Pine River, Minnesota Histroy

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Pine River's Historic Railway Depot
Minnesota Archaeologist/Historian Douglas Birk, of Heritage Group North (HGN), has traced
the construction of the Depot through five phases beginning with its erection in 1895 as a
"temporary" building with a single room. By 1898, the Depot was a 40 by 18 foot frame building
consisting of waiting room, an office with a bay window, and a small freight room. The M&I
made further modifications after 1901. In 1914 the Depot reached its maximum size of 84 by 18
feet with a 15-foot canopy addition on the south end and a 250-foot platform of brick pavers at
State Historic Architect Charles Nelson made an onsite evaluation of the Depot in 2001 and
found that it was a 'relatively easy restoration.' The Minnesota firm of MacDonald & Mack Ltd.,
which specializes historic restoration, also determined that the Depot is restorable, and, under
contract with MnDOT, completed plans and specifications for the relocation and exterior
Native Americans and fur traders long used the waterways in the Pine River area for canoe travel
and as winter roads. The great American explorer, Zebulon Pike, passed through the Pine River
area on snowshoes in 1806. When the Ojibwe signed a treaty in 1855 relinquishing much of
northern Minnesota to the United States, lumbermen and other non-Indians entered the ceded
lands. In 1855 the government opened the Leech Lake Trail, the first formal road to Leech Lake.
The trail was routed north from Crow Wing (now Crow Wing State Park) right through what is
now the City of Pine River. That winter some Leech Lake traders ascended the trail with horses
and dog teams. The new trail served as a government mail and freight route and as a military road
that gave U. S. Army troops at Fort Ripley unprecedented access to the heart of the Mississippi
Headwaters Region.
In 1873, George Angus Barclay, a veteran of the American Civil War, settled on the Leech Lake
Trail at a bridge on the south fork of the Pine River, where he opened a trading post. In 1875 he
moved his operation a mile north and established "Barclay's Ranch." The ranch, with an
expanded farming and retail operation, became a halfway house on the Leech Lake trail. The trail
was adapted as a stage line, and horse-drawn Concord coaches began running on the road.
Barclay then entered the logging business, cutting pine logs and driving them on the Pine River
to sawmills downstream.
The B&NM railroad passed through Barclay's Ranch in 1894, leading to the construction of the
Pine River Depot in 1895. At the time, the standard-gauge B&NM was already considered to be
"the greatest logging railroad in the world." With the coming of the railroad, Barclay built a large
hotel just across the Leech Lake Trail from the Depot.
The 1890s were turbulent times on Minnesota's northern frontier. Ih 1898, Government troops
confronted the Ojibwe at Leech Lake in what has since been called "the last Indian war in the
United States." On their way to and from the battle, American soldiers passed through Pine
River, right by the Pine River Depot, on the B&NM rail line. The railway telegraph was used for
military communications between Walker and St. Paul.
Barclay was murdered in the lobby of his hotel one night in October 1898, and several men in the
Depot at the time heard the shot. Following Barclay's death his wife remarried. Her second
husband laid out the town of Pine River, using the Depot and the hotel as cornerstones of the new
city grid.
The canoe routes, Indian trails, log drives, Leech Lake Trail, snow shoes, dog sleds, Concord
coaches, freight wagons, the railroad, and more recently the automobile are all related to
transportation. In addition, steamboats plied some local lakes pulling log booms or hauling
tourists and even mail was distributed by boat to some resorts and lake cabins until the late
1950's. The area has an endless supply of transportation and frontier settlement stories to tell and
we think the Pine River Railway Depot will provide an ideal setting in which to tell them.
The Pine River Depot is a landmark and icon that predates the development and incorporation of
the city of which it is a part. As a tangible link to the past, it gives local residents of all ages
(including senior citizens who 'lived' some of the early history) a physical connection to the
processes that formed and 'grew' the community they live in. Visitors to the area will gain insight
into what it took to open and settle the frontier of northern Minnesota and an appreciation for the
forces and events that helped to establish the faster, and considerably safer and more comfortable
transportation systems of today.
The local area should obtain economic benefit from the Depot as a tourist attraction and catalyst
for similar historical renovation and development. The Depot is on the renowned Paul Bunyan
Trail and is situated at the end of the new, Federally designated, Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway,
making it a tourist destination that will draw visitors to the 'end of the loop'.