Platte River Log Drives & Dams

Logging dam at an unidentified location on the upper Mississippi River, c. 1901. MCHS Collections #0000.000.302.

Logging dam at an unidentified location on the upper Mississippi River, c. 1901. MCHS Collections #0000.000.302.

The Platte River in Morrison and Benton Counties runs from Platte Lake in southern Crow Wing County and northeastern Morrison County into the adjacent Sullivan Lake. The two lakes are connected by a thoroughfare. From there, the river flows to the west to Round Lake, a distance of about 1 1/2 miles as the crow flies. From Round Lake, it flows south/southwest to just beyond the junction of Morrison County Roads 43 and 45, where it turns to the east/southeast for approximately 3 miles before turning back to the south/southwest and on to Rice/Skunk Lake about halfway on its 55.1-mile journey to the Mississippi River.

There is a good description of the various types of dams and other work that was done to improve water flow for the purpose of floating logs down the small streams to the various sawmills on a website called “Evaluating Minnesota’s Historical Dams.” This site says there were nine logging dams on the Platte River, however, it doesn’t say where they were, with the exception of two, and other information gives the impression that one may have been located at the exit of the Platte River out of Round Lake and one at the town of Royalton. That leaves five logging dams to speculate where they were.

Logging dams were usually temporary dams that were built to raise and hold water behind the dam, which allowed logs to be floated downstream to the dam site. Downstream from the first dam would be another dam that was built to collect water overflow in the spring of the year. Once a fair amount of logs were behind the first dam, logs that formed the dam would be pulled or dynamited out, releasing the stored water and logs, which would float downstream to the second dam, where the process would be repeated downstream. This process would be used all the way to the larger rivers, where the logs would float freely.

This leads us to Dam 33, which is about one-third of the way from the source of the Platte River to the Mississippi River. Why was it named Dam 33? Was it the 33rd dam from the head of the river or the 33rd from the Platte’s junction with the Mississippi? Would you believe it is in Section 33 of Platte Township in Morrison County? My fascination with Dam 33 goes back to my early childhood in the late ‘40s, early ‘50s. My father and grandfather used to take me fishing for bullheads at Dam 33. Dam 33 is located just off of Melody Road, about 1/4 mile north of Morrison County Road 47. From Melody Road down to the dam site is about one block through private property and brush. When I visited the site, there was quite a pool of water and you could still see the pilings driven in the ground to hold the logs to make the dam. This dam, once completed, would raise the water level 4 feet.

Log driving on the Platte River began in 1856. There is not much recorded about where this drive started or how it was done.

The first reference that mentions names of people making the log drives was in 1872, when C. B. Buckman started logging operations on the Platte River and its tributaries, the Skunk River and Hillman Creek. Hillman Creek meets the Skunk River in Pierz and the Skunk flows on to Rice/Skunk Lake. No mention of where these logs were headed for. In 1874, T. Casper built a sawmill on the Skunk River in Pierz Township. In 1876, he took Peter H. Berg as his partner. No mention of the exact location or how long this mill was in operation.

In 1876, Charles Gravel made a claim on land in Section 35 of Belle Prairie Township, Morrison County, along the Platte River and started to build a permanent dam and sawmill. Charles’ brother, Narcisse, was involved with this project. The dam and sawmill were in operation in 1877.

A short article dated April 20, 1896, stated the Platte River log drive would start at Round Lake with Charles Gravel and James Muncy in charge. Repairing of dams, including Dam 33 and the Gravelville Dam, was being done.

On April 25, 1934, there is an article in the Little Falls Daily Transcript recalling log drives down the Platte River. This article states that 1899 was the last year of log drives on the Platte River, however, there is extensive info on a log drive down the Platte River in 1900. From what I could gather, this drive was mainly of hardwood logs, which do not float as well as pine logs. There are other references to hardwood logs being taken out of other drives and transported by horse-drawn wagons to their destinations. The 1900 log drive was started at Round Lake, Section 2 of Pulaski Township on May 1, 1900, using water stored by lake dams. No dams were intended to be used from the lakes to Gravelville. The article does state that the oak point dams above Rice Lake were being repaired. On May 25, 1900, it was stated that the log drive would hang up above Dam 33. It was determined to rebuild Dam 33, which would take a few days. After the dam was rebuilt, then the log drive should be able to reach Gravelville in a few days, a distance of about 6 1/2 miles as the crow flies. On June 6, 1900, the article says the drive could hang up again after Dam 33 because of low water. Dam 33 only raises the water level 4 feet.

After being rebuilt, each of its splashes/flushes will help to push the tail of the drive downstream. However, it takes six hours to reach a 4-foot head and, with the rebuild, they can only get two splashes/flushes a day. They expect to reach the Gravelville Pond in two days.

There is no information as to the location of the other logging dams on the Platte River. We can only speculate as to some of the possible locations. Was there one at the outlet of Sullivan Lake? By the wording in the articles, we are pretty sure there is one at the outlet of Round Lake. Then there was Dam 33 and the one in Gravelville.

In an article I found on a website titled “Minnesota Reports: Logging Cases Argued in Court,” there is reference to Tribby’s camp and Morrison Dam between Gravelville and Rice Lake. Can we assume there was a dam at Tribby’s camp? I couldn’t find any other reference to Tribby’s camp or its location. I couldn’t find any info on the referenced Morrison Dam in this court case or its possible location. I speculate that Tribby’s camp and Morrison Dam were between Gravelville and Rice/Skunk Lakes due to info in the Court Case referenced above, maybe a little south of Highway 27, where the Platte River crosses Highway 27. There was a picture of a dam at Royalton. The picture shows a flour mill at south Royalton. The picture shows the Commander Mill, which appears to be a flour mill belonging to Gregory Bliss and company. The dam appears to be a permanent structure. The picture is dated 1908. The Gravelville Dam was also a permanent structure with a road across the top. This accounts for three known dams and speculation for two others.

This leave us 4 more dams to try to locate and 4 speculated ones to confirm. There is a present day “rolling dam” at Rice Lake at the outlet of the Platte River. I don’t know if there was a permanent dam at Rice Lake at the time of the logging industry or not. There was no reference to any dam at Rice Lake. Rice Lake was referenced as a place where they could sort the logs for different logging companies, so there very well could have been a dam at the outlet. A fellow by the name of Larry Kay, who was at the Morrison County Historical Society, overheard my conversation with MCHS staff about dams on the Platte River and he informed us that there was “Muncy’s Dam”, which was located about one block south of the bridge over the Platte River on Morrison County Road 35. What we understood from what Larry told us was that Muncy’s Dam was built and operated much like Dam 33, a semi-permanent structure.

The permanent dams had sluiceways built into them. The sluiceway could be opened to let logs through while maintaining enough of a water head to operate milling equipment or other water-powered equipment. The temporary dams were built out of brush, rocks, tree limbs and available dirt. These were usually blown up to let logs through. Then there were the more permanent ones like Dam 33 and Muncy’s Dam that had pilings driven in the ground to hold logs placed between the pilings to create a dam. When enough water had built up behind these dams, the logs would be pulled out to let the water and logs through.

Dams like 33 and Muncy’s were rebuilt time after time. The brush, rock dams were usually one-time use. There were also permanent rolling dams built. These were meant to stay in place but only raise the water level 2 to 3 feet and water usually flowed over the top with enough force to carry the logs over. The current dam at Rice Lake is now a rolling dam.

I hope this gives some insight into how the logs were moved down the small streams. I believe everyone should envision the work that went into these drives as you look at the smaller streams and wonder, how did they do that? Envision the Skunk River and Hillman Creek in eastern Morrison County being dammed in various areas to create pools to float logs. There is also mention of logs being floated down the Little Elk River, Swan River, the Nokasippi River just north of Fort Ripley, and I’m sure there were other small streams used also.

~ Peter C. Larsen

Peter C. Larsen is a volunteer at the Morrison County Historical Society.

Sources:

Arnot, Sigrid et. al., Evaluating Minnesota’s Historical Dams: A Framework for Management, Archaeo Physics, Minneapolis, MN, December 2013. Accessed online at: https://mn.gov/admin/assets/2013-Evaluating-Minnesota’s-Historic-Dams–A-Framework-for-Management_tcm36-187250.pdf

LeBlanc, Stella, The First Cross: Belle Prairie, Diocese of St. Cloud, Minnesota, 1970.

“Last Log Drive On Platte Big News Of Day 35 Years Back,” Little Falls Daily Transcript, April 25, 1934.

“Platte River Drive Coming Out,” Little Falls Daily Transcript, May 1, 1900.

“Hung Up Temporarily: Platte River Drive Will be Held at “33” Dam Until the Dam Is Rebuilt,” Little Falls Daily Transcript, May 25, 1900.

Untitled short local item on Tom Porter’s report regarding Platte River drive, Little Falls Daily Transcript, June 6, 1900.

Kasparek, Val, “Great Industry, Logging & Lumbering, In Morrison County,” Morrison County Historical Society, April 18, 1948.

“Platte Drive Will Start,” Little Falls Daily Transcript, April 20, 1896.

Logan, Frank B., Historical Sketches of Royalton and Vicinity, May 1930, pg. 44 shows photo of Royalton Dam with Commander Mill referenced above.

Young, George B., Minnesota Reports: Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of Minnesota: March 1886 – October 1886, Vol. 35., West Publishing Company, St. Paul, MN, 1887, pg. 326-327. Accessed online at https://books.google.com/books?id=_-5HAQAAMAAJ&lpg=PA326&ots=KUjHEeCWvH&dq=minnesota%20reports%20logging%20cases%20argued%20in%20court%20tribby&pg=PP6#v=onepage&q=minnesota%20reports%20logging%20cases%20argued%20in%20court%20tribby&f=false.


 

This article has been edited for length. To read the full article, visit The Charles A. Weyerhaeuser Memorial Museum.

This article originally appeared in the Morrison County Historical Society newsletter, Vol. 31, No. 1, 2018.

Comments are closed.

  • Calendar of MCHS Events