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Rivard, John T. / Triple centennial jubilee souvenir book : Somerset

Chapter VI: transportation,   pp. 24-25

Page 24

In the first days around Somerset you traveled by water or
on foot. The St. Croix was well traveled. Large steamboats
plied the majestic river from New Orleans to St. Croix Falls.
These boats had side wheels or back-paddle wheels to carry them
through low water and sand bars. They were the passenger car,
riers, freighters and mail carriers. The life on the river immortal,
ized by Mark Twain was a romance all its own. A "river man"
was a breed of his own. They were colorful and devoted to
'Old Man River', it was in their blood. Their life has been
the subject of poem and song. Captain Edward LaGrandeur
skippered the "Dispatch" on the St. Croix and Mississippi before
settling in Somerset. Some others also worked on the river
boats from time to time.
It was a great event when the steamboat whistle sounded
away off on its way to the little docks along the St. Croix.
The children from three to ninety came down to see the boat
dock and unload. A passenger or two came down the gang,
plank. Then they unloaded the precious freight which was the
lifeblood of the settlement. First of all they watched for the
mail bag, that precious contact with relatives and friends back
home in the East. Then there was the boxes of food, canned,
dried and otherwise. Suddenly there was a cry of glee -  they
were unloading the piano, the first piano for miles around. The
sawmill owner had bought it for his daughter. And he had
assured the folks that they could come over to the house and
listen and sing some evenings. "It came way from New York",
cried a youngster as he spied the writing on the big box. "I hope
that dry goods shipment came for the store", said one lady to
an equally anxious neighbor, "you know I haven't a decent thing
to wear to church."  A large number of boxes to the little store
meant a few happy days of shopping for much needed supplies
and the few little luxuries they allowed themselves.
Famous steamer Isaac Staples of Stillwater, noted rafter on the
St. Croix and lower rivers.  Built by Morgan, and used by the
famous lumberman, Isaac Staples, to haul out a part of his enormous
output of logs from the St. Croix to the many mills on the lower
river. Rebuilt by George Muller for Bronson and Folsom. Picture
taken in 1902.
Our pioneers came by steamboat mostly from Prairie du
Chien, which was the nearest point to the river from Chicago.
If you turn right just before you arrive at the bottom of
Landing Hill into a gravel road and travel windingly for one
mile you will come to the St. Croix River. This spot has been
called Harriman's Landing since 1856. It was here that Sam
Harriman built a dock and a warehouse. Later he also built a
grain elevator. The river runs deep near the bank and afforded
the best place closest to the Settlement for docking a steamboat
to let off passengers and supplies. This place is now owned by
Karl Neumeirer of Stillwater as a summer home.
The first pioneers debarked at this point with their few
supplies. There were no roads, of course, for some time. A
trail blazed with the axe were the best they could do for a few
years. When they needed supplies which they could not form
with their own hands or grow on the land, they took off by foot
for Hudson or by river for Stillwater. They would hail a
steamer or smaller craft going by at the Landing. Hitchhiking
is not new stuff. Our forefathers were very adept at it. Back at
the Landing they walked up the hill and to their homes with
all on their backs. Oftentimes they walked way to Hudson and
back with more than I oo pounds on their back.
Then came the roads.    The road to Stillwater was the
greatest boon to Somerset. Before the bridge there was a ferry.
Oftentimes you had to wait a long time to get across. You can
still see how winding and torturous the roads were, they went
around every little pot-hole.  Roads were built with ox or
horse and handscraper. No road went straight down a grade.
It was easier and cheaper to go down like a cow-path, on the
bias. A team could not possibly hold a load on some of our
grades today. After the ox cart, called la Charrette in French,
came the wagon with team. If you were fairly well off you
had a team of broncos and a buggy. On Sunday the roads to
the church were dotted with wagons and buggies, sometimes so
close as to form a little procession. In Somerset there were just
a few of the more ornate buggies - the surrey with the fringe
on top.
Corpus Christi Procession - 1910
Note the sheds and the buggies. Parishioners traveled slow but
surely. Going to church was more difficult those days, but go
they did through rain and snow.
A trip by buggy or wagon to Stillwater was an all day
affair. And a glorious day for the children it was, as it meant
riding, shopping, visiting and a bag of candy or peanuts if they
behaved.  Back that same night the event was discussed for
several months. If you did not want to go by yourself there
was always a livery for hire. In winter the sleigh and cutter, or
perhaps a bob sled were the modes of travel. They did not
pay too much attention to the roads because after a storm you
could not find the road anyhow. A sleigh with high sideboards,
and plenty of straw and blankets was a deluxe voyage to church,
town or on a visit to the neighbors. And how the horses would
fly on the way home! You were anxious too to arrive near the
fire of your cozy home after hours in a cold biting wind and
driving snow.
"The railroad is coming to Somerset" was the cry in 1884.
Sam Harriman had used his influence to get the Wisconsin
Central Railway to come near Somerset on its way to St. Paul.
His success was not complete. The road had to cut through
further south in order to hit a low spot over the St. Croix. It
came through the draw at the bottom of Landing Hill. The
depot was built 3  miles southwest of Somerset, a half-mile
from 35 on the gravel road to the right before you reach the
bottom of the hill. At least, 3   miles to the railroad was an
improvement. The first station agent was D. D. Harrington.
He was followed by C. Simpkins, Mr. Shepard, John Philip
and Cliff Ramberg.

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