I had the recent pleasure of spending a few days in Stillwater, MN. Stillwater is referred to as “The Birthplace of Minnesota,” which might be news to a lot of people because you never really hear anybody talk about Stillwater. It is somehow Minnesota’s forgotten city. And maybe the locals like it that way. It might be one of the best kept secrets in Minnesota. With a population of about 15,000, it is beautifully nestled along the St. Croix River and dangerously close to Wisconsin. The only thing seperating the two is the river and a very long aerial bridge that was built in 1931. As far as aerial bridges are concerned, the Stillwater version has been taking a backseat to the Duluth aerial bridge for a long time. Regardless, Stillwater started coming to life around 1848 due in large part to the river and the lumber industry. The best part of Stillwater is that it has a lot of old-school charm without having to try too hard. Most of the buildings in the downtown area, which is a block from the river, were built in the late 1800’s. And since the area is a river valley, the streets and neighborhoods all funnel down to the river. And the shops and stores and restaurants downtown have a real nostalgic feel about them. Included in that group was a very cool, old candy store called Tremblay’s Sweet Shop. Widman’s would be proud of this place. Really. I think our favorite was the almond covered Oreos. And so it went, up and down the streets of Stillwater, quaint old stores that to the naked eye would feel like tourist traps but weren’t.
I hadn’t been to Stillwater in about 15 years, so I had forgotten how far it actually is from the Twin Cities. Close enough to the big city but far enough away for peace and quiet. And no trip to Stillwater is complete without a drive-by of the prison. The old state pen. The prison is a nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there. And if they ever make a Shawshank Redemption II, they might want to scout out the old prison as a location.