Sunday, June 2, 2013

Crow Wing, or The Land That Time Forgot.

It's been a while. There's been a lot going on. One of the things going on has been a lot of sewing. I've been working on a swiss waist which mimics some features of an original swiss waist I own. Pictures of that are coming up soon, but it just wasn't inspiring me, and I wasn't sure what to write.

Today, though, I went on a blog-worthy Sunday Funday Afternoon Adventure. I live in central Minnesota, and one of the sites that has been on my list of things to see since I permanently moved here almost two years ago is Crow Wing State Park. The park is located just south of Brainerd (Minnesota's vacationland) on Highway 371. It's a pretty small park, and not well-known, which is a shame as it has some really amazing historic sites.

The area known as "Crow Wing" is situated at the confluence of the Mississippi and Crow Wing rivers. In the middle of the place where these two rivers meet is an island shaped like a bird's wing, which may be the source of the name. Rivers, as any good social studies teacher will tell you, are always a source of travel and transportation, and this area saw lots of people who used the river. The earliest, of course, were the Native Americans who lived here, particularly the Ojibwe and Dakota who fought for control of the area. British fur traders and soldiers were thought to be in the area as early as the middle of the 18th century. After the game of hot potato known as the subsequent trades leading up to the Louisiana Purchase, French fur traders began to settle in earnest and used the Mississippi river, and other rivers, to transport their goods. Lumbermen and loggers were also attracted to the area for its dense forests, particularly for the white pine. As if there wasn't enough traffic through the area, the Red River oxcart trail traveled along the Mississippi river, cutting right through the area and offering an overland supply route into Canada.
Crow Wing Island, as viewed from the east bank of the Mississippi river. Very flooded, as you can see!

Given these factors, this area was prime for settlement in the 1820s - 1840s. The various groups who interacted in this area - white Yankee settlers hoping to get rich, French fur traders hoping for the same, Native Americans and Metis, missionaries from a variety of churches - began a little settlement at this important confluence. It was given the name Crow Wing - I'll leave it up to you, gentle reader, to determine whether the settlers were smart or unoriginal. Over time the town grew to a population of over 600 at its peak in the 1860s, rivaling other settlements in the upper Midwest. But just as quickly as it popped up, it disappeared, as boom towns are wont to do. By the 1870s, the Native Americans and Metis were moved to the White Earth reservation and the railroads had passed by the settlement. The town was left to ruin.

The state Department of Natural Resources has done a great job of preserving and interpreting this site. There is only one building left, but there are markers indicating where other buildings were, and the boardwalk has been rebuilt so that one can get an idea of the lay of the land and imagine what the settlement was like. I really enjoyed my time and got some great pictures on a beautiful blue-sky day.

(Here, it should be noted that I am not an outdoorsy person. I like the outdoors and nature well enough, but when things get too real I head inside. And I picked the height of tick season to go tromping around in the woods and the tall-grass prairies to take these pictures for you. If you've never encountered a tick, you are lucky - if bunny rabbits and kittens and duckings are proof of a loving God, ticks are proof that Satan exists. I foiled three wood ticks in their attempts to liberate me of my blood as I took these pictures. I hope you appreciate them, I really do.)

 This is the Clement Beaulieu mansion, built in 1849. It is commonly believed to be the oldest building in north central Minnesota. Clement Beaulieu was a prominent citizen, trader, merchant, speculator, and general man-about-town in Crow Wing. His mansion is the only building left - Beaulieu and his wife were Metis, so they were relocated to White Earth, and the was moved to a family farm after Crow Wing was abandoned. It was then moved back here in the 1980s and restored. It stands on the top of the valley, overlooking the Mississippi river - pride of place, indeed!
This boardwalk is a recreation of the boardwalk which ran along the river and served as main street for Crow Wing. The town had stores, hotels, taverns, and warehouses. Cellar pits for many buildings are still evident. The list of town residents is like a who's who in Minnesota history - Morrison, Peake, Whipple, Aitken, Rice, Father Pierz, Hole-in-the-Day and Curly Head all lived here, or traveled through here, or did business here. Crow Wing even made mention in Harper's Weekly. It really was quite a place back then!

This is the view above the Mississippi river, on the other side of the valley from the Beaulieu house. Crow Wing Island is to the left, and the site of Crow Wing town is to the right. At the top, you can see where the Crow Wing river meets the Mississippi river. It's like the convergence of two major highways.

Those who know anything about Minnesota history, or the history of the Old Northwest, will be geeking out with me when they see this picture. The Red River trail was an oxcart trail used by Metis from the Red River valley (just like the song) to travel between Canada and Saint Paul. It was hugely important to the settlement of Minnesota and the transportation of goods, people, and ideas. The park has a section of the Red River trail which can be hiked.

Unfortunately, most of the trail looked like this. But I got to hike about a mile and a half of the Red River trail! This history nerd geeked out the whole way.

And really, I couldn't get enough of the different angles of the Beaulieu house. 1840s Greek Revivals are one of my absolute favorite styles of architecture, and if I could live in this house, I would. I really want to sew an 1850s dress and go back to do a photo shoot.

I think what I liked best about this site, though, are the stories behind the area and the town. I think all history comes down to relationships - it's about how people interact with each other, with their environment, and with the ideas and problems they encounter along the way. Crow Wing is all about these relationships, and this view sums it up best - one lonely sentinel on a hill, serving as witness to a forgotten time.

Update 6/2/2013 6:53 PM: I have done the all-over-nekkid-tick-check and there is not a single one to be found. I vanquish thee, Nature!

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