Operations became successful near the banks of the Groundhouse River (off the Snake River) and the Ann River as there was plentiful timber near the banks of these river systems.
By 1870 the railroad from Minneapolis to Duluth was finished. This became the first major supply artery into the region. In the early days of the railroad, a wood and water station was placed every 10 miles, this allowed supplies for the logging camps to be brought in on a larger scale. Supply depots were set up along the railroads and logging camps were then able to move inland up to 25 miles.
By the 1880s huge sleighs and iced logging roads enabled much bigger loads to be hauled and many more logs in general to be cut and moved. The railroad was now also available to move the logs and lumber to market or sawmills instead of just the river. Small towns and local sawmills sprang up throughout the region.
Local logging historian, Steve Marudas, will be giving a presentation about these early logging operations of the 1880s and 1890s on Saturday, Feb. 8 at the Hinckley American Legion. Marudas has been working hard to generate excitement for the event, he has received donations of food, prizes and money to offset the costs of the event.