How Lake Elmo Began... PDF Print E-mail

Lake Elmo street scene - ca. 1906. Photograph taken by
H.L. Buck. (Photo courtesty of Wash. Cty Historical Society)

The City of Lake Elmo traces its roots to the Township of Oakdale, which was founded on November 1, 1858. At that time the only business in the township was farming and two saloons on the Stillwater Road; the HalfWay House at present day Hemmingway Avenue in Oakdale; and the Lake House on the South Shore of Cypher's Lake, now known as Sunfish Lake.

The largest lake in Oakdale was named Bass Lake when the railroad came through the township in 1872. The rail line from Chicago crossed the St. Croix up river from Hudson, turned north and then climbed the bluff before heading due west to St. Paul. The line passed to the north of Bass Lake, the deepest, and one of the most beautiful lakes in Washington County.

Alpheus B. Stickney, a Stillwater lawyer was the vice president and manager of the St. Paul, Stillwater and Taylors Falls Railroad Company, and a driving force in building the line through Oakdale Township. He saw the potential for a resort on the northeast corner of Bass Lake. The railroad could build a station and turn a profit bringing the residents of St. Paul and Stillwater to Bass Lake. Stickney and seven other businessmen purchased 100 acres on the north side of the lake in 1872.

Like many developers, Stickney's group decided that a new name was needed for the area, something catchy and modern. Mrs. Stickney was reading the most trendy novel of the time, "St. Elmo," by Augusta Jane Evans. The book was a best seller, the "Gone with the Wind" of its day. A pious woman marries and tames St. Elmo Murray, a man who is "mad, bad and dangerous to know." Mr. Stickney filed a subdivision plat in 1878 and called it Elmo Park. The lake next to the plat was referred to as "Lake Elmo." The railway station was named Lake Elmo, and finally in Jun 1879 A.B. Stickney petitioned the Post Office Department to rename the post office "Lake Elmo."

Most of Oakdale received its mail through the Lake Elmo Post Office, and was referred to as the town of Lake Elmo, but Lake Elmo did not become a separate village until 1926. On December 18, 1925 a special election was held by the voters residing on the 350 acres on the north side of Lake Elmo to determine if a separate village should be formed. By a vote of 56 to 55 Lake Elmo was created. This first election was held on March 4, 1926. The rest of Oakdale Township remained intact until 1951 when the eastern two-thirds split off to form the Township of East Oakdale. On October 16, 1969 the township of East Oakdale joined the tiny village to form the City of Lake Elmo. What was left of the original township became the City of Oakdale.

One hundred twenty-five years have passed since the railroad came to Bass Lake, but the future of the City of Lake Elmo is still closely tied to A.B. Stickney's vision of a community with easy access to St. Paul and Stillwater - a place of open spaces and natural beauty. The Lake Elmo Regional Park Reserve, 3M's Tartan Park, and the many city parks provide the recreation of Stickney's dream. The rural atmosphere is being preserved by unsewered housing developments with large lots and open spaces. Farming is no longer the prime commercial enterprise, but it still survives and cornfields are a common sight in the community.

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