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Logjam on the St. Croix River (1884)

Logjams were a near yearly event in late spring and early summer as the loggers upriver dumped the season’s logs into the swollen St. Croix River to be carried downstream to the lumber mills in Stillwater. Significant logjams occurred in Taylor’s Falls in 1865, 1877, 1883, and, most famously, in 1886.

The logjam pictured in this post occurred in 1884 and was considered a “minor” jam. It was soon broken up. The record-breaking jam of 1886 was estimated to be 7 miles long with logs packed 30 feet or more above the normal water level. The immense pressure caused by the still-flowing river against the tightly packed logs created dangerous conditions as logs could snap and hurtle through the air.

The logjams were laborious to break up, requiring horse teams, scores of men, and even steamboats that were equipped with winches. All of these worked together to slowly pick apart and free the jammed logs until the river could flow freely again. The larger logjams cost $5,000 to $10,000 for the logging companies to break up ($150,000 to $300,000 in 2024 dollars).

This photograph is part of the John Runk Photograph Collection, which can be viewed in the St. Croix Collection at the library. The library also has a large selection of materials on the history of lumbering in Stillwater and the St. Croix Valley.