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There are some towns you pass by a dozen times and think, Wow! that looks interesting, as you keep driving to your destination. Sometimes pulling over can be the most fun you’ll ever have.
This weekend, I got the pleasure of stopping at Marine on St Croix in Washington County. This little town is just a blip on MN 95. But it packs in so much history and charm, it will have you coming back for more.
The original day trip plan was to go to the St. Croix Boom Site, get a passport stamped for seeing the St Croix Islands State Recreation area at William O’Brien State Park, then head back to Stillwater and have a leisurely stroll through town wearing my new favorite Aviator Sunglasses.
On the way back from William O’Brien State Park, we decided we had to get a closer look at the General Store we just passed.
Marine on Saint Croix Township
Pulling into the town of Marine on St Croix was pretty interesting. Besides the General Store, there was also a Library/Town Hall, a Bank, a Fire Station, and an old fashion Gas Pump.
It looked like you were going back in time. Inside they were all fully operational with modern convinces like ATMs and everything else. It’s hard to walk anywhere in town without seeing historic places.
The town is only 4.2 square miles, making it easy to explore.
Things to do in Marine on St Croix in MN
Marine Mills Trail
The first major industry in Minnesota was born in Marine on St Croix on August 24, 1839, by the Marine Lumber Company.
Utilizing the river, the Lumber company used the river to transport the logs to the Mill in Marine. Marine produced about 5,000 feet of lumber a day with a fourteen-man crew.
After a financial depression, a giant log jam and tornado damage cause a failure in the business in 1885. Within a few years, the lumbermen tore down the buildings. Today all that is left is the foundation of the Electric Building.
The city has preserved the history of the village center with a walking trail. The trial is right in the center of town. There is a nice private river overlook on the trail, picnic tables, and a few of the town’s waterfall.
The trail is also where they are doing some prairie restoration near the foundation. Along the way, you’ll see markers recognizing points of interest.
Early Settlers Cabin Historic Site
Across the street from the Marine Mills Historical Trail is the Early Settlers Cabin. Built by a Swedish Immigrant Sven Anderson in 1852.
Sven was credited for being one of the first wheat farmers and bringing cattle to the area. For Marine’s centennial celebration, the cabin was moved to the village. It was original property was two miles northwest of where it sits today.
Today you can view the cabin in the center of the town. You can still see the ax marks on some of the logs. The roof was made from hand-cut cedar shake.
Hand Fire Pump Engine
The City of Marine saw the full spectrum of fire protection in town. Originally with the bucket brigade. Starting in 1883 when the Anderson’s Marine Tannery went up in flames.
After its loss, the village started to inquire about other ways to keep the town safe with more modern equipment.
Years later when the first brewery and saloon were destroyed the town decided to send a council member to St. Paul to look into getting a Hand Fire Pump Engine.
The hand pump wagon is still on display today in the center of town, adjacent to the present-day fire station. On April 10, 1886, the Council voted to purchase a hand engine at a cost of $1,060.00.
Brookside Bar and Grill
A fun find was the Brookside Bar and Grill. Normally I’m not a bar kind of a gal. The community restaurant serves burgs, pizza, sandwiches, and salads all with fresh ingredients.
They have a full bar and outdoor patio making it a great stop on MN95. But the most fascinating part about the building is the brook that runs through the building.
Along the north side of the building is a white picket fence with a brook. Upon closer inspection, you’ll see that the brook actually makes its way through the corner of the building itself. For other dining opportunities, check out Marine Café.
St Croix Chocolate Company
St Croix Chocolate Company was one of the best finds in the town. I’m actually wondering why I didn’t know about this place sooner. It is one of the best places for chocolate in Minnesota.
The small chocolate shop has just a single counter of treats. But inside is the most decadent collection of hand-painted chocolate treats. They are works of art.
The busiest time of year is actually during the colder months when people aren’t afraid of having their chocolates melt in the car.
They sold easter eggs with colorful swirls, hot chocolate bombs with mermaid tails, stunning daisies, filled with lemon, and amazing mocha-filled chocolate cream.
I don’t think I’ll be happy with any grocery store chocolate again after having these.
Marine General Store
I’ve seen general stores in the past, often they keep the historic fronts but modernize inside. This was the first one that felts like you were walking back in time.
The general store was built in 1870 and has served the community ever since. They had a little bit of everything you’d need to do your grocery shopping.
Sodas, Bread, Condiments, Deli, Bakery, but everything was consolidated to meet the needs of the town. In the next room, you could find a few gifts but mostly odds and ends you’d find with home goods.
They even rented DVDs. My husband called it the most legit general store he’s ever been in.
Nita Mae’s Scoop Ice Cream
Make sure to stop and get some hand-dipped ice cream along the St Croix River! Nita Mae’s Scoop shop is hiding a little behind the General Store.
They are open seasonally and unfortunately; they were not opened when I was in town. Oh well, just means I’ll have to stop by again!
They have cute outdoor dining options or take your treat with you as you stroll to the waterfall or through town.
Marine on St Croix Waterfall Trail
Behind the general store is a trail going down to the St Croix River. We first saw this trail along the Marine Mill trail and spend a good part of our time in town wondering exactly how to get down there.
Take the road down between the General Store and the Library, past the Ice Cream Shop. You’ll see a path down the river.
This also appeared to be a landing site for canoes looking for a treat on their way downstream. The trail doubles back along the stream to the waterfall.
Before leaving town, you’ll have to get a glimpse of the Stone House. There is a small sign, saying ‘Stone House this way’. Like any good adventure, we had to find out what a stone house was.
The only problem was they don’t provide a marker of where to turn. After driving to the backside of William O’Brien State Park, we decided to GPS it on Google Maps. The turn was the second right after crossing MN95.
The stone house was a brick structure used for the town for a variety of different reasons. Most prominently it was the Marine Township Hall, in 1872. The house was designed as both a meeting hall and a jail.
After the Marine Township was abolished in 1895 the “Stone House” as it was now referred to, was used as a school, storage quarters, and community center.
Today it represents an example of Swedish sone work of early settlers. In 1963 the old Town Hall became a museum.
After seeing the stone house and reading about its interesting past on the historical marker, I have so many questions.
Did the kids going to school hear know it was once a Jail? What kinds of criminals were locked up? ‘Abolished’ is such a strong word. Why did they describe it as the “Official Abolishment of Marine Township”?
Maybe post Covid you can go inside the museum and ask a few more of these questions. The Stone House Museum is open Memorial Day-Labor Day, Saturdays & Sundays 1-4 pm.
Would I go back to Marine on St Croix?
I imagine growing up in Marine on St Croix is similar to the Stars Hallow experience of the Gilmore Girls. Especially when you find out just how many fun festivals and other events are held in the town each year. Driving along the Scenic St Croix River in Minnesota, you have to make a stop and some of the fun history and small-town atmosphere.
If we make our way back again this year, I think we would look into a VRBO in the Stillwater area and stay and little longer this time!