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The Last Windrow: Take a look back as Pine River gets ready to celebrate 150 years

City has come a long way since George Barclay founded it in 1873

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Street scene, Barclay Avenue in Pine River - 1910.
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The new street banners went up last week in my community of Pine River.

They look great as they proclaim that during the year of 2023 the town will host its sesquicentennial celebration. That almost unpronounceable word means this northern Minnesota community will be celebrating its 150th anniversary.

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The year of Pine River's beginning, 1873, came just several years after the Civil War had concluded. It was a time when Gen. Custer was still busy out west before he met his demise at Little Bighorn.

Queen Victoria was still reigning over England, and it was a time before the first Great Depression in the United States.

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The Homestead Act had been enacted in 1862, and it opened federal lands to those who would choose the hard pioneer life on the farm, in the forests and in the towns.

In the northern forests of Minnesota, the time ushered in the logging industry. The tall, virgin pine forests were present in the north country, and the lumber those forests could produce was being eyed by investors with the thought that it was an unending supply of lumber.

That proved not to be true. But, it was that potential industry the drew the interest of railroad companies, knowing that transportation would be an essential part of the development of the north.

That interest drew the founder of Pine River, George Barclay, to what was to become the community that will celebrate its 150th birthday in 2023.

Barclay knew that a railroad meant commerce; and after he had served in the Civil War, he picked up his belongings and headed west from his original New England birthplace.

He had heard of a railroad being built in the northern forests and he placed his bet by settling in the area of what is now Pine River.

His original town site didn't work out. After he had built a number of buildings at what he thought would be the rail crossing, those plans changed and he was forced to forego his original site and move his Barclay's Trading Post to the current location of the town, next to the rails.

There he built not only a trading post, but eventually a large structure that served as a hotel and a restaurant.

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Unfortunately for George, he was shot and killed in that same building that sat just across what is now Highway 371 from the Pine River Railroad Depot. That murder has never been solved and is still an open case at the Minnesota crime bureau.

Things have happened since those early days as they have in most every rural community established during those early days.

Highways have been built, new businesses have been created. I always think of what George Barclay would think if he could see how those stark days became today's world.

The days when horses were tied to hitching posts, and town and country folk waited for the train to bring them the mail, and how they cut ice from the Pine River during the winter.

I doubt those early pioneers could ever have imagined sending messages through the air to anyplace in the world with the push of a button, or seeing a man walk on the moon.

Maybe George could see it? We'll never know.

George Barclay had a vision and the drive to place his bet on this piece of the north country. Somehow the community he founded has found its way to survive and prosper through all those years of ups and downs.

The new street banners are a testament that he made a good bet. There will be 150 candles on the cake of 2023. It better be a big cake.

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It's a sesquicentennial celebration. Still hard to pronounce, but will be fun to celebrate!

See you next time. Okay?

John Wetrosky
John Wetrosky (2022)

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