Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Forgotten Brewery Caves - Marine on St. Croix

For Minnesota - which is actually a fairly new state - Marine on St. Croix was a very early settlement. But being first does not always guarantee lasting success.  Today it is a quaint little village of about 600 people.

The place was settled in 1839 by some fellows from  Marine, Illinois.  They named their new home after their old one and taking advantage of the transportation provided by the St. Croix River, they built the first commercial sawmill in what would eventually become Minnesota. (Technically it was part of Wisconsin Territory at the time).

With free water power from a handy creek and an endless supply of virgin pine coming down river from the lumber camps, business was very good.

A man named John Kaufmann founded a brewery at Marine Mills (name later changed to Marine on St. Croix) in 1856.  Oddly, he built it right next to the lumber mill.  This seems like a bad plan, as breweries tend to burn down and lumber mills are full of flammable stuff.

Sure enough, the brewery burned in 1865 and again in 1882, this time putting it out of business for good.  In an apparently unrelated incident the mill burned in 1863 but was rebuilt a few years later.

Today's brewery was never a large one, perhaps 200 barrels a year at its peak production in the 1870s. It went through a variety of ownership changes before finally giving up in the early 1880s. Marine was just not a big enough town to support a brewery, especially in the face of stiff competition from three brewers in nearby Stillwater.

The ruins of the Marine Mill are a local historical site, although there is really not that much to see any more.  A few tumbled down foundations.  The brewery was supposedly on the south side of the creek at the river bluff, so that's where I headed.  And sure enough...

It looks to me as if the cliff face has had a lot of erosion over the years.  As to the remains of the brewery building, it appears there are just a few random stones left.

The cave entrance has a secure gate over it.

And a look inside shows that the cave is collapsed in just a few feet short of the entrance.

There are signs up above that point out that this is a historic site, and that you should not go clambering off the path.  Fair enough.  So if you chose to visit, do this:  First have a look at the official site. There are some signboards and such that are informative.  Then go over to the north side of the creek. Turn back towards the river on Maple Street, going past - if you can manage it - the ice cream shop.  There is a nice path going down to the St. Croix river.  People fish there.  Then you hop back across to the south side of the creek.  It is not wide and I was able to cross on a nice stable log. The site is on public land and you should not have any problems but as always, be respectful and sensible.

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