By Jon Tatting
A construction crew recently unearthed a significant piece of Rush City history while working on the Dana Avenue parking lot off 4th Street.
Turns out, workers found the foundation of an old railroad water tower used for the passenger and freight steam engines that frequented what had been a hopping town in decades past.
People can now see what’s left of the tower — a grouping of massive concrete chunks lining the west side of the railroad tracks near the St. Croix River Education District building. Also discovered was the foundation of the little pump shed that accompanied the tower.
Across the tracks at Creekside Pizza, a number of old photographs show what the town and that water tower looked like in the early 1900s. There, you may also find 86-year-old Robert (Rabs) Anderson joking with buddies and reminiscing about the good old days over a cup of joe.
Anderson fondly recalls that water tower and the steam engines that frequently passed by when he walked to school. He remembers taking the train to Duluth to play in a school basketball game in 1943.
Arnold Johnson has lived his entire 79 years on a farm just east of town. He, too, has fond memories of the steam engines and that water tower as a strong and impressive steel structure.
“They don’t build water tanks like that nowadays,” said Johnson, noting the structure stood near the then depot by the tracks.
He believes the water tower replaced a wooden structure in the early 1900s and remained standing until the ‘50s. It was a sign of the times when the tower came down, as its demise paralleled the dwindling of the steam engine and rise of the diesel locomotive.
Deciding on the structure’s fate, the railroad asked the village (Rush City today) if it wanted the water tower for fire protection, but the village declined. The railroad ended up selling the steel to a local scrap dealer who cut it up with a torch, Johnson explained.
Rush City was a booming town in the prime of the railroad days. It used to be the biggest city in Chisago County, had three hardware stores, a hospital and plenty of implement and car dealers. Johnson also remembers catching glimpses of the train line that ran between Rush City and Grantsburg, but that ended in 1951.