Below the highways that divide the old city from the newer developments, there’s an old river town, built into the terraces along the Mississippi River. The first building in town was a log tavern that was floated down river from Sauk Rapids by Simon Stevens and placed at the mouth of the Clearwater River.
Alonzo Boyington and Asa White wanted to call their new settlement Eldorado, but others arrived with different ideas and platted a village that was called Clearwater in 1856, the same year a sawmill opened. The town was built where the Clearwater River met the Mississippi, so there was enough water power to supply a couple of mills to get things going. During the peak of the logging era, cut timber would be so thick at times on the river at Clearwater that it covered it from bank to bank.
That same year, 1856, Samuel Kirk started ferry service across the Mississippi River. You could travel on the up to St. Cloud or to communities downriver, but if you wanted to catch the stagecoach, you had to cross the river, which was one reason the ferry service was a good idea. The ferry employed a swing-cable design; after boarding, you turned a wheel and pushed down a lever and the current would carry you to the other side. You can see a replica of the ferry at Clear Waters Outfitting (see below).
Will Kirk took over the ferry service from his father in 1897, and Clearwater residents enjoyed the service until 1930, when a bridge was completed. Ferry service started again after an ice floe knocked out that bridge on April 2, 1943; that ferry was run by Will Kirk’s son-in-law, Charles Stickney, until 1952 when low water levels forced it to stop. A bridge at Clearwater finally completed again in 1958.
Clear Lake began as a trading post around 1848. John H. Stevenson (a native of Pennsylvania) was the first European to put down stakes; he was followed by others from Pennsylvania and a few New Englanders. The village was platted in 1856, but the plat was abandoned when Clear Lake was not chosen as the seat of Sherburne County. The coming of the railroad in 1867 provided a small boost, but the village was not incorporated until 1900, at which time it had 176 residents. A pickling plant and a canning factory were among the early businesses.
Exploring the Area
Clear Waters Outfitting Company (100 Pine St.; 320.558.8123) will set you up with a canoe, kayak, or stand-up paddleboard; even if you’re not planning on renting a water craft, stop by and check out the replica of the swing-cable ferry used in the 19th century that was built by carpenter and Clearwater resident Steve Houle.
Where to Stay
Camping. A-J Acres Campground (1300 195th St. East; 320.558.2847) covers 150 acres just outside of Clearwater; sites range from basic to fully-equipped RV pads.
St. Cloud/Clearwater RV Park (2454 County Road 143; 320.558.2876) is just off the Great River Road and within a mile of the Mississippi River; besides tent and RV sites, the campground also has a few cute little cabins.
Where to Eat
It may not be a five-star fine dining establishment but the Nelson Brothers Restaurant/Pub/Bakery at Clearwater Travel Plaza (950 State Highway 24; 320.558.2261) serves up home-style meals without a lot of fuss.
McDonald’s Meats in Clear Lake (8601 Main Ave.; 320.743.2311) is a hometown market specializing in locally raised meats and delicious jerky.
Next stop downriver: Becker to Big Lake.
Next stop upriver: St.Cloud.
© Dean Klinkenberg, 2015