Katie, Lola and I spent yesterday afternoon and the night at her parents’ house in rural Afton. They were out-of-town and we felt like some time in “the country.” It was a quiet retreat with books and movies and food. Snow fell for much of the day but as evening came the skies cleared, an almost summery meteorological moment.
Around dusk, I took Lola for a stroll down the driveway and a short ways up the road. It was still and cold and silent, everything muffled by the couple of inches of fresh snow. The road was even covered, with a discernible number of tire tracks on it.
The St. Croix valley
my home all these years
all these seasons
On my way out of Afton this morning, I took a wandering route and drove slowly along lightly-trafficked roads. I stopped my car on the side of the road at the intersection of Valley Creek Road and Stagecoach Trail and walked around the corner to the little bridge over the creek.
It’s the tendency of trout anglers to look over bridge railings into cold, clear streams. Valley Creek is known for its trout but none were visible from the bridge. The stream is pretty shallow and sandy in that stretch and in winter, the fish would probably be hunkered down in deep pools.
between snow-covered banks
seen from a bridge
where I look out and listen
to the song of running water
Valley Creek’s original name was actually “Bolles Creek.” The website of the Belwin Conservancy–a 1,300-acre nature preserve near where I was standing–says the name goes back to the first of many commercial flour mills in Minnesota, located just downstream from the bridge:
Lemuel Bolles, 1845 (Minnesota Historical Society)
It was here in about 1845 that Lemule Bolles constructed the first commercial flour mill in Minnesota. The Bolles Mill was constructed of timber collected from the shore of the St. Croix River and hauled to a site on Valley Creek just downstream of the Belwin Conservancy’s preserve. The mill had a ninefoot water wheel powered from a millrace – parts of which still exist today. The mill could produce about 50 barrels of flour in a day.
The creek was at the time called ‘Bolles Creek’ and not long after Lemule constructed his mill, his uncle Erastus Bolles built a blacksmith shop nearby. The small settlement that developed nearby was in turn known as Valley Creek.
Speaking of geographical naming, my research this evening turned up the name of Afton itself. The Washington County Historical Society says Afton’s name is believed to have been inspired by a poem:
According to many historical accounts, Mrs. C. S. Getchel gave Afton its name. The landscape reminded her of Robert Burns’ poem, “Afton Water,” with its “neighboring hills, and the winding rills.”
Here’s how the poem starts:
Flow gently, sweet Afton, among thy green braes,
Flow gently, I’ll sing thee a song in thy praise;
My Mary’s asleep by thy murmuring stream,
Flow gently, sweet Afton, disturb not her dream.
Read the rest »