One of the benefits, and pleasures, of belonging to the Pine Valley Farm is that you become part of a rich history that dates back to the mid-1920s. Much of what we know about this history comes from accounts written by two of the original members/family members: Vern Soash and Andrew Fuller.
The original owners were a group of fly fishing enthusiasts from the Twin Cities who stumbled upon the beautiful woodland in western Wisconsin laced by streams and the Clam River. They camped and fished on the property for several years. In 1929, fifteen of them pooled their resources (this being just after the great stock market crash when money and credit were scarce) and formed the Minnesota-Wisconsin Holding Company. The group included a Minnesota Attorney General, the mayor of St. Paul, a judge, doctor, several attorneys, and bankers. They soon purchased the 240-acre property, which at the time included a small working farm operated by the Albees, a couple who stayed on to become the first caretakers.
The new owners continued to expand the property, buying up more acreage. They considered building a club house with sleeping rooms for members but decided instead to build individual cabins so those who wanted could bring their families along.
In the 1880s and 1890s old growth pines were cut from the land and floated down the Clam River to the St. Croix River and then the mills in Stillwater. Men using horse or oxen created a path and a wooden dam in order to hold the logs. Several of the roads traversing the property are old logging roads from those days.
The Albees kept dairy cows and sheep, who grazed freely on the fields and hillsides throughout the property. In those difficult, Depression-era days, they milked by hand and shipped by milk can. Owners lit their cabins with Aladdin kerosene lamps and cooked on kerosene stoves. Ice boxes were oak, tin-lined boxes stocked with block ice cut from local lakes and stored in the members’ ice house. Several wells were dug and water shared amongst the members.
Children growing up in the summers during those years (a number of whose children and grandchildren are still members of PVF) played in the barn, rode the Albees’ ponies, ate Mrs. Albee’s homemade cinnamon rolls and doughnuts, drove in the cows for evening milking, helped neighbors with the annual haying and cutting corn for silage, put on plays, ran their toy cars along the creek, swam in the swimming hole at the Confluence of the Clam River and Sand Creek, built treehouses, drove to the nearby Indian Creek Store on Saturdays, and set off fireworks by the creek.
The Albees’ old farm house and barn were replaced in 1940. Stocking of the streams began in 1942, and electricity was added in 1946. Two members served in the armed forces during WWII. During this time the Albees purchased a larger acreage and left, and new caretakers were hired. In 1954, a hatchery was built and started with the help of the Wisconsin Conservation Department; it continued until 1993. By 1970, there were 760 acres and eighteen members. At present, in 2016, there are still eighteen members and over a thousand acres. The current caretakers are Gary and Nan Erickson.
The history of Pine Valley reflects a much larger history of our time and place: the ecological history of woods, water, and wildlife in western Wisconsin; the social and political histories members lived through; and the personal histories of families—the original owners and their offspring and the many new members who have become part of the community.