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Stillwater: an Introduction
Considered the birthplace of Minnesota, Stillwater sits just 30 minutes northeast of Saint Paul on the bluffs of the St. Croix River, across from Wisconsin. A beautiful, historic, river town featuring antiques, art galleries, wineries, historic B&Bs and fantastic restaurants, Stillwater is the perfect spot for a weekend getaway or a day trip from the Twin Cities of Saint Paul and Minneapolis.
The city celebrates its rich history as home to the Washington County Historical Society and the Warden’s Museum, which chronicles the town’s role as the site of Minnesota’s first state prison. Stillwater also had the world’s largest concentration of white pine and by the 1880s, it was the largest lumber producer in the world. The lumber barons provided the town with incredible wealth and dozens of gorgeous mansions, some of which have been converted to historic B&Bs. Stillwater still celebrates this heritage with Lumberjack Days, a week of iron jack contests, food, culture, games and outstanding music along the riverbanks. Visitors to Stillwater will be amazed at the incredible history within Stillwater as the many different ways to explore the city. For detailed information on tour options, visit www.discoverstillwater.com.
Stillwater dates back to 1848, the year before Minnesota became a territory and a decade before it became a state. The town grew rapidly as its lumber industry thrived and the area was the regional center of commerce, industry, and wealth. In the first year of its existence Stillwater established Minnesota's first schoolhouse, a one room building located on Olive between Second and Third Streets. That same year, the second hotel in the Minnesota Territory was built on the site of what would become the historic Lowell Inn. The Sawyer House, owned by Elmore Lowell was the gathering site for many of the local lumbermen and their “lady friends”. By 1924 the hotel was razed and Lowell donated the land to the local businessmen for a new hotel. The present property was completed in 1927 and was named The Lowell Inn after its benefactor. Dubbed the Mount Vernon of the Midwest, its 13 columns represent the original 13 American colonies. The Inn was managed by three generations of the Palmer family until 1995. It was purchased and renovated in 2001 by The St. Croix Boat and Packet Company and today features 23 guestrooms and two restaurants.
Another historic inn located on the St. Croix Riverfront is the Water Street Inn. This building originally opened in 1890 as the Lumber Exchange Building, the headquarters of the mill operators in town. From their office windows, they could keep a close eye on their operations and also on their finances as the vaults held thousands of dollars in cash from their profitable businesses. When the building was eventually converted to a hotel in 1995 the vaults of the ten mill offices were incorporated into some of the 42 guestrooms. Today the Water Street Inn offers indoor and outdoor dining in The Grille Restaurant and patio as well as a large assortment of ales, scotch and whiskey at Charlie’s Irish Pub.
During the Lumber Boom era which lasted from about 1854 to 1915 the St. Croix riverfront was humming and hustling with saw mills, trains and paddle wheelers which steamed up river full of wealthy southerners and aristocrats who took advantage of cooler summers and fabulous scenery. The town’s population at the time was about 500, just shy of the 640 residents than inhabited Saint Paul. While both cities were considered contenders for the territorial capital, in the end community leaders decided that Saint Paul would be designated the capital city and Stillwater would be awarded the Territorial Prison – after all, there was more money to be made as the prison site, as Stillwater was able to charge other counties for the upkeep on their prisoners. And so the first Territorial Prison was constructed in 1853. The original prison closed in 1914 when a new facility was constructed just south of town. Stillwater is still in the prison business, operating the Stillwater State Prison in Bayport and the Oak Park Heights Maximum Security Prison, which opened in 1982. Although the Territorial Prison site is now a condominium complex, the Warden’s House still stands as a museum which showcases much of Stillwater’s early history, including information on its most notorious inmates - the Younger Brothers who rode with the Jesse James gang.
Another historic structure is the Freight House on Water Street. In its heyday 38 trains per day passed through this passenger and freight depot. Today it’s the Freight House Restaurant and Bar which offers an expansive deck with great views of the river.
Perhaps the town’s most famous landmark is the Stillwater Lift Bridge. When the bridge was built in 1931 to replace a 1910 Swing Bridge, it was intended to accommodate up to 3,000 vehicles a day. Today it carries 18,000 cars and trucks across the river from Wisconsin. Plans to build a new bridge downstream have been fraught with controversy and the issue remains heavily debated.
Lumber Mill History - Between 1850 and 1915 the ten mills operating in town were capable of cutting 100,000 board feet of lumber in a 12 hour shift using 16’ diameter blades. By 1870 the population had boomed from 500 in 1848 to 20,000 and Stillwater had 57 saloons, 23 churches, 6 cat houses, and the state’s first millionaire – Isaac Staples. Many followed in his shoes and soon Stillwater’s bluffs were filled with luxurious mansions owned by the mill owners and their officers.
But the mills couldn’t operate without the “jacks”, the unsung heroes who worked the forests throughout the winter cutting timber, hauling it to the river on sleighs and stacking the logs up on the ice. Some jacks had jobs as “river pigs” jumping from log to log clearing jams and making sure the swath of logs floated smoothly down the St. Croix. Sometimes they weren’t so agile. A slip into the river often meant death, as it was nearly impossible to surface from beneath the glut of logs moving swiftly through the icy current of the spring melt. This resulted in a unique occupation for one man – John Jeremy the body hunter, who dragged the river for bodies of jacks at night, sometimes commanding up to $500 from their families. It was rumored that Jeremy found some 300 bodies during his lucrative career. But his son, John Jeremy Jr. did even better, rounding up 500.
After 60 years the unimaginable happened. The town ran out of lumber. No one had thought to replant the trees as they were razed and by 1914 – the boom went bust. The great lumber barons were ruined and the town’s population plummeted from 20,000 to 7,000 with many of the lumber barons losing their homes and in some cases, their lives, as suicide was not uncommon. The bust period was followed by WWI, the Depression and WWII and it wasn’t until the 1960s that people started to rebuild the town and revive the beautiful mansions and main street storefronts to create a lively, productive city. Today Stillwater is once again a thriving, bustling river town. The lumber industry has been replaced with tourism, drawing thousands to peruse independent shops filled with antiques, specialty clothing, furniture and restaurants. Hundreds of thousands descend on the city each summer to take advantage of the river and outdoor recreation and the many riverfront festivals held each year.
Tours and Attractions
Visitors to Stillwater will be amazed at all there is to do as well as the many different ways to explore the city. One of the best ways to begin a visit is with a historic narrated trolley tour that transports you back in time as you learn about the colorful history of this lumber boom town gone bust. The tour begins along the St. Croix riverfront, once bustling with saw mills, trains and riverboats. You’ll see the mansions of the wealthy lumber barons, the city’s parks, overlooks, and historic sites and hear tales of ties to the rich and famous who frequented the town as well as the lumberjacks who worked the world’s largest pine forests. www.stillwatertrolley.com
Another way to step back in time is to take a free horse and carriage ride during weekends the month of December during Hometown for the Holidays and over Valentines. Tickets can be picked up at most Main Street stores, restaurants and all lodging facilties in Stillwater during December and February. Luna Rossa Restaurant offers tours of Stillwater’s limestone caves which were used as a brewery in the 1800s. www.lunarossawinebar.com. For a birds’ eye view from the air, consider a hot air balloon ride, which gives a breathtaking view of the river valley, especially in the autumn months when fall colors peak. www.stillwaterballoons.com
The Warden’s House for the former Territorial Prison now serves as a museum of the area and is open to visitors Thurs-Sundays from 1-5 pm. In addition to prison artifacts and records, including biographical information on its most notorious prisoners, the Younger Brothers, the museum showcases outstanding photos and tools of the fabled Lumberjack era as ell as well as period clothing, recreational gear and appliances. www.wchsmn.org
Other historic gems in Stillwater include the original Isaac Staples Mill, located just south of the Warden’s Museum, which now houses a sprawling antique shop and the Stillwater Public Library circa 1902, one of thousands of libraries built by Andrew Carnegie at the turn of the century. www.stillwaterlibrary.org
The Historic Courthouse is the oldest in Minnesota, dating from1870. This distinctive Italianate-style landmark designed by Saint Paul architect Augustus Knight, served as the county’s administrative and judicial center until 1975. Now a popular site for weddings, receptions, meetings and special events, the facility offers free tours of the building and old jail. Guided tours are available Mon-Thurs at 3 pm. www.co.washington.mn.us/hc
Loome’s Theological Bookstore, housed in the beautifully restored Old Swedish Covenant Church, is the largest secondhand dealer of theological books in the world with over 250,000 titles. They supply institutional libraries, monastic communities, churches, clergy, scholars, and collectors with a vast array of books in theology, religion, and all related areas. www.loomebooks.com. Its sister company, Chestnut Street Books, located on Chestnut and Main offers rare and used books.
Northern Vineyards has been producing fine wines from locally grown grapes since 1983 and now offers some 30 varieties. Minnesota is part of the new Upper Mississippi River Valley American Viticultural Area and Stillwater’s Northern Vineyards and St. Croix Winery lie within the Three Rivers Wine Trail along the Mississippi, St. Croix and Cannon Valley rivers. Stop by the gift shop on Main Street for a wine tasting (cost refunded with purchase) www.northernvineyards.com. If a cup of tea is more your style, drop into the Lowell Inn for a cup, or opt for lunch, dinner or dessert.
The St. Croix River is one of the most picturesque in the Midwest and there are many ways to enjoy your visit on the water. Board a St. Croix Packet Boat paddle wheeler for a lunch or dinner cruise www.stillwaterriverboats.com or arrange a romantic private cruise aboard an authentic Venetian gondola. Pack a picnic for a 20 minute excursion, pair it with dinner at the nearby Dock Café or take an hour long cruise complete with 5-course dinner. www.gondolaromantica.com. If you’re traveling with a group, consider renting a pontoon for the day at the Stillwater Boat Club and bring along your own food and beverages.www.stillwaterboatrentals.com.
The river is also ideal for swimming canoeing or kayaking and the bluffs offer challenging terrain for bikers, hikers and climbers. Downtown Stillwater is extremely walkable and you can get your exercise by biking up the many hills, or hiking up the five sets of steep stairs (of the original 18) that lead from downtown up into the bluffs of the residential areas. Highlights include Chilikoot Hill, which at a 24% grade, is the steepest climb for the Nature Valley Grand Prix pro bike race each June, or Pioneer Park at the top of 2nd & Cherry streets which was the home site of the great lumber baron Isaac Staples. Other favorite parks include Lowell Park, right along the downtown riverfront or the Teddy Bear Park at 2nd and Nelson streets which offers picnic facilities and a terrific children’s play ground. The Boomsite rest area located a couple of miles north of town, offers one of the greatest panoramic views of the river as well as the landmark 1931 Stillwater Lift Bridge.
Downtown Stillwater has 60 shops offering an even mix of antique stores, boutiques, gift shops, art galleries, home décor and furniture stores, specialty clothing shops and gourmet foods. The shops are conveniently located along a six block stretch of Main Street, just one block west of the river. The best part about Stillwater shopping is the friendly shopkeepers and unique merchandise – no big box or chain stores in sight.
It’s no surprise that such an historic town has many antique shops. Browse for gifts or search for that special item to round out a favorite collection. Boutique shops also come in many sizes and flavors, ranging from fine jewelry stores for vintage fashions and accessories, Try Kathe Wohlfahrt for German holiday collectibles, or Art & Soul for beads and crafts. Pair that gift with a card from Mara Mi which sells terrific cards.
Home décor and new furniture go hand in hand and Stillwater has plenty of both. Whether you’re furnishing a new home, decorating a single room or just want to update your overall look, you’ll get great ideas at Alfresco Casual Living, or Gallery 310. Deck your walls with fabulous local art from the Stillwater Art Guild Gallery or Tamarac Gallery. The Stillwater art scene hosts a gallery walk three times each year. For more information, visit our Calendar of Events calendar.
Who doesn’t want to look for a new outfit while on a shopping spree? The variety of boutiques along Main Street will delight shoppers. Look for outdoor wear and gear at 45 degrees – named for the 45th parallel on which the city is located – half way between the equator and the North Pole. You can rent kayaks and cross-country skis and snowshoes at 45 Degrees. Satisfy your gourmet cravings for spices, oils and vinegars from around the world at Trade Winds Spice Company, shop for Minnesota made wines at Northern Vineyards, peruse the latest cookware at Cook's of Crocus Hill, or decide on flavored oils from the Stillwater Oil Company. And be sure to bring home a tasty treat from Barbara Ann’s Fudge Shop, Candyland or Tremblay’s Old Tyme Candies.
Whether you’re in town for a romantic getaway at a B&B, power shopping with friends on a Girls Getaway Weekend or attending a summer festival with the kids, Stillwater restaurants offer something for every taste, style and price point. From the corner ice cream parlor or casual café to fine riverfront dining or a lively bar and nightclub, you’ll find the ideal eatery to suit your mood.
Fine Dining – For a memorable night on the town try Luna Rossa Trattoria and Wine Bar for traditional Italian fare and an impressive selection of foreign and domestic wines. Be sure to stop for an espresso or gelato at the neighboring Italian Espresso Bar. For a nontraditional option, check out Marx Fusion Bistro, The Green Room or Reve 24. Dynamic décors matches the menus featuring dishes ranging from Chipotle chicken to blackened scallops to sesame crusted Mahi Mahi. Another fine dining choice is the Lowell Inn where you can opt for traditional American fare in the George Washington Room or Swiss fondue in the Matterhorn Room. If you want a taste of the Orient, try The Shanghai Bistro offering great food, wine and cocktails both indoors or outdoors in a fabulous patio.
On the River – For Riverfront dining al fresca or indoors, there’s the Dock Café specializing in fresh fish, steaks, chops and pastas, Charlies at the Water Street Inn for a classic Steak & Lobster or Caesar Salad or Smalley’s Caribbean BBQ for succulent ribs and Jamaican jerk chicken. If you’re craving a beer and burger after a day of hiking or boating, you can hop over the The Freight House, The Mad Capper or PD Pappy’s for cocktails and lively entertainment.
Casual Dining - Need a quick casual spot for breakfast or lunch? Brine’s Deli has been serving up fresh meats and sandwiches for 50 years while Nacho Mamas dishes up classic Mexican with a dollop of Caribbean. Try building your own oven-fired pizza at Quick Fire Pizza on Main. When it’s time for a treat, grab a sweet from the nearby Bikery (bakery and bike shop) or or head over to Leo’s Grill and Malt Shop or the new DQ Grille & Chill.
Guests overnighting in Stillwater can relive a part of its history by staying in one of the area’s beautifully appointed B&Bs or historic inns lining the turn-of-the-century residential neighborhoods. Most of the inns were built in the late 1800s by the great lumber barons who made their fortunes off the vast stands of white pine gracing the bluffs of the St. Croix River Valley. The Boom went bust by the 1920s, and although the barons were broke, their mansions withstood the test of time and were converted to B&Bs in the early 1990s, nearly a century after their masters had lived, dined and entertained in these stately homes.
B&Bs - Stillwater’s seven B&Bs offer an average of five guestrooms with fireplaces and private baths with luxurious whirlpools. Many also offer private balconies, decks with separate entrances or carriage house suites. All provide a late afternoon snack or reception, a gourmet breakfast and most importantly, a quiet retreat from the hustle and bustle of daily life in the serene neighborhoods of Stillwater. Here’s a sampling of B&B's to choose from while visiting Stillwater:
The Ann Bean B&B was built for Ann Hersey Bean whose father co-owned the Hersey, Bean & Brown Lumber Company. The entrance to this grand home exudes luxury and romance with a gorgeous parlor decked with antiques and elegant furnishings in shades from pale pink to fuchsia. The bay windows flood the dining room with sunlight for a cheery breakfast experience. Highlights include a 6’ diameter tub in “Cynthia’s Room” and a 4th floor tower that be accessed from the “Tower Suite.”
Aurora Staples B&B – Built by lumber baron Isaac Staples for his favorite daughter Aurora, this lovely home is a testament to his devotion to her. A formal parlor and music room provide a welcome atmosphere for guests for wine and hors d’oeuvres upon arrival. Architectural details include gorgeous wood carvings containing Staples’ signature oak leaf, original stained glass windows and incredible views of the river and Stillwater’s trade marked lift bridge. The St. Croix Suite, which was Aurora’s bedroom until 1924, still contains her original walnut bedroom set – a wedding present from her parents. The Carriage house suite was restored by current owners and has a homey, rustic feel, with antique furnishings, a whirlpool tub, 3-sided fireplace and separate bathroom.
Cover Park Manor – If you crave a bit more of the countryside, head over to Cover Park Manor in nearby Oak Park Heights, and enjoy total seclusion on 100 acres of parkland and open vistas. The two mile hiking trail gets you close to wildlife and an outdoor skating rink provides a great fun in winter. What better way to appreciate the hot tub afterwards? Guestrooms contain private refrigerators stocked with wine, beverages and veggie/cheese trays as well as microwaves and popcorn. All rooms have fireplaces,whirlpool tubs and private deck or porch. In fact there is no reason to leave the rooms and guests don’t want to – breakfast in bed is standard here.
The Elephant Walk B&B is Stillwater’s most eclectic choice. The foyer and living room areas are filled with elephant sculptures, antiques and other collectibles from Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia brought by proprietor Rita Graybill who lived in Asia and still travels there frequently to add to her collection. The Cadiz suite features a rose satin bed, sofa, a water fall, fish tank and a deck which overlooks the spacious back yard, complete with vegetable garden and even a chicken.
Lady Goodwood B&B – This elegant Queen Ann Victorian has been restored to its original splendor with parquet floors, beveled stained glass windows and en elegant exterior featuring fish scale shingles, gingerbreading and a round Palladian window. The three elegant guestrooms have distinctive color themes in tones of fresh blue and white, romantic purple and rose and regal green and gold. This B&B is conveniently located across from a quiet neighborhood park, yet just three blocks from downtown Stillwater.
Rivertown Inn – The1882 Rivertown Inn is a stunning 9 bedroom mansion that has operated as a B&B since 1979. The ultimate in elegance and opulence, it is reminiscent of the finest European hotels. Everything about this home is done on a grand scale. The immense wooden front doors are from a western church and the stained glass windows, hand painted wall murals, tin ceilings and amazing collections of art and sculpture are of museum quality. Even the “snackery” off the kitchen is lit from above by a gorgeous stained glass skylight.
The nine guest rooms are spacious and regal, but vary in décor. Each named for a 19th century writer or poet, they range from the enchanting Lewis Carol attic room decked with statues of the Mad Hatter and White Rabbit to the romantic Jane Austin bedchamber with canopied bed and private bath with waterfall faucet. The private grand suites in the carriage house include the Agatha Christie Suite, which is a replica of the train car from Orient Express and Oscar Wilde Suite which features a king sized pentagon shaped canopy bed and is decked in rich velvets and leather furnishings in the mode of an English gentleman’s library. The Rivertown Inn offers some amazing extras including a massage room, themed wine dinners and gourmet cooking classes. Advanced reservations are recommended for these services.
William Sauntry Mansion – The only area B&B listed on the National Register, the Sauntry Mansion welcomes guests with a spacious parlor featuring a spectacular oil on canvas ceiling, stunning stained glass work and turn of the century furnishings in rich, elegant burgundy velvet. The dining room boasts the home’s original red birch table as well as original wall covering. This 1881 mansion was built for William Sauntry, one of the most famous and richest of the great barons, who was also a cousin to Bing Crosby’s mother. A cottage suite with separate entrance is available for total privacy.
The Lowell Inn sits on the site of Stillwater’s oldest hotel, the Sawyer House which was built by Elmore Lowell in 1848, ten years before Minnesota became a state. The original hotel was razed in 1924 and Lowell donated the land for a new hotel; thus the Lowell Inn was born on July 27, 1924 and is still listed on the Historic Registry. The hotel features 23 guestrooms and two restaurants – the George Washington main dining room and the Matterhorn Fondue Room which specializes in four course fondue dinners. The inn has several banquet rooms and an intimate outdoor deck, making it suitable for social gatherings as well as business meetings.
The Water Street Inn has 41 guestrooms, all with double whirlpools and most with fireplaces and half with balconies overlooking the St. Croix River. Formerly the Lumber Exchange Building, this inn harkens back to the days when men conducted business in regal settings surrounded by plush velvets, rich leather and elaborately carved woodwork. The Water Street Inn houses the classic Grille Restaurant featuring indoor and outdoor dining and Charlie’s Irish Pub which is housed on the site of the original 1890 pub owned by Charlie Lustig. The inn hosts weekly wine dinners and has banquet space for up to 300.
Hotels & Motels
Stillwater also has several modern and moderately priced hotels conveniently located just minutes from downtown Main Street, near major shopping malls and restaurants along Hwy 36. Choose among Americas Best Value Inn, AmericInn Lodge & Suites, The Crossings Inn & Suites, The Lexington Inn & Suites or the Super 8 Motel.
The outdoor festival season kicks off in May with the annual Rivertown Art Festival which is held in Lowell Park on the banks of the St. Croix River. This juried event features some of the finest artists from around the country showcasing arts including Ceramics, Clothing, Drawings, Fiber, Glass, Jewelry, Leather, Painting, Paper, Photography, Wood and other art forms. www.rivertownartfestival.com
The final stage of the Nature Valley Grand Prix is held the third Sunday in June. This five-day pro stage cycling race welcomes 300 professional racers to town who compete in the Stillwater Criterium, an exciting race around sharp curves and steep hills including the 24 degree climb up Chilikoot Hill, considered the most grueling trek in North American racing. The festival also features food, musical entertainment, bike expos, stunt riders and a Kid’s Fun Race. www.mwbikefestival.com
The town celebrates Fourth of July with river cruises, music and an amazing fireworks display at dusk. Join the legions of boaters and spectators who line both sides of the river for one of the region’s most dynamic fireworks shows.
The Washington County Fair takes place in nearby Lake Elmo in early August. The fair has been entertaining families and visitors since 1871 with 4-H exhibits, local business booths and vendors, a terrific horse show, Midway rides, food and musical entertainment. www.washingtoncountyfair.org.
Stillwater’s fall colors peak from late September through mid October and there is no better time to enjoy outdoor arts and music along the river. Stillwater’s Fall Colors Fine Art & Jazz Festival is the first weekend of October in Lowell Park. This juried show and festival showcases original works of art from area artists and is sponsored by the Stillwater Chamber of Commerce. www.ilovestillwater.com. Thousands flock to Stillwater to visit apple orchards, pumpkin patches and local wineries. Saint Croix Vineyards hosts a lively Grape Stomp early September offering tastings and tours in its newly expanded winery.
Take Me to the River celebrates arts and music festivals in a dozen towns along a 50 mile stretch of the St. Croix river in late September, with Stillwater serving as the epicenter.
The fall HarvestFest and Giant Pumpkin Weigh-Off, wraps up the Fall season the second weekend in October and is complete with pumpkin decorating and baking contests, a chili feed, beer and wine tastings, a pumpkin boat regatta in the St. Croix River, tractor pulls and even haunted caves tours. This pumpkin weigh-off drew tens of thousands of visitors in 2010 to see the WORLD RECORD PUMPKIN. Grown by Chris Stevens of nearby New Richmond, WI, the massive gourd which tipped the scales at 1,810.5 pounds, appeared on national television and drew international publicity for Stillwater.
Holiday Events include Victorian Christmas at the Historic Courthouse at the end of November and the Twinkle Parade and Hometown for the Holidays Kick-Offnot to be missed, the first weekend in December. December delights visitors with carolers dressed in Victorian garb,Santa sightings along Main Street, and complimentary horse-drawn carriage rides along the St. Croix River. Free horse-drawn Carriage Rides along the river are also offered during December.
2012 Festival & Event Dates are outlined in our Event Calender on DiscoverStillwater.com
Stillwater is the ideal location for a group tour stop, as the town has many outdoor activities as well as interesting indoor tour options. Valley Tours has been conducting step-on guide tours of the Stillwater area for over 20 years and can help plan the perfect itinerary to suit your group’s interests, budget and timeframe. In addition to offering step on tours showcasing Stillwater’s Victorian architecture, historic sites and fabulous scenery, Valley Tours can offers customized tour options including Victorian home tours, mystery tours, walking tours or themed tours such as Fall Foliage, Holiday Events, Swedish Heritage or Wineries, Art and Theater. For more information contact:
Whether you’re planning an organized group tour or allowing free time during a stop, Stillwater’s shops, restaurants, natural beauty and historic sites will delight your group. Main Street offers dozens of antique shops, boutiques, specialty shops and rare and used book stores that will keep your group busy for hours.
Stillwater’s St. Croix River Valley is breathtakingly beautiful. Walk along the riverfront, relax in a park, have a leisurely meal at a waterfront restaurant or plan an outing aboard the St. Croix Packet Boats, which offer lunch and dinner cruises daily.
At the south end of Main Street, nestled deep within the limestone bluffs lie the Joseph Wolf Brewery Caves. Originally used as a brewery in the late 1800s, the caves offer guided historic tours mixed with tidbits of Stillwater’s lore. Group tours are offered weekends and by appointment and may be combined with wine tastings or food pairings arranged by the adjacent Luna Rossa Restaurant. It’s the perfect stop on a hot summer day, as the caves are always cool and the adjacent Espresso Bar & Gelateria is an added treat. Call 651-430-0560
Another great stop is Northern Vineyards. Tours of the winery operations are available for groups, and tastings can be held on an upper level patio overlooking the river. The cost of the tasting is refunded with the purchase of a bottle of wine. Northern Vineyards is one of the 6 wineries along Minnesota’s Three Rivers Wine Trail and recently became a part of the Upper Mississippi Viticultural Area. If you’re touring in fall, consider a nearby apple orchard or pumpkin patch which not only is a great outdoor stop, but an opportunity to pick up some tasty treats and souvenirs.
Your group can learn about Stillwater’s intriguing boomtown lumberjack history through a variety of tours, including taking a Trolley Tour. The Historic Courthouse is the oldest in Minnesota, dating from 1870, and offers guided tours of the courthouse and old jail Mondays-Fridays from 8 am-5 pm. Minnesota’s first Territorial Prison was constructed in 1853 on the north end of town and although the site now houses a condominium complex the Warden’s House serves as a museum and offers tours Thursday-Sunday from 1-5 pm. For a look at one of the lumber mills, visit the Isaac Staples Mill, located just south of the Warden’s Museum, which now houses the sprawling Staples Mill Antiques.
When it’s meal time, the town offers several group-friendly options in a range of atmospheres and price points. For fine dining try Luna Rossa Trattoria and Wine Bar for traditional Italian fare and an impressive selection of foreign and domestic wines. Groups love The Dock Cafe located right on the river as well as the Water Street Inn, which can easily host large groups. The historic Lowell Inn offers traditional American fare in the sunny George Washington Room or Swiss fondue in the elegant Matterhorn Room.
Riverfront dining is abundant in Stillwater either on expansive decks or indoors. Choose the Dock Café specializing in fresh fish, steaks, chops and pastas, The Grille at the Water Street Inn for a classic Steak & Lobster or Caesar Salad or Smalley’s Caribbean BBQ for succulent ribs and Jamaican jerk chicken. If you’re group is more the beer and burgers crowd, try a casual bite at The Freight House, The Mad Capper or PD Pappy’s.
For breakfast or lunch while shopping on Main Street, check out Brine’s Deli for fresh meats and sandwiches, or Nacho Mamas for classic Mexican with a dollop of Caribbean. Main Street also offers up plenty of coffee and sweet shops including Leo’s Grill and Malt Shop or the new DQ Grille & Chill.
Banquet and Meeting Venues
Stillwater offers several venues for meetings or retreats and social gatherings such as reunions and weddings. Not surprisingly in this historic river town, most of these venues are as rich in history as they are in architectural beauty. Your group will enjoy the ambiance of these historic meeting spaces as much as the gorgeous scenery in the town.
Water Street Inn
The Lowell Inn
Grand Banquet Hall
Isaac Staples, one of the town’s powerful lumber barons ran Maple Island Farm where he raised food for his lumberjacks. There he invented powdered milk, which was much easier to transport and easy to make with the abundance of fresh water.
Charles Strite invented the pop-up toaster. Many early model toasters can be seen at the Warden’s House Museum on Main Street.
Cub Foods began in Stillwater as Hooley’s Grocer in the Lumber Exchange Building in 1968. Cub has stores throughout the Midwest and maintains its headquarters in Stillwater’s former Junior High School on 3rd Street.
The Freight House Restaurant, the former train depot opened in 1883. It was the first building in Stillwater to be placed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1979.
The films Beautiful Girls, The Cure, Angus and Grumpier Old Men were shot in Stillwater.
Hall of Fame football coach Bud Grant played baseball for the Stillwater Loggers.
Bing Crosby’s mother Katherine, was from Stillwater.
The Younger Brothers, who rode with the Jesse James Gang, were imprisoned in the Territorial Prison in Stillwater following their capture after the Northfield Bank Robbery.
Stillwater’s Lakeview Hospital is highly regarded for the orthopedic unit.