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Pine River Dam creation gives rise to Crosslake Recreation Area

The original timber dam dates from 1884 and was put into operation in 1886. The Pine River Dam is located 18 river miles above the junction of the Pine and Mississippi rivers. Pine River was the fourth Mississippi River headwaters reservoir to be constructed.

Pine River Dam (June 20, 1904)
An old photo on display at the Crosslake Recreation Area shows the construction of the Pine River Dam in 1904.
Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch
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CROSSLAKE — It was a dam good idea.

The Crosslake Recreation Area as it’s known today would not exist without the creation of the Pine River Dam. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers started work on the dam in the 1880s.

Crosslake is about 20 miles north of Brainerd on Crow Wing County Highway 3. The recreation area offers camping, boating, swimming, picnicking, fishing and playground areas.

The Pine River Dam is on the Pine River at the outlet of Cross Lake, about 18 river miles above the confluence of the Pine and Mississippi rivers; a river mile is the distance in miles along a river from its mouth.

Pine River Dam as it appears today in Crosslake, Minn.
Pine River Dam
Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

The Pine River Dam was one of six Upper Mississippi River dams part of an early reservoir system with a watershed of 4,535 square miles and included more than 90 natural lakes.

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“The arched openings of the Pine River Dam give it a distinctive appearance,” according to a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers booklet about the history of the Upper Mississippi River dams.

The dam was the fourth headwaters dam to be built. The original timber dam dates from 1884 and was put into operation in 1886. Corps engineers reused machinery and supplies from the construction of the Winnibigoshish and Leech Lake dams, according to the history booklet.

Pine River Dam construction photo taken July 26, 1906
A historic photo of the construction of the Pine River Dam as it appeared on July 26, 1906, is on display at the Crosslake Recreation Area.
Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

The Pine River, a tributary of the Mississippi River, was once a creek connecting Cross Lake with Upper and Lower Whitefish lakes, which are surrounded by 13 other natural lakes.

The Pine River Dam’s construction raised the water level in the area, making channels between these lakes to form the Pine River Reservoir, better known as the Whitefish Chain of Lakes.

“This 13,660-acre body of water, with 119 miles of shoreline, provides dozens of interesting bays for pleasure boating and fishing,” according to a Corps pamphlet about the Crosslake Recreation Area.

Crosslake Recreation Area fishing pier
A fishing pier is available for use at the far end of a walkway at the Crosslake Recreation Area created by the Pine River Dam.
Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

The Pine River Dam was constructed to its present appearance between 1905 and 1907, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the control structure is 233 feet in length and consists of reinforced concrete supported on timber piles.

“Located on the very popular Whitefish Chain of Lakes, the recreation area offers wooded camping setting with a variety of tree species being present and an abundance of water-related recreational opportunities,” according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website.

The control structure is built of reinforced concrete, supported on timber piling and housing 13 6-foot-wide sluiceways; 11 of these sluiceways contain electrically-operated gates, according to an informational marker at the Pine River Dam.

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Pine River Dam
Pine River Dam
Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

“The maximum flow through these gates can exceed 2,200 cubic feet per second and stoplogs can be removed for additional flow,” according to the marker at the dam. “A series of perimeter dikes built around the dam between 1899 and 1914 allowed the lake to be filled to capacity.”

In 1934, representatives of the Portland Cement Association reported the Pine River Dam was the “finest concrete structure from the point of view of durability that they were aware of.”

MORE ABOUT BRAINERD HISTORY BY FRANK LEE:
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 steps down along East River Road was previously a Tourist Park attracting thousands.

There are no structures remaining from the 17-building complex constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1884, according to the history booklet about the six Upper Mississippi River dams; the buildings were immediately removed after the dam construction was finished.

Included were a dam tender’s dwelling, laborer’s quarters, engineer’s quarters, dining hall, office building, officer’s house, woodshed chicken coop, barn, warehouse, sawmill, and carpenter and blacksmith shops.

“A new dam tender’s dwelling built in 1911 was later destroyed by fire. The replacement dwelling was also destroyed by fire in 1959 and was not rebuilt,” according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at frank.lee@brainerddispatch.com . Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchFL .

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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