Rice is another community along the Great River Road (US 10) that is not directly on the Mississippi River. There was a small community in the open prairie here in the 1850s called Langola, but the area has also been known as Sand Prairie because of the sandy soil. George T. Rice arrived in 1864 and built a grist mill and a flour mill.
About a mile west of the original settlement, the Luther Hotel served travelers on the Red River Trail beginning in 1857. Rice bought the hotel and the village of Rice’s Station grew around it. The Northern Pacific Railroad built through the area in 1878, spawning enough growth for residents to decide to incorporate as a village in 1890. Rice was primarily an agricultural community in the 20th century, but in recent years it has developed into a bedroom community for commuters. The village population doubled in size from 1990 to 2010.
Watab is an Ojibwe word for the roots of the tamarack and jack pine. The Ojibwe used to split Watab and use it as threads to sew together birch bark canoes. Asa White opened a trading post here around 1848 to trade with the Ojibwe and Ho Chunk Indians. Nathan Myrick, the founder of La Crosse, Wisconsin, operated a store and bakery here in 1850. Watab was platted in 1854 when it had about 150 residents. It served as the seat of Benton County government briefly (from July 1856 to January 1859) until those functions were moved permanently to Sauk Rapids.
In 1855, local folks built a bridge across the Mississippi River, the first one above St. Anthony Falls. Well, they almost did. High winds roared through the area just before the bridge was completed and destroyed it. Watab benefited somewhat from being at the upriver end of rapids but never developed much industry. Today, the village is a bedroom community for the St. Cloud region.
Exploring the Area
Bend in the River Regional Park has 3,300 feet of undeveloped Mississippi River shoreline, and three miles of unpaved trails; the park is 1½ miles south of Rice on County Road 55.
Mississippi River County Park offers hiking and picnicking along the Mississippi River.
Next stop downriver: Sauk Rapids and Sartell.
Next stop upriver: Royalton and North Prairie.
© Dean Klinkenberg, 2015