Tuesday, February 01, 2011

A Great Day in Stillwater

Stillwater is one of Minnesota’s oldest cities, chartered in 1854, four years before Minnesota even became a state. Prior to that, Stillwater, and all of the St. Croix Valley, was part of the Wisconsin Territory. This of course means that I, as a long time Stillwater resident, can consider the Green Bay Packers my home team in Sunday’s Super Bowl. Time to make some space on that bandwagon cheeseheads, I’m going to fully enjoy my fair share of the glory!

For much of its early history, Stillwater vied with St. Paul for status as the leading city of Minnesota. That crude, uncouth upstart Minneapolis wasn’t even a contender for several decades. Alas, the little lumber town on the St. Croix was ultimately eclipsed by its neighbors on the mighty Missisippi River to the east. According to legend, this was due in part to the city fathers choosing to take the state prison over the state capital or state university, due to its potential to spur economic development. Perhaps an early example of the false hope of stimulus spending.

In modern times, Stillwater has been absorbed into the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area as a third ring suburb. Despite this, the culture of Stillwater retains much of its independent nature. This includes a real downtown district; historic old banks, hotels, and mills scattered about; familial dynasties in politics and local institutions, and even a daily newspaper. The attitude of residents is paraochial as well. I interpret the decades long squawking about getting a new bridge over the St. Croix, including a recent vote by the City Council to close the d*mn thing entirely, as a reflection of residents' wish to get rid of all of these outsiders and foreigners from Wisconsin stinking up the streets once and for all. (And I agree with them!)

Interesting things seem to happen here as well, things you wouldn't expect to see so often in Suburbia, USA. That daily newspaper, the Stillwater Gazette brings word of a couple of examples.

A recent and welcome addition to the Stillwater scene has been Lift Bridge Brewery, who make several terrific beers. I suppose there are many little cities that have a brewery located in their town. But how many have two? Count Stillwater among that number. Opening this month, the new Stillwater Brewery, located right downtown:

A new brewery set to open its doors in the Isaac Staples Sawmill building this month could help make the St. Croix Valley the next microbrewery capitol.

"We want to make old-style beers in a very new way," said Stillwater Brewery co-owner Zachary Morgan, a West Virginia native who hopes to provide local beer drinkers with a refined and unique beer taste, along with a greener manufacturing approach.

Lots of details on the owners’ concern about reducing their carbon footprint and recycling and eliminating waste. Here’s hoping that spending all that mental energy on these feel good side issues doesn’t detract from the goal of making a good beer.

Beyond his green efforts at brew, Morgan also wants his beers to have distinct flavors, easily distinguishable by the drinker. With six staple beers, four seasonal beers and a lumberjack red ale that pays homage to Lumberjack Days, Morgan will create classic interpretations of beer drinkers' most beloved recipes.

"We really want our beer to be like that blueprint that everyone starts off with, but a perfected version," Morgan said. "We want people to be able to drink our beer and say, 'That's a nut brown,' and it not to be a guessing game."

Hoping to set themselves apart with their family-oriented business style and allegiance to the flavors of the region, Stillwater Brewery also plans to grow their own hops. Morgan's wife's uncle has allotted them a portion of farmland in Stacy so they can harvest their own hops this spring.

Eleven beers planned, right out of the gate. An ambitious launch. But it sounds like they have a great deal of expertise and the motivation to make a good, unique beer. The beer should start flowing to retail outlets this Spring, looking forward to hoisting a few at that time.

Along with beer, another pillar of the local culture is religion. There are church spires everywhere in town, including two Catholic parishes, basically across the street frome one another. St. Mary’s traditionally serving the large German and Swiss communities and St. Michael’s, serving the Irish. Both are old parishes harkening back to the pioneer days. This description of St. Michael's captures the atmosphere inside each church, where you can practically hear the march of the generations echo off the stone walls and down the center aisles.

Since the inception of the church in 1853, the parishioners of St. Michael’s have learned and lived the Catholic faith. Over the last 150-plus years, generations of the faithful have gathered, day after day and year after year, to worship, receive Jesus, reach out, comfort, and pass on the gift of our Catholic faith.

Included in that march of generations is the venerable Solanus Casey. A guy that could be declared a saint one day once trod the bricks and was confirmed at old St. Michael's. It's a holy place, and that sense was amplified last week with the arrival of another distinguished visitor, straight from Rome, the Cardinal Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura. He's also known as Cardinal Burke, former head of the St. Louis archdiocese and bishop of La Crosse, WI. From the Gazette:

It's not everyday that a cardinal in the Catholic Church visits the St. Croix Valley, but that's what happened Monday in Stillwater. Cardinal Raymond Burke spoke at a fundraiser at St. Michael's Catholic. Burke also presided over a mass at the church before speaking on the importance of a Catholic education.

The older I become, I appreciate ever more deeply the education I received as a young man in the Catholic school," Burke said. "When I consider how critically important the gift of a Catholic education was to me growing up in the 1950s, I think of how it is even more critical that we provide this education to our children today, who are growing up in a totally secularized society."

Burke made the trip to Stillwater after being asked by The Rev. Michael Miller of the Church of St. Michael and Dr. Thomas Loome, former owner of Loome Theological Book Sellers in Stillwater.

"I've known Cardinal Burke for over 25 years," Loome said. "We share a common passion in that we are both passionate book lovers. Cardinal Burke used to stop by the bookstore every so often when he was in Wisconsin and we struck up a friendship. He is an amazing man."

Not that every observer was so fond of the Cardinal. The Stillwater Gazette provides this "balanced" coverage of his appearance:

Although Burke was among supporters on Monday, he does have his share of detractors. Widely viewed as one of the most conservative leaders in the church, Burke has been very outspoken on the church's pro-life stance and has publicly stated that Catholic politicians who support abortion rights should not be given or receive the Eucharist.

On Monday, however, his audience applauded Burke when he was introduced, as someone was a "staunch defender of the rights of the unborn."

So he's from the Catholic wing of the Catholic Church. No wonder some detractors don't like him.

From everything I hear, it was a great event. Attended not only by the Cardinal, but also Archbishop Neinsted, Auxilary Bishop Piche, and Bishop LeVoir of New Ulm (a former St. Michael's parish priest). Some of the spirit of the event can be captured in this slide show put out by St. Michael's.