Back in Time: The Bengston place

The Merchants House, shown circa  1889, was known as a Swedish boarding house. (Photo courtesy of the Washington County Historical Society)

The Merchants House, shown circa 1889, was known as a Swedish boarding house. (Photo courtesy of the Washington County Historical Society)

BY BRENT PETERSON – GAZETTE COLUMNIST

The Merchants House, shown below circa 1917, served as a boarding house for many years. (Photo courtesy of the Washington County Historical Society)

The Merchants House, shown below circa 1917, served as a boarding house for many years. (Photo courtesy of the Washington County Historical Society)

Coming from a foreign land or from just another state, new settlers to Stillwater and the St. Croix Valley needed a place to stay. It could be one of the many hotels in the area, or it might be with another family or boarding house. These boarding houses were the first step for a person or family to become a part of the community.

Right after the McKusick mill was completed, McKusick constructed a boarding house for the employees of the mill to stay. These boarding houses would not only serve mill hands but others were built to help out certain nationalities — German, Italian and Scandinavian.

John Bengston, born in Sweden around 1848, came to Stillwater and first worked in the lumber industry. In the 1880s he opened his own boarding house known as the Merchants House at 319 N. Third St. According to E.L. Roney in his book, “Looking Backwards,” the Bengston Place catered to “Swedish folks,” and in the summer months the boarders often sat outside the house and “played Swedish tunes on their accordions.”

Want to read more? Check out the Friday, Jan. 31, 2014, issue of The Gazette, available at newsstands through Tuesday, Feb. 4, or at our office 1931 Curve Crest Blvd., Stillwater. Brent Peterson is executive director of the Minnesota Historical Society.

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