Column: Back in time – One of the last lumber kings

George Atwood sits in a chair at work. (Photo courtesy of the Washington County Historical Society)

George Atwood sits in a chair at work. (Photo courtesy of the Washington County Historical Society)


Lumber and lumber barons have filled the pages of Stillwater’s history. From McKusick, Staples, Hersey and Bean, these are names that are still a part of the fabric of Stillwater’s life.

One of the last of the lumber kings in the St. Croix Valley hardly gets a mention. He was George Atwood and made a name for himself not only in lumbering, but also with his observatory.

Atwood was born in Waterville, Maine, on Nov. 5, 1861, the son of Judson and Loana Atwood. His father entered the Civil War with the First Maine Cavalry, but was stricken with fever and died. George was raised by his mother and was educated in the local schools and attended college in Maine.

After College, Atwood engaged in the lumber business in Michigan. On Dec. 21, 1882, in Grand Rapids, Mich., he married Julia Patchin.

George arrived in Stillwater in June of 1884 to work for the Hersey, Bean & Brown Lumber Company on the south end of Stillwater. This company would later become known as the Hersey & Bean Lumber Company.

In 1891, Atwood purchased approximately 22 million feet of lumber and leased the “A” mill from Hersey & Bean and went into business for himself. Three years later, 1894, he was the first lumberman in the valley to bring in logs by rail. This resulted in an additional five million feet of lumber into his business.

In 1901 Atwood expanded his lumber empire when he purchased his “B” mill from Schulenburg and Boeckeler. He developed an output of more than 100 million feet of lumber each year, an average said to have been maintained for more than a dozen years. Atwood was also a partner with Fredrick Weyerhaeuser and William Sauntry in the Atwood Lumber Company at Willow River.

Just before the outbreak of World War I, Atwood organized the Twin City Forge and Foundry and served as its president and general manager. During the war, the plant was converted to a munitions factory and also constructed river barges for the U.S. Government.

Atwood spent a large amount of his earnings in this area, especially on his home, cabin and museum. His cabin, known as the “Anchorage,” faced Hudson, Wis., from the Minnesota side of the St. Croix River. The cabin was sold in 1908 to the St. Paul Automobile Club. Atwood’s private museum was one of the finest private museums in the country.

Atwood was a collector of almost everything and had a large collection of stuffed animals and bear rugs. He enjoyed showing his collection to people and it is said that he had entertained such people as Cole Younger and Theodore Roosevelt.

The museum also included bowling alleys and an observatory. His observatory burned in 1904, and the museum was torn down around 1940.

His wife Julia died in the late 1920s, and they had no children. Atwood then remarried in 1934 to Aurilla Chadlgren. George Atwood was the director of the First National Bank of Stillwater, a member of the Masons, Elks and Odd Fellow lodges.

George Atwood died at his home at 320 West Pine Street on March 16, 1938, and was buried in Fairview Cemetery.

Brent Peterson is executive director of the Washington County Historical Society in Stillwater.


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