When you pass through Reads Landing today, it’s hard to believe that this community was once in the running to be the state capital and had a population of nearly 2000. Life is much more laid back in Reads Landing today than it was in its heyday as the scene of sin and vice for vacationing lumberjacks.
The village of Reads Landing is on the site of a former trading post (known as Waumadee to the Dakota) that was operated by successive generations of Rocques beginning around 1810. They sold the land to Edward Hudson, so naturally this spot became known as Hudson’s Landing. After he died, Englishman Charles Read purchased Hudson’s claim. Read emigrated to the US at age 10 with his brother’s family. He served in the American army that invaded Canada in 1837; the 17-year-old Read was captured by the British and sentenced to hang. Luckily for Mr. Read, Queen Victoria pardoned him and let him return to the US. In 1844 he settled in Nelson’s Landing (Wisconsin), before moving across the river a few years later to establish a trading post, which angered Alexis Bailly, who already had a trading post in the area near Hastings. Read platted the village in 1856 and incorporated it in 1868 with a great deal of optimism.
Reads Landing was a thriving community with a bustling steamboat port that served the logging trade. Logs coming down the nearby Chippewa River were assembled into large rafts, then floated downriver for processing. Several hundred raftsmen would stay in town awaiting their turn to assemble and go. Reads Landing was one of the lumbermen’s favorite places for R&R—with nearly two dozen hotels and saloons to pick from!—which led to the inevitable “scenes of violence and lawlessness staged on its streets”, as described in a county history book. As the lumber trade declined, Reads Landing descended rapidly into irrelevance, and the village disincorporated in 1896.
From 1882 until the 1950s, trains crossed the river via a 2,900-foot pontoon bridge. A 400-foot pontoon section would swing open to let boats pass through; the pontoon sank 14 inches when a train crossed. The bridge was a maintenance headache because of frequent damage from ice and flooding. In 1951, ice and high water caused severe damage to the bridge, and the railroad chose to abandon it rather than fix it again; the bridge was disassembled the next year.
Reads Landing is included in these products:
Housed in a the standout Italianate former schoolhouse, the Wabasha County Historical Society Museum (70537 206th Ave.; 651.565.4158) has an impressive period classroom and a fun collection of exhibits that includes displays about clamming, 19th century clothing, and farm tools. Don’t miss the wonderfully disorganized basement and the large shed in back that has a 1916 Model T and horse-powered farm implements like a cabbage planter.
Eating and Drinking
Housed in a 19th century brick building on the riverfront, the Reads Landing Brewing Company (70555 202nd St.; 651.560.4777) serves up dishes with a Southern influence, many made with locally-sourced ingredients; they also serve craft beer brewed in the region and a few they brew themselves.
Bed and Breakfast
The River Nest Bed & Breakfast (20073 County Road 77; 651.560.4077; WiFi) has two suites overlooking the river, each with a private entrance. Each suite is outfitted with a Jacuzzi tub, cable TV, fridge, walk-in shower, fireplace, and deck; one suite is wheelchair friendly.
The Anchor Inn (112 W. 2nd St.; 800.482.8188/651.565.3509; WiFi) has a four-bedroom second floor apartment available for overnight rental in a historic riverfront building that began life as a tavern; the apartment is equipped with a full kitchen and living room and would be a fine place to stay for a family or group of friends traveling together.
★ Author’s Pick
The American Eagle Bluff Bed & Breakfast (651.564.0372) is housed in an 1870s-era farmhouse on 40 spectacular blufftop acres overlooking the confluence of the Chippewa and Mississippi Rivers; views of both rivers abound. Relax in an Adirondack chair in the yard or inside the screened porch, enjoying the views and verdant (and expansive) gardens. The two guest rooms have a number of luxury touches like showers with glass block walls and the absence of a television.
Heading upriver? Check out Camp Lacupolis.
Heading downriver? Check out Wabasha.
© Dean Klinkenberg, 2011