Collections Carousel – Swanville’s McRae Brothers and George W. Friedrich Park

Deer Hunting Party – Walter Cofield, John McRae, Beseman, Herman Muske and two unidentified men. Circa 1900. (1976.47.97)
Alexander McRae Family – Alexander, Martha (wife), John, Donald, Alexander (son), Jennie, Mattie, Flora. Circa 1900. (1976.47.20)

While doing research for the Stearns History Museum on George W. Friedrich Park, a natural conservation area in southeast St. Cloud, Minnesota, that is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, I stumbled across a wonderful tidbit of information that directly ties the early history of the site to two prominent early Morrison County residents, John J. (1854-1928) and Alexander (b. 1849) McRae. In the second of three articles written by John J. that were published by The Swanville News in the spring of 1914, McRae writes that:

(d)uring the summer of 1868, my brother and myself helped to open up the stone quarries, where now the state reformatory stands below St. Cloud. I do not remember the wages we got but they were very small in comparison with the cost of living at that time. (“More Early History – J. J. McRe (sic) here Forty-Eight Years.” The Swanville News. 5 June 1914.)

John J. and his brother, Alexander, had come to Minnesota in 1866 with their parents, Duncan and Anna, and two siblings, Duncan, Jr., and Jennie. (Fuller Clara. The History of Morrison and Todd Counties, Minnesota. 1915: 361.) One of their first jobs was to clear land in the area that is now George W. Friedrich Park and the Minnesota Correctional Facility. Both brothers came to the job with a lot of credentials. Even though he was only fourteen years old at the time, John J. had already worked in copper mines in Michigan with his father and during the winter of 1866-67 had helped him clear land for the depot and rail yards in Sauk Rapids. The McCraes were Scottish and one of the owners of the company opening up the quarry site in St. Cloud, John T. Young, was a Scotsmen. His  partner, Matthias Breen, was Irish. One of Breen and Young’s early employees was fellow Scottish immigrant Henry Alexander, who cofounded the Rockville Granite Company in 1889. Now the Cold Spring Granite Company, it is currently one of the largest granite companies in the world. Breen and Young were the first of many companies to work the site that was the birthplace of Minnesota’s granite industry.

Until both his parents died (Duncan died in 1884), John J. helped his father on the family farm in Todd County, just west of Swanville. In 1891, John J. married Elizabeth Dennin and moved to Swanville where he ran a general store with his brother, Alexander, until 1898. John J. then owned and operated a farm implement business until 1915. John J. was the village recorder for Swanville from 1894-1914, served as postmaster from 1901-1915 and was justice of the peace for twelve years. Alexander served as Swanville’s first mayor in 1893.

3 Replies to “Collections Carousel – Swanville’s McRae Brothers and George W. Friedrich Park”

  1. Thank you for this account. John J. McRae is my great-grandfather, and I’m researching this kind of material. I have many fond memories of visiting my grandparents in Swanville with my family (father is Donald).

    1. I am related to Elizabeth Dennin, the wife of John J. McRae. There was another Dennin/Denien family living in Long Prairie who was also related to Elizabeth Dennin McRae.

  2. John J McRae and Elizabeth Dennin McRae were also my great-grandparents through their daughter Alma Elizabeth McRae Adams. Her son,Bruce Duncan Adams, was my father.

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