Crow Wing Country Courthouse

Crow Wing County was established on May 23, 1857 and organized March 3, 1879. The county is named for the Crow Wing River.

Tie placers, bridge builders, engineers, laborers, scraper gangs, pile drivers. Men worked, ate and slept rail lines earning about $2 a day. Most were immigrants. Workers slept on bunks in railroad cars. Food came from an adjoining cook car. Once a month supply trains arrived with staples and the railroad payroll.

Nine locomotives, 130 flat cars and 26 box cars were part of the equipment roster. On level ground about two miles of track could be laid in a day. In addition, telegraph poles and lines were set.

Getting town folks to occupy the newly platted sites was also in the railroad's best interest. Land sales fueled the costs of laying track westward. And people meant more commerce, more supplies to haul, more mail to deliver, more people to buy tickets.

In early 1873, a young Brainerd was a bustling frontier center with a business district centered on Front Street, lots of choices for lodging, more for those who wanted a drink and even a few houses dedicated to the soul.

The city was created amid so many towering Norway and jackpines that Brainerd was known as the "city of pines" -- had 21 stores, 18 hotels, boarding houses and lodging houses, 15 saloons and five churches.

Additional cities would grow, but Brainerd, the town the Northern Pacific Railroad built would serve as a hub for future development. The railroad would bring the tourists and lakes resorts would grow, cities would develop. The discovery of iron ore on the Cuyuna Range would create entire new communities, some would later die out while others found new ways to thrive to this day.

A view toward northeast Brainerd shows the dominance of rail line in the city in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Brainerd, chosen from Smith's wife's maiden name, became the Northern Pacific headquarters and housed repair shops for railroad cars. Hundreds were employed. The railroad constructed the Headquarters Hotel and the Northern Pacific hospital.

A stated railroad policy, resolved in 1881, set the tone for town creation. Lots, not to exceed one block to any one organization, were donated for schools, churches and charitable organizations.

Northern Pacific President Villard was the driving force for the notable four story hotel that bore his name near the depot in Brainerd. The hotel was lost to fire in 1882. The following year, Villard traveled west to take part in the golden spike ceremony for the completion of the railroad.

In 1886 My Great grandfather, (John Leja) arrived in Duluth from Poland. A year later he brought over his wife and two sons (Joe & Frank). He worked for the Duluth Street Railroad, until he move his family to Union Junction, MN just north of Two Harbors, MN to run the railroad section house.

Dr. John Camp, a physician and surgeon serving the logging camps, started the Lumberman's hospital with 15 beds in 1890. The hospital was located on First Avenue and Kindred Street

Spectators gather at the twisted wreckage from a Sept. 19, 1891, train derailment in front of the Northern Pacific Sanitarium, near the present day Brainerd Regional Human Services.

Between 1897 and 1898 the Gull River Lumber Company move to Northeast Brainerd and was renamed The Northwest Paper Mill.

Workers stop for a crew picture at the Northern Pacific shops in Brainerd in the 1890s.

In 1899, the Northern Pacific Railroad shops in northeast Brainerd sat on about 25 acres with 10 to 12 acres covered by buildings, including a roundhouse.


Items purchased on a Jan. 19, 1899 shopping trip to Aitkin were recorded in a diary kept by a Deerwood resident. Items included: Sugar for $3, raisins for 25 cents, soda for 10 cents, a pail of syrup for 75 cents, 14 yards of quilt cloth, $1.40, five pounds of tapioca, 25 cents.

At the turn-of-the century a trip from Emily to Brainerd, about 40 miles, took three days round trip with two sites along the way for travelers to spend the night. Brainerd was then the nearest trading post and Crosslake, 14 miles away, had the closest post office.

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Last Updated 26 May 2012