“Then and there plans for a mill company were formed” — Wisconsin Territory Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin

Today, the Wisconsin Territory Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin remembers when the four gentlemen entered into an agreement for a sawmill on October 26, 1843, that became the basis for forming the city of Stillwater.

From the History of Washington County and the St. Croix Valley by Rev. Edward D. Neill and J. Fletcher Williams, published in 1881:


The history of Stillwater begins with the names Joseph R. Brown, Jacob Fisher, Elias McKean, Calvin F. Leach, Elam Greeley and John McKusick. In the few years which intervened between the consummation of treaties with the Indians in 1837 and the formation of the territory of Minnesota in 1849, parties of explorers, in search of a “golden fleece,” were pushing out into the northwest, taking up all available points along the rivers in the country newly opened to settlement.

Mr. Elias McKean left his home in Pennsylvania in 1841, and arriving at St. Louis hired to the “St. Croix Lumber Company.” They sent him to St. Croix Falls to work in their mill.

He arrived at the falls in the latter part of May, and continued in the employ of this company till fall; then he went to Marine and worked for the “Marine Lumber Company” for one year.

In the spring of 1843, having taken part of his pay in lumber, he proceeded to raft it down the river to St. Louis, accompanied by Calvin F. Leach who had also taken lumber in part payment for services of the same company.

On their way down the St. Croix they were wind-bound just above where Stillwater is located.

They went ashore to spend the night at the old “Tamarack House,” the only place that offered entertainment to strangers.

Here they met Jacob Fisher and Elam Greeley, who were rafting logs at the head of the lake, which had floated down from the boom at the Falls of St. Croix, broken by the high water following recent heavy rains.

During the conversation of the evening, such as speculators are wont to encourage, Mr. Greeley inadvertently said: “I would give more for a saw-mill within a mile of this place than any point at St. Croix Falls.”

Fisher quickly replied: “What will you give me if I show you a good mill site within a mile of this place?”

Mr. Greeley said: “I know all about Brown’s creek; it is not possible to use it in that way.”

After some promiscuous talk all retired for the night.

Next morning, after breakfast, the company concluded to visit the prospective mill site.

As they passed along the plateau, all engaging in free jokes, Mr. McKean would ask Fisher, as they crossed several small rivulets, if this was his mill site.

This hectoring was not calculated to awaken the best of feeling on Mr. Fisher’s part.

Slowly the company proceeded up the ravine till they had gained the summit of the bluff and viewed the surroundings.

All agreed that the outlook was favorable; that Brown‘s creek could be turned into the lake above, and a canal constructed at a comparatively small expense, which would conduct the water to the desired place for a saw-mill project.

Then and there plans for a mill company were formed, to be carried into effect as soon as arrangements could be made and means secured.

A few days after this Messrs. McKean, Leach and Fisher went down to the lake and staked out a claim, beginning at the south boundary of J . R. Brown’s claim, and running south about one hundred rods along the shore, so as to cover all that would be included in a mill site.

They never thought of staking out a western boundary line, not dreaming that anyone would ever attempt to farm the country back from the lake. They simply blazed the trees, and on a prominent one, making a flat surface with an axe, marked with red chalk the date of taking the claim in the name of Jacob Fisher. Messrs. McKean and Leach proceeded to St. Louis with their lumber.

Mr. Fisher wrote to John McKusick, who was at this time at Burlington, Iowa, soliciting his co-operation in the enterprise.

The next we know of McKean and Leach they are at St. Louis in consultation with John McKusick about the proposed mill speculation. John McKusick left Cornish, Maine, and spent the winter of 1839-40 in Illinois.

Then desiring to see more of the lumber districts in the northwest, he proceeded up the Mississippi, spent the summer of 1840 in various pursuits; then in the fall commenced to work for the St. Croix Lumber Company.

After working some time, and then running the mill one season, at settlement he was compelled to take as part payment a quantity of logs lying some miles above Marine. As there was no market for logs, and no logs had been rafted down the river prior to this date, McKusick thought of building a mill to manufacture the logs spoken of into lumber.

Mr. Greeley worked for the company during the same time, and at settlement was compelled to take a quantity of logs in the same boom, on the same conditions as John McKusick had done.

This added another factor for a mill enterprise. Messrs. Greeley and McKusick were planning for some feasible way of converting their logs into lumber, when they learned of Jacob Fisher’s movement, in which McKean and Leach had some interest.

Mr. McKusick went to St. Mary‘s to see Fisher and in the conversation Fisher stated that he had heard of a mill project by Greeley and McKusick.

Mr. McKusick said: “We will build a mill, if we can find a location of fair prospect, and can effect suitable arrangements.”

Then Mr. Fisher gave a delineation of his discovery, the steps that had been taken to secure it, etc., and added that the company, Fisher, Leach and McKean, were not able to proceed with the enterprise.

McKusick then said if they could take the claim on favorable terms they would do so, and pay Fisher something for his claim when they got able.

This proposal met with Mr. Fisher’s approval. In a few days after this interview, Mr. McKusick went to St. Louis, where he met McKean and Leach.

After some deliberation, these parties agreed to secure the necessary outfit for a saw-mill, which was obtained in a few days and on board a steam boat going up the Mississippi, and landed at the site of Stillwater, October 11th, 1843.

Then an agreement was effected with Mr. Fisher, by which the company promised to pay him $300 for his claim, which in due time was done, and employ him as mill-wright.

These arrangements being understood, all parties concurring, the following agreement was made and entered into on the 26th day of October, 1843.

We offer no apology for the insertion of a copy of the first articles of agreement made on what is now included in the corporate limits of Stillwater.

There was no lawyer or person who was in the habit of drawing legal documents among the company, and hence the parties to the contract dictated and one of the employees committed the agreement to paper, which was afterwards copied.

Then came the question of a name; “What shall we call the place?”

All proposed a name, but the name of Stillwater, proposed by John McKusick, was adopted.

This name was suggested by the stillness of the water in the lake, the anomaly of building a mill beside stillwater, and by fond recollections of Stillwater, Maine.

At this date no one thought of a town here, only a saw-mill site was anticipated.

Copy of agreement: “This agreement made and entered into this twenty-sixth day of October, Anno Domini eighteen hundred and forty-three, by the following named individuals, viz: John McKusick, Elias McKean, Elam Greeley and Calvin F. Leach, for the purpose of building a saw-mill near the head of Lake St. Croix, Wisconsin territory, and for carrying on the lumbering business in all its various branches.


The Wisconsin Territory Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin shows with an artist’s image of a sawmill, circa 1840.

Wisconsin Territory Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin