The Scandia Heritage Trail Map is now available for free in locations throughout Scandia, including the Scandia Community Center and Gammelgarden Museum.
The concept of this project is to share and celebrate the rich history and heritage of Scandia and the surrounding historic hamlets, providing a map for a self-guided bike or drive tour.
The Alliance will be applying for additional Historical and Cultural Heritage Grants to develop outdoor museum displays for some of the city's historic sites.
This Heritage Trail Map was made possible in part by the people of Minnesota through a grant funded by an appropriation to the Minnesota Historical Society from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.
Local businesses covered printing costs so that copies could be shared freely.
The first known inhabitants of the area now known as Scandia were Native Americans. For centuries, they lived and travelled along the St. Croix, establishing villages and developing far-flung trading relationships.
By the early 1800s, the valley was home to both the Dakota and the Ojibwe. The upper St. Croix River Valley was controlled by the Ojibwe, who were culturally connected to Lake Superior. The lower St. Croix was controlled by the Dakota, who hunted bison on both sides of the river.
During the fur trade era, the area became a contested zone between the two nations, and conflicts were frequent. When a trading post and a mission were established near Pine City in the upper St. Croix River Valley, the Ojibwe were drawn further east, but the Dakota pushed them back.
In the 1825 Prairie du Chien Treaty, a boundary line was established between the Ojibwe and Dakota. This line passes through what is now the upper edge of Scandia.
In 1837, the U.S. Government negotiated a treaty with the Dakota and the Ojibwe that ceded the land between the St. Croix and Mississippi Rivers to the United States. U.S. Indian agents bungled the payments to the Ojibwe, and then forced many of them to the area near Lake Mille Lacs. Despite this, Ojibwe remained in the Valley through the 1920s.
Glimpses of the natural beauty and rich biodiversity of the valley can be observed today at William O’Brien State Park, Crystal Spring Scientific and Natural Area, and Falls Creek Scientific and Natural Area.
ABOVE: Lake Alice in William O'Brien State Park. Photo: Tony Webster
At the same time, settlers began to arrive and stake claims on the unsurveyed land on the western side of the St. Croix River. Marine Mills (now Marine on St. Croix) was founded in 1838, and Stillwater was settled in 1842.
By 1839, the Marine Lumber Company was in operation, and the timber industry was stretching north up the St. Croix River Valley. The arrival of thousands of settlers quickly depleted the local game within the valley.
The Dakota adjusted their hunting practices and shifted west. The treaty of 1851 pushed the Dakota further west, ultimately to a small tract along the Minnesota River. Even after this, Dakota would come into the valley for hunting in January and February.
During the 1840s, settlers began to spread out from Stillwater, Marine, and Taylors Falls. The area became home to several small communities. Most of the early settlers were initially from the East Coast, and then from Europe. These settlers were often farmers.
The lumber industry provided additional income for some migrants, who could sign on with winter logging crews after the harvest. Logging remained a central industry until the 1910s.
By 1847, Benjamin Otis and his wife Anna Little Wolf were living in the area near the Log House Landing, along with John Columbus.
Soon after, Anna died and Benjamin moved on. The landing was a convenient place for settlers to access the area, and a small settlement developed there. In 1854, John Columbus and John Copas established a small log cabin store.
In 1856, the town of Otisville was platted here, and a second store, school, hotel, post office, saloon and steam mill were soon established.
However, the panic of 1857 and its economic consequences damped investment and settlement across the nation. It also squashed Otisville’s growth.
A general store, first owned by Charles Ekdahl, remained for decades, but by the 1930s, signs of Otisville were long gone.
In 1849, Benjamin Otis and his second wife Mrs. Jane Ann Church were living in a different home a bit to the south, and using their house as a travelers’ hotel (presently standing at 19580 St. Croix Trail North).
In 1856, Benjamin and Jane Otis and John Columbus platted out the town of Vasa at this location. The small community included a sawmill, store, post office, two hotels, and a saloon.
Unfortunately, the small community was also unable to survive the Panic of 1857. Most of the stores closed and were carted away.
In 1859, the town was renamed Otis. For decades, there was little new in the community. The arrival of a railroad and depot in 1886 seemed to finally bring security.
In 1904, the town was renamed to Copas. The town grew with the addition of a lumber company, potato warehouse, and grain elevator. The town faltered after the lumber mill closed and was mostly gone by the 1930s.
Other small communities lying within Scandia have included Goose Lake, Hay Lake, Bone (or Bonny) Lake, Fish Lake, Big Marine Lake, Sand Lake, Long Lake, Horseshoe Lake, Moody Lake, and Keewahtin Lake.
Most successful of all the communities was the hamlet of Scandia.
In 1850, the first three Swedish settlers arrived at what became (central) New Scandia Township. Carl Fernstrom, Oscar Roos, and August Sandahl came ashore at what is now the Log House Landing.
They climbed up the banks and travelled east to the edge of Hay Lake, where the Swedish trio built a house and began farming. Though they stayed just a year, their efforts marked the beginning of a Swedish immigration wave.
In May 1854, local Swedish immigrants gathered at the home of Daniel Nilson to organize a Lutheran congregation. Services were held in the home until the first Elim Church was built in 1856 -- a modest 20-by-30-foot log structure near Hay Lake and Sand Lake. First known as Marine Country Church, the building stands today at Gammelgarden Museum and is the oldest Lutheran church building in Minnesota.
A small village center soon grew up around the church. In 1879, Frank Lake established a store, initially known as the Farmers’ Store, and later as the Scandia Mercantile Company.
A bank, post office, butcher shop, barbershop, blacksmith, school, feed mill and store, telephone cooperative, millinery, and dairy cooperative were all established. Despite the lack of a railroad line, the community continued to thrive.
In 1893, New Scandia Township was formed. In the 1900s, two separate banks were established, and it seems like Scandia’s fortunes were secured.
By the 1950s, the area around Scandia began to change. Suburban expansion, highway development, farm mechanization, and other economic changes shifted the character of the community.
As farmers retired and farms consolidated or disappeared, Scandia became a bedroom community. The religious and ethnic homogeneity began to dissipate.
Today, Scandia remains proud of its heritage and community activism. In 2007, the City of Scandia was incorporated.
The Scandia Heritage Alliance was formed in 2018 to promote Scandia’s history and heritage and draw visitors. The group hopes to connect the popular Gateway bicycle and hiking trail to the city’s historic areas.
This image, created ca. 1980 for Scandia Civic Club, a historic predecessor of Scandia Heritage Alliance, helped inspire the Scandia Heritage Trail.