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.