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Reproduced from the Centennial Edition of the Brainerd Daily Dispatch (1871-1971).
Reproduced exactly as published in 1971 - no updates, no corrections.

Brainerd 1888 "Growing Town at Edge of Forest"

(Editor's Note: The following story was digested from "The Northwest Magazine, July, 1888," from an article entitled, "The City of the Pines, Brainerd, Minn. -- A Growing Manufacturing Town with a Great Water Power," by E.. V Smalley.)

If you take a map of Minnesota and find where a line drawn from north to south, mid-way of the State, intersects a similar line drawn from east to west, you will discover that the point is just twelve miles west of the city of Brainerd.

Yet we, in Southern Minnesota, always think of Brainerd as a place in the far North, and unless unusually well-posted in the geography of our State are surprised to learn that it might well lay claim to the title of "Central City," if it choose, instead of to its pretty cognomen, taken from the pine forests that envelope it on two sides and the groves of the same odorous trees that adorn its streets.


+ Gull River Lumber Co. had headquarters on Gull Lake on Booming Out Bay.

+ Cross Lake was the main camp for the most extensive logging carried on in the Brainerd Lake Region. Booms were moved from thp Pine River to the Mississippi.

We think of Brainerd as away up in the North from the fact that it is in reality almost on the extreme northern frontier of the settled part of Minnesota, where the cultivated lands leave off and the great forests begin.

With the exception of the Red River Valley, lying west and northwest of Brainerd, the northern half of Minnesota is still a virgin wilderness, whose streams and lakes and woods are known only to the lumberman and the seeker for iron ores.

This situation, let me say in advance, is a strong point with Brainerd, and not a weak one, as might be thought on hasty consideration. It is plain that if a town of over ten thousand people has grown up here with only wild lands on three sides of it, further growth, with the clearing of the forests, the manufacture of the pine and hard woods and the opening of farms- must be as certain in the future as the result of a problem in mathematics.

In brief, the central situation of Brainerd ensures to it whatever of support to a city must necessarily come from the peopling and a development of a large share of the northern half of Minnesota.


Of course the forest lands are not all susceptible of cultivation when cleared; the pine tracts are generally sandy and barren, but there are extensive hard- wood tracts, on the shores of lakes and on the banks of streams, which are slowly but steadily attracting settlement.


It will not be long before railroads will penetrate the great northern wilderness of Minnesota and the thousands of people who will then live there will swell the population and trade of Brainerd. It is therefore no unreasonable excess of local patriotism that leads the citizens of the place to anticipate great things from the future.

Their town is on the main traffic highway between the head of Lake Superior and the wheat fields, cattle ranges and mining districts of the West, at the point where that highway is intersected by the main line of rail from St. Paul and Minneapolis to the North.

If there is to be an important city in the center of the State, they have a faith that is as sensible as it is strong that Brainerd is to be that city.

Brainerd is a creation of the Northern Pacific railroad. The point where this road, building westward from Duluth, was to cross the Mississippi River, was evidently a natural town-site, and Thomas H. Canfield and L. P. White, who laid out all the towns on the road in Minnesota and also in Dakota east of the Missouri River, were early on the ground with their surveyors' stakes.

They called the place Brainerd, because that was the family name of the wife of J. Gregory Smith, of Vermont, then President of the N. P. Company. This was in 1870.

The company located its principal machine and car shops here and the town sprang into rapid and prosperous existence.

It had a set-back in 1873, when Jay Cooke failed and all Northern Pacific affairs went under a very black cloud. It picked up gradually, when the road, under the presidency of Charles B. Wright, began to earn a little money.

When construction was resumed west of the Missouri, under Frederick Billing's presidency the town gained rapidly, and later, in the years of Henry Villard's energetic management, when new shops were built and crowded with mechanics there was an era of great prosperity.

The retirement of Mr. Villard and the policy of close economy which necessarily followed the financial misfortunes of 1883 reduced the force in the shops nearly one half, causing trade to be dull and population to decline. With the revived prosperity of the road in more recent years, Brainerd has begun a fresh career of growth.

Happily the new progress of the town is not based wholly on the activity in the enormous railway shops.

Great as is the revenue which these shops regularly contribute to the business of the town the time seems close at hand when the aggregate importance of other industries will be such that the merchants will not notice the ups and downs of shop work.


An exceedingly valuable and copious water-power has been developed by the construction of a dam across the Mississippi which will speedily attract mills and manufactories, a new railroad, the Brainerd and Northwestern, will soon open the country northwest of the town, and the farming lands are being steadily cleared and settled.

Furthermore, there is no reason for apprehending that there will ever be a reduction in the force of railway employees, now that the Northern Pacific is on solid financial footing, with a constantly increasing traffic, requiring more and more men to operate its trains and to repair its rolling-stock.

Brainerd has evidently seen its last backset and can count with certainty on an uninterrupted growth.


The Brainerd shops are the most extensive owned by the Northern Pacific company and rank with the most important plants of the kind in the country. They represent a value of nearly $2,000,000.

The buildings are of yell, with slate roofs, the machinery includes every approved labor-saving invention applicable to car building and locomottary conditions have been carefully studied, there is a reading room for the free use of the workmen, the wages are as good as are paid anywhere in the East in like establishments, and life is made attractive and secure.

A remarkably intelligent and thrifty class of mechanics fill these shops. Most of them own pleasant homes in the city and look upon it as their permanent residence.

They take part in public affairs, secure a good education for their children and with their fast friends, the locomotive engineers, form a stable, conservative element in the population of the city.

These mechanics number nearly 800 in all and they do most of the freight car building and locomotive repairing for all the Northern Pacific main line and branches east of the Rocky Mountains. - The road has a number of division shops for lighter repairs, but the heavy work comes to Brainerd. The shop buildings consist of an office and storehouse, boiler and tin shop; a machine and erecting shop, a boiler annex, with a 1,500 horse-power Corliss engine; a round-house, with stalls for 44 engines; a black-smith shop, an oil house, two iron and coal store houses, a paint shop, a foundry, a wood working shop with an annex for axle and car wheel work, a freight car repair shop, and a lumber dry kiln. The present monthly pay roll of the shops amounts to about $80,000.

Next to the shop mechanics the train men form numerically the largest element of the city's population.

Headquarters of the Minnesota division are here, and about eighty locomotive engineers and probably five times that number of conductors, foremen and brakemen make the place their home.

Shop men and train crews, with their families, must number in all not far from four thousand souls -- a pretty solid basis for a large town by themselves. Sturdy, self-reliant men, they are, too, and worthy members of the great American industry army.


The swift, brown current of the Mississippi encircles the town on the north and west, running between high sandy, pine-covered banks.

A rapid about a mile above the railroad shops long ago suggested a water power dam, but years went by before the project look shape. Last year the construction of a massive barrier of wood and stone, to control the whole current of the river, was commenced by the Mississippi River Water Power and Boom Company, a home corporation in which C. F. Kindred is the moving spirit and the largest stockholder.

Aid to the amount of 525.000 was obtained from the city and the county gave $50,000 in bonds nominally to build a bridge. The State Supreme Court had decided that county bonds voted for the construction of a dam were void because of a provision in the constitution prohibiting taxation for the benefit of private enterprises.

Both county and city wanted the dam built and were ready with practical unanimity to vote bonds and taxes for the purpose.

A bridge was needed at the point selected for the dam, so the dam was made the foundation for the bridge and all danger of the bonds being declared invalid was thus ingeniously avoided.

The dam and bridge, finished this year, have cost about $125,000, leaving about $50,000 as the sum furnished by the subscribers to the company's stock.

The river is 270 feet wide at the dam, with a clay bottom and sandy banks from sixty-five to ninety feet high. Unusual low water greatly favored the work of the engineers last summer, and a solid foundation was secured for the dam by driving rows of oak piles into the bed of the stream, seven feet apart and extending for a distance up the river bed of 100 feet.

The interstices were filled with rock and the sills of the dam were bolted to the piles. A double row of sheet piling was driven above the dam, with wings extending into the banks and slanting up stream.

As the superstructure arose, each timber was firmly bolted to the solid mass and the spaces filled in solidly with stone.

A solid bank of earth was graded from the flume to the bank, extending 100 feet above the dam, which greatly relieves the pressure upon the structure of the vast volume of water above.

The great flume is sixty feet wide and 200 feet long, with five head-gates, operated by machinery. Each gate admits sufficient water to the flume to run at least ten turbine wheels.

The plan of the work contemplates the transmission of power by wire cables from the flume to any point on the bank above or below the dam where it is required.

Saw mills will be located on the lake above the dam, where there is storage capacity for 3,000,000,000 feet of logs. A railroad track runs from the main line of the Northern Pacific to the dam and the lake.

This lake, -- Rice Lake is its name, is now made a part of the river by the raising of the water in the latter, and is partly separated from the main channel by a long island.

A boom from the lower end of the island to main land makes a storage reservoir for logs nowhere equalled for extent and absolute safety on the entire Mississippi.

The sawing season at Brainerd begins from four to six weeks earlier than at Minneapolis, because of the time required to float the logs down 150 miles of river to the Minneapolis mills.

With a perpendicular fall of eighteen feet, a structure strong enough to withstand the utmost force of freshets and with the whole current of the Mississippi to draw upon, backed by a lake six miles long by three wide for a storage dam in dry seasons, the Brainerd water power may well claim to be first-class in all respects.

As a manufacturing location its advantages are numerous. First, the great bulk of the Minnesota pineries lie on the Mississippi and its tributaries above the dam. Second, the best hardwood districts in the Northwest are in close proximity to Brainerd. Third, millions of bushels of wheat pass through Brainerd every year on the way to the, navigation of the lakes at Duluth making the place an excellent point for milling in transit.

It is pretty well settled that the future development of the milling industry of the State is going to be at good water power points situated on the direct line from the Dakota wheat fields to Lake Superior ports.

In the fourth place, the abundance of poplar near at hand makes this a good point for the manufacture of pulp for paper. Still another advantage will be found in the presence of a large industrial population of skilled mechanics. The railroad system should also be taken into account. Brainerd is on the most important of the great transcontinental trunk lines running to the Pacific Coast.

It has the cheap route of the lakes for receiving manufacturing machinery and supplies -- Duluth is 114 miles distant and it is in direct communication with the entire agricultural country of Dakota and Northern Minnesota and with the vast regions further west.

The Upper Mississippi Valley is evidently destined to be the seat of vigorous manufacturing enterprises. Climate, population, natural resources, transportation lines and nearness to extensive regions which have no natural facilities for manufacturing combine to strengthen this theory.

The Brainerd water power project is founded on correct premises and the big dam will before many years double and treble the population of the city.


The building of the Brainerd dam has had the effect of covering with the back water the rapids that formerly blockaded navigation from the city up to Aitkin.

From Aitkin to Grand Rapids there is a stretch of about 100 miles of good navigable water and two steamboats run up to the lumbering camps along the river. The distance from Brainerd to Aitkin by river is about 70 miles. Steamboats can now start from Brainerd for the up river cruise and this fact will be advantageous to the place in two ways, first in giving it the trade of the lumbering camps and second in setting the fertile bottoms along the river, where farmers can now go and have cheap transportation for their crops from their very doors.

This latter is a point worth the attention of settlers looking for homes in Northern Minnesota. These bottom lands are very fertile, producing heavy crops of grains and vegetables and covered with a luxuriant growth of native grasses.


The citizens of Brainerd want the world to know there is no better place in the Northwest for sick people to get well in or for healthy people to keep well in than in their city.

For proof of this statement they point to the remarkably low mortality record of the Sanitarium, where hundreds of sick and wounded men are annually treated, and where a smaller percentage die than die of well people in most localities.

Then they call your attention to the purity of the air, laden with balsamic odors from the pine forests, to the good drainage, the sandy soil, the height of the town above the river, the absence of malaria, the numerous lakes for fishing and boating, and the pleasant drives through the open pine woods.

They are right. There is no better tonic for sluggish blood and no better curative for weak lungs than this invigorating Northern Minnesota atmosphere.


Outside of the railroad shops, which are a manufacturing concern of the first rank, the present establishments of the city engaged in converting raw material into manufactured products are the extensive saw mills of J. J. Howe & Co., the smaller mills of White & Davis and L. P. White, the sash, blind and door factory and feed mill of the Brainerd Manufacturing Company and three brick yards which made last year an aggregate of 7,500,000 cream brick and 2,000,000 red brick.

The special opportunities for new factories using the power of the dam, which can be had on peculiarly favorable terms, are for flouring mills, saw mills, furniture factories, agricultural implement concerns, pulp mills, wagon and carriage factories, stave mills and spoke, hub and felloe factories. Many other industries might also be mentioned, such as a car building establishment, a twine factory and a factory for making barrels from paper pulp.


The Northern Pacific B e n eficial Association maintains a large Sanitarium at Brainerd, by contributions of sums ranging from twenty-five cents to $1.50 per month from all the employees of the railway company on the divisions east of the Rocky Mountains.

Each employee is entitled to receive free treatment and nursing, in case of sickness or accident, either in the Sanitarium or at his own home. The Sanitarium is a handsome building in the midst of spacious grounds in a command- ing situation on the west bank of the Mississippi and overlooking the city. It is a model of neatness, order, and successful remedial effort.

The death rate is surprisingly low. During the year 1887 the Association treated 1,050 patients, with only thirteen deaths, and of these five did not reach the hospital and three were mortally wounded.

The building cost, exclusive of furniture, $27,000. The Association is free from debt and has a surplus fund of $35,000. Its chief surgeon is Dr. D. P. Bigger.

There are four weeklies and one daily newspaper published in Brainerd. The daily is the News, edited by A. Dewey, and is a sprightly, enterprising sheet, publishing the Associated Press dispatches. It issues a weekly edition. The oldest of the weeklies is the Tribune, which dates from the foundation of the city. Its owners are Haistead & Pennel. The Dispatch is of more recent date and is published by Ingersoll & Weiland. The Journal is the only Democratic paper. Its editor is H. C. Stivers.

No other town in the Northwest of no greater size than Brainerd has as large and well- built an amusement structure. The Sleeper Opera H o u s e, owned by C. B. Sleeper. It is a lofty brick building, with seating capacity in its auditorium for 1,000 people. Besides the the ater, it contains ten rooms arranged for Masonic uses.

The Court House of Crow Wing County is built of Brainerd cream brick with handsome ar chitectural effects. Near it ar the jail and sheriff's residence.

Brainerd has eight churches-- Congregational, Baptist, Episcopal, Methodist, Norwegian, Lutheran, Swedish Baptist a n d Swedish Lutheran. The Young Men's Chrisitian Association has begun the erection of a tasteful building for its exclusive use, for which the Northern Pacific Railroad has given the site and subscribed $1,000 in cash.

The public schools are well-maintained and the principal school edifice is a very creditable building, as our illustration shows.

There is an efficient fire department in the city water works, using the Holly system and pumping up the Mississippi water, which though brown in color is entirely wholesome, an electric light plant and a street railroad running from the center of the place to East Brainerd. A new hotel is soon to be built to take the place of the Villard House, which was destroyed by fire two years ago.


The county of Crow Wing, of which Brainerd is the capital, lies on both sides of the Mississippi River and is one of the largest in area in the State.

Its population has been increasing very rapidly in recent years. In 1880 it had but 2,318 inhabitants; the State census of 1885 gave it 8,744 and at the present time it probably has at least 15,000.

This rapid growth is due to two causes -- the increase of population in Brainerd and the steady settlement of the hardwood timbered lands, which are valuable for farming and can be homesteaded or bought at very cheap prices from the railroad company.

The timber on these lands consists of oak, maple, hickory, butternut, ash and elm. The soil is a rich vegetable mould resting on clay.

According to the State census reports the yield of farm crops in 1885 was as follows: wheat 24 bushels to the acre, oats 50 bushels, rye, 12 bushels, barley, 23 hushels, corn, 20 bushels, potatoes, 100 bushels. The wheat is the celebrated number one hard.

Railroad lands can be bought for from two to five dollars an acre and a settler who is willing to go a few miles from the railroad can still find valuable Government land to homestead or preempt.

Settlers can always get employed during the winter in the lumber camps and while clearing their land can market the timber in the form of railroad ties, fire wood, etc., at prices that will pay them good wages for all the time spent in clearing.

Reproduced from the Centennial Edition of the Brainerd Daily Dispatch (1871-1971).

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