The Repository @ St. Cloud State

Open Access Knowledge and Scholarship

Date of Award


Culminating Project Type


Degree Name

History: M.A.




College of Liberal Arts

First Advisor

Don Hofsommer

Second Advisor

Robert Galler

Third Advisor

Lew Wixon

Keywords and Subject Headings

Minnesota History, Sawmilling, Farming, Economic History, Cultural Preservation, Oral History


Small-scale sawmilling in the deciduous forest region of Minnesota is firmly rooted in an agriculture past resulting in many small-scale farmers transitioning to the . milling enterprise. Throughout the twentieth century some farmers have turned to small-scale sawmilling' as a way of preserving their distinct way of life and remain on the farm. This development can be seen through four stages: the coming together of the agriculture and forest products industries; the supplemental income generated though the adaptation of a sawmill; the increasing importance of the mill; and the specialization and preservation of sawmilling in Minnesota. Throughout this process those that adopted sawmills to remain on the farm changed the definition of the family farm ensuring that the family farm remain a viable option for Minnesotans today.

Many of the first settlers in the state came to farm. To do so they first has to clear land and create a homestead. This early relationship between the agriculture and lumber industries served as a starting point in a dynamic relationship. As the two industries progressed many farmers had difficulty maintaining their particular standard of living especially through the 1920s and the depression years. Many of these farmers turned to sawmilling, lumbering, and forestry, as a way to supplement their income and remain on the farm. Following the Second World War, many farmers continued to practice both farming and sawmilling, however, sawmilling began to take precedence as making money by farming a small plot of land became increasingly more difficult. Sawmilling began to be the primary source of income for some farmers and they began to drift away from agriculture. Late into the twentieth century some of those that had taken up sawmilling as a supplementary form of income have since specialized their milling operations and neglected farming completely. Others joined historical organizations in order to preserve the sawmilling tradition and demonstrate how it was done in the past. Still others continue to cut lumber, but only as a hobby.

They cut for themselves and their neighbors only. The state of small scale sawmilling in the present day is marked by these three developments.


The success of this paper would not have been possible without a great number of people. I would like to thank: the Ottertail County, the Nisswa Area, the Crow Wing the Anoka County, and the Minnesota Historical Societies for all of their help researching finding the sawmills used in this thesis. Additionally, I would like to thank the many people who sat and discussed sawmilling with me all those early mornings. Essential to this process were the teachers of St. Cloud State University, notably professors Hofsommer, Galler, and Wixon. Let me say thank you for the guidance and understanding throughout this process. Finally, to my wife, Jessie, for unending understanding and support, I thank you.

Included in

History Commons



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.