Postcard from the past: A historic note from the ‘new’ St. Croix Falls dam

Message from 1909 offers a window on a big St. Croix River story more than a century ago.




3 minute read

The above postcard was mailed in 1909, just two years after construction was completed on the hydropower dam at St. Croix Falls. This unique structure is the only existing dam of any significance on the river, still providing electricity to Xcel Energy customers.

The postcard was sent from a “loving aunt” in Prescott to her “dear niece” in Minneapolis.

I can imagine that people from Prescott, some 50 miles south, and probably even farther away would have made a trip to see the dam back then. (Or perhaps the sender bought it locally.) The project was a significant effort in the early 20th century, and a big story throughout the region.

“Construction involved hundreds of laborers who worked day and night shifts seven days a week,” Xcel says. “For two years, blasting shook buildings and shattered windows in St. Croix Falls and in Taylors Falls, MN just across the river.”

One advertisement for carpenters offered a wage of $3 per day.

It was front page news in 1905 when General Electric struck a $3.5 million deal — more than $90 million in today’s dollars — to build the new power plant, generating about 18 megawatts of electricity. (Today, the dam produces about 25 megawatts.)

Minneapolis Journal, March 27, 1905

“This matter is of great importance to Minneapolis and St. Paul,” reported the Minneapolis Journal. “The power available from St. Anthony Falls has been developed to its limit for several years and is now used to its full capacity. The growth of manufacturing and milling interests has created a demand for power greatly in excess of the energy generated by local water plants. It has therefore been necessary to develop a new source of cheap water power.”

Of course, the construction was dangerous work. Within a matter of months, a worker was severely injured. The next year, at least two deaths at the site were reported.

The dam ultimately inundated about six miles of the St. Croix River upstream, including the cascading falls which give the towns on either side of the river their names. The river used to drop 55 feet over those six miles. I wrote about exploring this stretch of river when the water was drawn down about eight feet in November 2015.

The back of the postcard carries the tight script of an aunt reaching out to her “dear niece,” cramming in every word possible. The correspondence is mostly dedicated to passing along a little news (of a visit and a death) and urging the younger woman to come visit soon. The aunt also asked her niece to send some silk for pillows, if possible.

The one-cent stamp used to send the postcard featured Ben Franklin.


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One response to “Postcard from the past: A historic note from the ‘new’ St. Croix Falls dam”

  1. Mark Hove Avatar
    Mark Hove