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.