Gull River Village succumbed to winds of change

Gull River Village flourished in the 1880s with more than 400 inhabitants. But by 1893, the entire village had vanished after the nearby sawmill was relocated to northeast Brainerd in 1892.

Gull River Village sawmill
A company dam in the foreground made a millpond that is situated in front of the trestle for the Northern Pacific Railroad Co. with the sawmill to the left of those structures in the image.
Contributed / Crow Wing County Historical Society
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A decade after the city of Brainerd was founded, Gull River Village sprang into existence around the activities of the Gull River Lumber Co.

The Chase, Pillsbury & Co. was formed in 1879 as a partnership between Jonathon Chase, George A. Pillsbury, Gov. John Pillsbury, Charles Pillsbury, August Horr and R.C. Leavitt.

“The first name of the company was Chase, Pillsbury & Co. … and later that fall they started building the sawmill for the first time,” said Jeremy Jackson, a historian. “By the next year, they had over 150 people living at Gull River.”

The sawmill was projected to cost about $125,000 and envisioned to occupy several acres of land and have a boom large enough to hold 50 million feet of logs, according to the Minneapolis Daily Tribune.

Gull River Lumber Co. office
People pose for a group photo in front of the Gull River Lumber Co. office in this photo circa 1882.
Contributed / Crow Wing County Historical Society

“A sawmill costing $125,000, as a matter of course, will have a capacity to turn out an immense amount of material. A booming capacity for 50,000,000 feet is a matter not to be winked at,” according to the Jan. 21, 1882, edition of the Brainerd Tribune.


Construction of the sawmill at the junction of the Gull River and the Northern Pacific Railroad began in 1879, according to a presentation by Jackson.

The steam-powered two-story sawmill was 154 feet in length and 60 feet wide, and produced product that was loaded daily into anywhere from seven to 11 railcars headed for the Northwest.

“The mill was erected during the fall and winter of 1879 and ‘80, and commenced operations about May 20th, 1880, with a stock of 13,500,000 feet of logs on hand, which will be manufactured into lumber during the present sawing season,” according to the Sept. 11, 1880, edition of the Brainerd Tribune.

The ground was broken for the Mississippi Landing Trailhead Park project in Brainerd in June. The planned greenspace with trails and pathways, a community amphitheater and an outdoor classroom with

“Last fall, a structure was erected and completed to be used as a boarding house commodious enough to accommodate board and lodging for 80 men, and this spring and summer, 22 dwelling houses have been erected on the townsite.”

A company-controlled general store furnished the employees and their families with all the necessities in the way of merchandise, according to the newspaper account.

“The primary markets for Gull River lumber was really everything west of here — western Minnesota, North Dakota and Montana,” Jackson said. “There were known distribution yards that I found in newspapers in Wahpeton, Bismarck and Sanborn (in North Dakota).”

The sawmill was in operation in the spring of 1880, and Gull River Village, a town that later grew to more than 300 inhabitants, sprang into existence within a year. The lumber company was located at the Highway 210 bridge west of Baxter.

Gull River Village looking west
An image of the former Gull River Village settlement looking west from the east side of Gull River with a some dwellings to the left, the sawmill and lumberyard in the center and a prominent boarding house to the right.
Contributed / Crow Wing County Historical Society

“I’m certain my wife, some of her family members, were there. A lot of farmers worked there early in the spring sawing lumber. They come from Crow Wing, from Motley, from south of Brainerd,” Jackson said.


Jackson wrote about the lumber company, “An isolated narrow gauge logging railroad, the Gull Lake & Northern Railway, was constructed in 1889 to transport and dump logs into one of the Gull Lake chain of lakes, which were then floated down the Gull River to the sawmill.”

Gull River Village flourished in the 1880s with more 400 residents, according to Jackson, but the entire village had vanished by 1893 after the sawmill was relocated to northeast Brainerd a year earlier.

"Gull River Village was dealt a death blow when the entire sawmill and most of the village buildings and residents were relocated to northeast Brainerd in mid-1892, to take advantage of the millpond created by the Charles Kindred dam recently completed in Brainerd,” Jackson said.

Many of the homes along Rice Lake are built on the old sawdust pile, according to Jackson.

“The millpond was named Rice Lake upon its formation,” he said.

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at . Follow him on Twitter at .

I cover arts and entertainment, and write feature stories, for the Brainerd Dispatch newspaper. As a professional journalist with years of experience, I have won awards for my fact-based reporting. And my articles have also appeared in other publications, including USA Today. 📰
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