The Lumber Exchange Building was constructed circa 1890 by Stillwater, Minnesota’s lumber barons during the boom years of logging on the St. Croix River. It was built by the Union Depot & Transfer Company (who also built Union Station, Stillwater’s train depot in 1887 which is directly to the North) on the first modern business block in the city. It continued to be an important building in Stillwater for more than 100 years. Upon its debut in 1890, it was equipped with modern heating, plumbing, electricity, and even had an elevator, one of the first in the state.
Its early occupants included the famous and wealthy lumber merchants from the Stillwater area. The site features ten large walk-in vaults, which were used to house the wealth of the rich lumber families. The first floor contained storefronts, a post office, a barbershop, and an upscale saloon (where the Charlie’s Irish Pub is now). The east side of the building was connected to the train depot by raised wooden platforms and a shed.
When lumbering declined around 1900-1910, the space became the home for lawyers, real estate offices, insurance firms, Chamber of Commerce and also latter-day lumber firms such as Consolidated Lumber Company, Inter-State Lumber Co., and American Railway Express Co.
In 1960 the Union Train Depot, a historic building consisting of stone and wood, was torn down by the Hooley family to make way for Hooley’s grocery store. Later the Hooleys, forerunners of the Cub Foods chain, moved their offices to the Lumber Exchange Building and modernized both the exterior and interior with 1960’s style architecture.
In March of 1994, three local Innkeepers worked closely with the Minnesota Historical Society and National Trust to restore the building’s historical qualities. The cement block grocery store was quickly demolished and the hotel addition began. The Water Street Inn partially opened their doors to the public November 3, 1995. Grand Opening events were held the week of November 27, 1995.
Items of Special Interest
The tin ceilings in the hotel lobby and one of the dining rooms are the original tin ceilings. It had been neglected and damaged over the years and covered since 1960 with a dropped ceiling. It was painstaking restored to create the finished product you see now.
The Bar in the lobby and the Registration Desk were handcrafted during the renovation using the woods from an original tenant, the Western Union Counter and U.S. Post Office.
The location of the Pub with river views is the site of Charlie Lustig’s Saloon that opened with the building in 1890. The then entrance was on the south wall of Chestnut Street where the doorway still exists today. The Baby Grand Piano is a 1903 Star built of solid mahogany. It has been lovingly restored and can even play by itself.
Three ceiling murals were painted during the renovation in the dining and bar areas. Each was designed to replicate popular Victorian decor of the era. The artist commissioned to perform this work was Peggy Sue, who came to the St. Croix Valley from Arizona (there she performed artistry for movie star Lloyd Bridges in his desert home) in 1993 to be near her sister Kathy, who was working at the Phipps Inn.
The lobby bartender’s area was one of the ten large walk-in vaults located throughout the building, which were used to house the wealth of the rich lumber families. Another vault houses the exquisite wines of the hotel and is located near the middle of the dining room.
The Grand Stairway leading up to the guest suites is in the original location with the same dimensions as that of the original stairway. The skylight above is also original to the building and had been covered up for at least thirty-five years prior to the hotel’s opening.
The wood trim was specifically milled and installed during the renovation to replicate the original woodwork as virtually all of the structure’s original woods had been removed during the “modernization” in the 1960’s.
The windows of the 1890 building were restored to original size by removing the 1960s modernized bricking. Replacement windows were custom designed and fitted by our neighbor Andersen Windows, with the guidelines set by the National Historical Trust. This was the first commercial and certified restoration application of Andersen’s new Renew Windows. After this project the windows qualified for use in National Restoration projects with the guidelines of the National Parks Service for Historic Restoration.