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Where Past Meets Present: Stillwater's Historic Stairs

The historic stairways have provided opportunities for exercise, sightseeing and a way to get up and down the hill for generations of Stillwater residents and visitors.

In a town rich with history like Stillwater, modernity has to adapt.

This means building things like an underground parking ramp in the Stillwater Public Library, established in 1897; and a downtown Dairy Queen with a façade that might better suit an antiques shop.  These kinds of renovations allow people to step both backwards and forwards as they go about their daily lives—and nowhere in Stillwater is this more obvious (and literal) than the historic staircases that have carried pedestrians up and down the hill for decades.

The Stillwater and The Oak Park Heights Convention and Visitor’s Bureau identifies staircases that are maintained by the City—the Main Street Stairs, Chestnut Street Stairs, Pioneer Park Stairs, Triangle Park Stairs—with the first three seeing the most traffic.

Here's a quick glance at the history of the three most used sets of stairs in Stillwater: 

Main Street Stairs
Leading from Main Street to South Broadway, these stairs are the lengthiest.  According to a December 1987 "Stillwater Evening Gazette" piece by Dawn M. Aerts, the stairs were originally built to connect the Brewery of Wolf, Tanner & Co. to the home of the brewmaster on top of the hill.

Chestnut Street Stairs
Washington County Historical Society Executive Director Brent Peterson describes these steps as running alongside the Jassoy Block, thus splitting downtown Stillwater. In his book "Stillwater: The Next Generation," Peterson cites a May 19, 1871 announcement of the stairs construction, which means the stairs will be celebrating their 140th birthday in 2011!

Pioneer Park Stairs
These stairs, running from the Warden’s House Museum to , are supposed to have been used by mill workers in Staples Mill, Peterson said. Used by the public for exercise and sightseeing, as well as simply a way to get from point A to point B, the stairs have become iconic—literally.

Climbing and Counting

Outdoor gear and apparel shop 45 Degrees has begun an “I Climbed Stillwater” challenge.

Stop by the downtown shop for a map/postcard, showing the locations of the Main Street, Chesnut Street, and Pioneer Park Stairs (according to store manager Dylan Slivik, the store focuses on those, which are the most accessible from downtown).

Count each step (landings count as one, too) and add up the totals on the map. Stop back at the store and, if the totals add up correctly, challengers receive an iron-on patch and 15 percent off any non-sale item.

“We’ve had classes of second-graders, families, Scout troops, all sorts of people stop by and do the challenge,” Slivik said. “It’s a great way to for people to get some exercise and have some fun.”

While Slivik didn’t slip and say and how many steps there are, the number is definitely in the hundreds— just like the age of the steps. And while many of Stillwater’s landmarks may whither and change over the years, the steps are one constant from past generations that will stay intact for generations to come.

John Reinhart August 22, 2011 at 05:21 PM
The Stillwater and The Oak Park Heights Convention and Visitor’s Bureau identifies five staircases that are maintained by the City—the Main Street Stairs, Chestnut Street Stairs, Pioneer Park Stairs, Triangle Park Stairs and the South Hill Stairs—with the first three seeing the most traffic. - I am familiar with all the stairs mentioned except the South Hill Stairs, where are they? Thanks.
Shawn Hogendorf August 22, 2011 at 06:04 PM
Hi John. You know, after researching your question all morning long, I think a correction is in order. I believe the Main Street stairs and the South Hill stairs are the same set of stairs. I looked at the photos in the article, and the stairwell called South Hill stairs are the top of the Main Street stairs. Thanks for catching this.
John Reinhart August 22, 2011 at 06:35 PM
Hi Shawn, Too bad, lol! There are many folks, including me, that actually enjoy climbing the stairs in the name of fitness and I thought there might have been a flight of stairs that I had missed and would need to add to my routine. Thanks for the clarification, much appreciated.

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