The Pine County Courthouse is located at 635 Northridge Drive NW, Pine City, MN 55063. Phone: 320-591-1400.
Pine County [†] is located midway between the Twin Cities (Minneapolis / St. Paul) and Duluth along Interstate 35. That strategic location has driven many changes in the County over the last decades. The I-35 corridor, along with other trunk routes such as Highway 61, transect the County from north to south for over 50 miles. That easy proximity to metropolitan areas both north and south may be both a blessing and a curse, but it is certainly a strategic reality that has driven and will continue to drive the evolution of the County.
Long before the coming of European settlers, the region now including Pine County was well known to northern Native American tribes whose villages dotted the shores of the area's many lakes and streams. Known by the Native Americans for centuries, these same waterways were also used by the first explorers and traders who entered the area.
Among the earliest Europeans to enter the region were fur traders of the British North West Company. As early as 1804 a semi-permanent "wintering post" was built on the banks of the Snake River. This fur post has been reconstructed by the Minnesota Historical Society and operates as the Northwest Company Fur Post, seasonally offering a visitor center, tours, trails, and events. Pine County's role in the fur trade of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries represented the first organized economic activity to be carried on in the region.
By 1850, the demand for furs had slackened and the supply had decreased. New types of economic activity in the forms of agriculture and lumbering became dominant. As timber cruisers searched along the St. Croix and its tributaries, they found tremendous stands of white pine which could be used to furnish lumber to build homes for the thousands of settlers who were seeking to establish themselves on the middle western frontier. Millions of board feet of lumber were cut and floated from Pine County downstream to the mills along the lower St. Croix River. Most of Pine County's early development came as a result of this lumbering.
Between 1870 and 1872, Pine County was given a boost by the construction of the Northern Pacific Railroad. The boom was cut short by the financial panic of 1873, and it was nearly 1880 when settlement and lumbering began in earnest.
The decades of the 1880's and 1890's saw Pine County pushed to the peak of its economic development. The county's towns and villages were founded during this period as sawmilling centers or supply depots for the multitude of logging camps operating in the vicinity. Logging railroads criss-crossed the county and many small communities such as Rock Creek and Rutledge had as many as five sawmills.
In 1894 a great forest fire devastated much of Pine County, but complete towns were rebuilt from the ashes. By 1905 nearly all of the county's pine forests had been cut off or destroyed by fire. Often forest land was deliberately burned by farmers who believed it would be better suited for agricultural purposes. Many of these farmers were immigrants from Scandinavian countries.
Even as lumbering was at its peak in Pine County, a demand for building stone led to the opening of several quarries along the Kettle and Snake Rivers. Large quarrying operations were carried on for a number of years before the use of structural steel became popular. Copper mining was also attempted in several places. Remains of one such attempt can still be seen near the Snake River at Chengwatana where nearly $300,000 was spent trying to develop a vein.
By World War I, however, agriculture had fully emerged as the backbone of the county's economy. Only in recent years have new types of industry and partial realization of the region's recreational potential begun to change and move economic activity in new directions. Completion of the interstate freeway through the county, for example, has meant the bypassing of all towns, but several local communities, such as Hinckley, have taken advantage of the freeway and provided new auto service stations, restaurants and motels which cater to travelers.
† Pine County Comprehensive Plan 2017-2030, www.co.pine.mn.us, accessed August, 2022.