Perched at the northern tip of the Wisconsin’s Great River Road, Prescott is positioned where the clear blue water of the St. Croix River mixes with the ruddy Mississippi. The two great waterways form the core of an area that has an abundance of recreational options.
Prescott has two places for visitors to stock up on brochures and ask questions. The Great River Road Visitors Center in Freedom Park (200 Monroe St.; 715.262.0104), which houses exhibits about the Mississippi River, eagles, and Prescott. Also check out the Welcome and Heritage Center downtown (233 Broad St.; 715.262.3284).
Philander Prescott, a native New Yorker, arrived when the area was known rather descriptively as Mouth of the St. Croix. He had been in the area as early as 1819 when he supplied goods to Fort Snelling. Officers from Fort Snelling offered Prescott part of their claim if he would go settle on it, which he did in 1839. He had a hard time making a living, though, even with licenses to operate ferries across the St. Croix and Mississippi Rivers, and, after a brutal winter in 1843, he moved away to work as an interpreter at Fort Snelling. Joseph Monjeau moved into the Prescott house but Prescott retained rights to the land.
By 1849, the area was known as Elizabeth and had drawn a few settlers, most of whom worked as traders. After Prescott’s claims became official in 1851, he sold most of it to developers. Prescott died on August 18, 1862, one of the first causalities in the Dakota uprising.
When the village officially became Prescott in 1851, it had all of two houses, so the vote was probably unanimous. New settlers begin to arrive en masse in 1854 and by 1856 the village had 200 buildings. Sawmills were built and thrived from the 1850s until the turn of the century. In 1866 alone, 3,000 men worked in the logging industry, and 70 million board feet of lumber passed through town. Prescott was the primary shipping point for grain from the St. Croix Valley from the 1850s to the 1870s. Wheat was not the only local crop, however, as area farmers also grew sugar beets, corn, tobacco, and onions. Ice harvesting prospered from the 1850s to the 1940s. Other early businesses included a cooper, lime and brick manufacturing, a brewery, commercial fishing, and an organ manufacturing factory.
By the 20th century, Prescott counted 1,000 residents and dairy-related industries became more prominent. Prescott also had a factory that manufactured spinners that were very popular with fishermen. The Cargill Shipbuilding Corporation of Prescott built 18 tankers for the US Navy during World War II, which must have been quite a sight. In the last couple of decades, Prescott has evolved into a bedroom community for the Twin Cities and a popular weekend recreation destination.
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Freedom Park (200 Monroe St.; 715.262.0104) is situated high above the Mississippi River and has great views over the valley. The visitor center is a Great River Road Visitor and Learning Center and has exhibits about Mississippi River ecology, commerce, and navigation.
Mercord Park (Front St.) is the location where Philander Prescott built his first cabin in 1839; check out the gear house that sat atop the 1923 lift bridge.
The current Prescott Clock Tower (233 Broad St.) houses a timepiece that was made in 1937 to replace one that was lost when the school in which it was housed burned down in 1935; both clocks were built by the Seth Thomas company. The new clock, among the last of its style built by the Thomas Company, was installed in a tower at the rebuilt school but fell into disrepair and had to be removed. It was eventually restored and placed in a new home in a new tower next to the confluence. It strikes every 30 minutes.
The Prescott Area Historical Society (235 Broad St.; 715.262.3284) maintains exhibit space next door to the Welcome Center, with photos and artifacts from the town’s past.
Entertainment and Events
The Prescott Farmers Market is held in Freedom Park on Thursday afternoons from late May to mid-October.
Prescott Daze (second weekend in Sept; 715.262.3284) gets local folks celebrating with a street dance, an eating contest, a fishing contest, water fights with fire hoses, and a parade.
Muddy Waters Restaurant & Bar (231 N. Broad St.; 715.262.5999) hosts live blues and jazz on the deck on Sunday and Monday afternoons during the summer.
Sports and Recreation
Prescott sits at the southern end of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway (715.483.2274), a 255-mile corridor of river pleasures, varied ecosystems, and historic towns along the St. Croix and Namekagon Rivers. Recreation opportunities include fishing, canoeing, hiking, tubing, boating, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. The portions of the Riverway downriver of St. Croix Falls (WI) tend to be used by recreational boaters, while the upper reaches are more natural and wild. Rustic camping is free in designated areas.
The city maintains a public swimming beach on the St. Croix River (Lake St. at St. Croix Street).
Eating and Drinking
Valley Vineyard (W10415 521st Ave.; 715.262.4235; open from Apr–Nov) is a newcomer to the wine producing scene. They produce a wide selection of red and white wines from their scenic hilltop location just east of Prescott.
Just south of town, Nesbitt’s Nursery & Orchard (N4380 State Highway 35; 715.792.2676) is the place for seasonal fruit and produce, local honey and syrup, and fine Wisconsin cheese. Don’t miss their Oasis Eatery (N4380 State Highway 35; 715.792.2676), a café that emphasizes fresh, local ingredients for strata, quiche, crepes, and sandwiches. The menu changes daily; Wednesday is pie night; get it sweet or savory (4p–8p). Thursday is garden night where you can sample seasonal items (4p–7p).
For a pre-dinner snack, stop at the Prescott Boat Club at Point St. Croix Marina (101 S. Front St.; 715.262.3161) and nosh on large broiled shrimp while enjoying a great view of the St. Croix/Mississippi confluence; cash only.
Muddy Waters Restaurant & Bar (231 N. Broad St.; 715.262.5999) specializes in savory smoked meats and Cajun flavors. The lunch menu consists of salads named for blues musicians and sandwiches. For dinner, choose from hearty steak and fish entrées plus pasta; enjoy your meal on the outdoor deck and stare at the river while you chew.
For after dinner drinks in a casual atmosphere, head to the No Name Saloon & Monkey Bar (114 N. Broad St.; 715.262.9803), where locals mingle with bikers, boaters, and other passers-through.
River Heights Motel (1020 US Highway 10; 800.522.9207/715.262.3266; WiFi) has 23 simple, unadorned budget rooms in good shape.
The local newspaper is the weekly Prescott Journal (715.262.2153).
Post Office: 1001 Campbell Street North; 715.262.5166.
Prescott Public Library (WiF): 800 Borner St. North; 715.262.5555.
Heading upriver? Check out Point Douglas.
Heading downriver? Check out Diamond Bluff.
© Dean Klinkenberg, 2011