“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Stillwater in Washington County, Minnesota — The American Midwest (Upper Plains)

Minnesota Territory 1849 – 1858 / Washington County Takes Shape

Minnesota Territory 1849 – 1858 Marker Photo, Click for full size
By Keith L, June 11, 2011
1. Minnesota Territory 1849 – 1858 Marker
Minnesota Territory 1849 – 1858
On March 3, 1849, during his last hours in office, President James K. Polk signed a bill adding a new name to the American political landscape – Minnesota Territory. A vast land, it stretched from the St. Croix River and Lake Superior on the east to the Missouri River on the west, and north to the Canadian border. Totaling more than 166,000 square miles, Minnesota Territory was divided into nine counties: Wabashaw, Dakotah, Washington, Ramsey, Benton, Itasca, Wahnahta, Mahkahta, and Pembina.

In those feverish years of American expansion, pressure built to organize the lands along the upper Mississippi River. Iowa and Wisconsin had already entered the Union and were rapidly filling with settlers. The story of frontier settlement was soon to be repeated in Minnesota, as a thin stream of farmers, lumbermen and land speculators turned into a tidal wave.

The same places being claimed and named by these settlers and Washington politicians had been the homelands, hunting grounds, and burial places of Indian people for thousands of years. And since the later 1600s, small numbers of Europeans and Americans had lived here together with the Native people, trading furs and goods, making families, and creating new traditions.

Washington County Takes Shape Marker Photo, Click for full size
By Keith L, June 11, 2011
2. Washington County Takes Shape Marker
1849 that world of relatively peaceful coexistence was about to collapse, sometimes with brutal force. During the territorial years, Dakota and Ojibwe peoples signed treaties that ceded nearly all of their lands in Minnesota to the U.S government in exchange for money, promises, and reservations.

Meanwhile, settlements such as St. Paul, Stillwater, and St. Anthony mushroomed into cities. Farms and towns spread across the prairies. The booming population, which had grown from less than 5,000 settlers in 1849 to more than 100,000, clamored for statehood. It was granted in 1858, just nine short years after the creation of the territory.

Washington County Takes Shape
When Minnesota Territory's original nine counties were established in 1849, only three – Washington, Ramsey, and Benton – officially opened to settlers. They lay in a triangle of land between the St. Croix and Mississippi rivers that reached north beyond Lake Mille Lacs – land ceded by the Dakota and Ojibwe Indians twelve years earlier.

In 1840 this land became part of St. Croix County in Wisconsin Territory, with Stillwater designated the county seat. When Wisconsin achieved statehood in 1848, its western boundary was set at the St. Croix River, leaving Stillwater and the surrounding counties without a government. With the formation of Minnesota
Minnesota Territory 1849 – 1858 Marker Photo, Click for full size
By Keith L, June 11, 2011
3. Minnesota Territory 1849 – 1858 Marker
[south side of marker]
Territory ten months later, settlers living west of the St. Croix once again had official status. The legislature adopted the name Washington County, after the Nation's first president, and retained Stillwater as the county seat.

Rich stands of pine in the St. Croix valley had drawn settlers as early as 1839, when lumbermen from the New England states began building sawmills at places like Marine Mills and Stillwater. So many other immigrants followed from the northeastern U.S. that Minnesota Territory was soon dubbed "the New England of the West."

Fertile land and abundant resources quickly attracted new waves of immigrants, particularly from Sweden, who began arriving in 1850 to farm the northern part of the county. When the first census of Minnesota Territory was taken that year, Washington County had 1,056 Euro-American and mixed-blood residents, and following St. Paul; Stillwater was the second largest town in the territory.

As Minnesota's population grew, old county boundaries were redrawn and new counties organized. Washington County eventually retained only a portion of its former area. Today, farms still dot the countryside, though many have given way to Suburban development and sawmills in the bustling river towns have been replaced by manufacturing and tourism.

Erected by the Minnesota Historical Society
Washington County Takes Shape Marker Photo, Click for full size
By Keith L, June 11, 2011
4. Washington County Takes Shape Marker
[north side of marker]
of The Minnesota Historical Society]

Erected 2001 by the Minnesota Historical Society.
Marker series. This marker is included in the Minnesota Historical Society marker series.
Location. 45° 3.101′ N, 92° 48.458′ W. Marker is in Stillwater, Minnesota, in Washington County. Marker can be reached from Walnut Street West, west of 3rd Street South, on the right when traveling west. Click for map. Marker is beyond the courthouse parking lot at the northwest corner of the Washington County Historic Courthouse. Marker is at or near this postal address: 101 Pine Street West, Stillwater MN 55082, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Washington County Public Land Donation (a few steps from this marker); Washington County Courthouse (within shouting distance of this marker); Soldiers and Sailors Monument (within shouting distance of this marker); Civil War Flank Howitzer (within shouting distance of this marker); Stillwater Veterans Memorial (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); Site of the Stillwater High School
Minnesota Territory 1849 – 1858 / Washington County Takes Shape Marker Photo, Click for full size
By Keith L, June 11, 2011
5. Minnesota Territory 1849 – 1858 / Washington County Takes Shape Marker
Marker is to the right of the courthouse.
(about 300 feet away); Smithson Paper Box Company Building (approx. 0.2 miles away); Simonet's Furniture and Carpet Company Building (approx. mile away). Click for a list of all markers in Stillwater.
Also see . . .
1. Minnesota Territory. History of the Minnesota Territory. (Submitted on June 29, 2011.) 

2. Minnesota Territory. Wikipedia entry. (Submitted on June 29, 2011.) 

3. Washington County Historical Society. Washington County Communities. (Submitted on June 29, 2011.) 

4. Washington County, Minnesota. Wikipedia entry. (Submitted on June 29, 2011.) 
Categories. Settlements & Settlers
Credits. This page originally submitted on , by Keith L of Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin. This page has been viewed 634 times since then. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5. submitted on , by Keith L of Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016.
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