The community of Stillwater is full of hills and valleys. Walking around downtown usually means going down – then having to come back up - the hills. To make it easier on the health-conscious walker, there are several staircases built into the bluff to help get back up into the neighborhoods of Stillwater.
The most well-known set of stairs are those on south Main Street. These stairs are commonly called the “Main Street stairs.” The steps lead from Main Street up to South Broadway and have been used by generations of Stillwater citizens.
The Main Street stairs were started back as early as the summer of 1857. An article in the “Stillwater Messenger” shouted, “Walk up!” It noted, “Our enterprising citizens on the bluff in ‘Nelson’s Addition,’ with Mr. Estabrook at the head of the movement, have constructed a stair-way from Main Street to the top of the bluff – over one hundred feet in height – which will prove a great convenience to pedestrians.” Also noting the scenic aspects of the top of the steps, the article continued, “Persons desiring a view of the city, the lake and the surrounding country, from this bold and romantic point, can now get it without inconvenience. From no other point can be found a finer view of water and woodland scenery.”
“Make the ascent,” the editor said, “it will repay the trouble, besides sharpening the appetite for breakfast.”
In the “Stillwater Lumberman,” dated Sept. 10, 1875, a small note about the stairs stated: “In accordance with instructions from the city council, the street commissioner is constructing a new series of steps from Main Street to Broadway, near the Brewery of Wolf, Tanner & Co. The new ones are to be located about twenty feet from the brewery, making it much more pleasant for those who have occasion to travel up and down them.”
The stairs needed repair over the years, especially when they were just made of wood. In the “Stillwater Democrat” of December 1887, the new Main Street stairs were to be “built by Patrick Callan and W.S. Hudson for $480. They will furnish bonds in the sum of $200 to have them completed inside 30 days.”
Over time the Main Street steps would be repaired, moved slightly east or west, but they continue to help the residents and visitors of Stillwater get to where they want to go.
Another set of stairs that leads from town to the residential district are those from Chestnut Street leading from Third Street up the hill to Fourth Street. They are located alongside the Jassoy Block. The “Stillwater Messenger” of May 19, 1871, tells about the construction of these steps. The paper said, “A new stairway is being built on Chestnut Street, leading from Third Street to the old Court House hill.”
Other stairways into downtown Stillwater include those on East Laurel Street near the Washington County Historical Society’s Warden’s House Museum. These steps seem to disappear into the trees, but then emerge into Stillwater’s Pioneer Park. These stairs were probably originally used by mill workers in Staples Mill.
In addition, on the south end going out of town on Highway 36, some steps lead to the residential district. These steps were formed after the highway was widened. Earlier, these steps actually formed a road that wagons and carriages traveled during the late 19th century.
Today, as it was over 165 years ago, the citizens of Stillwater still rely on stairs to carry them from the top of the bluff to the city down in the Valley.
Some things never change.
Brent Peterson is executive director of the Washington County Historical Society, wchsmn.org.
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