Joseph Sartell, obviously the city’s namesake, arrived in 1854; he was an east coast transplant with root in Massachusetts. Sartell was a millwright who, true to his background, went about opening up mills over the next few decades. In 1884 he and sons started a lumber mill, the Sartell Brothers Lumber Company, that stayed open until the 1930s. For most of the city’s existence, a member of the Sartell family was on the City Council.
The two main industries that sustained the early city were a paper mill and a valve plant. The completion of the dam in 1907 provided power for the Watab Pulp and Paper Company mill that opened the same year. The company changed hands a few times, but it was owned by VERSO on May 28, 2012 when an explosion at the mill killed 50-year old Jon Maus and injured four others. The ensuing fire took several days to extinguish. In August 2012, the company announced that the plant would close permanently, eliminating jobs for the 259 employees (down from 500 just three years earlier). The mill had been losing money anyway, but the explosion and fire made it too expensive to repair and keep it open. The average wage at the time of the plant closing was $26.35/hour.
The DeZurik Valve Company opened in 1925, founded by Matt DeZurik, who had once worked at the paper mill. One of their innovations was the “eccentric valve” that could go from closed to fully open with just a 90 degree turn. The plant was still open in 2012, even after shedding 1,000 jobs in 2001.
During Prohibition, Sartell had an active cottage industry making liquor. Over a dozen of the towns hundred or so houses were unofficial “beer farms” where homebrew was sold to visitors. The feds occasionally cracked down and even managed to send a few residents to the federal prison in Leavenworth, Kansas.
The housing market boomed beginning around 1960 and the city’s population exploded as it grew quickly into a bedroom community. In 1960, Sartell had a population under 800; in 2010 it was almost 16,000.