St. Croix Valley and the Gold Rush


Other Calais men including Mr. Wade and George Bixby  left for home after only a brief stay. Bixby too warned his friends to stay home. “ I don’t deny that there are once in a while persons who do well, but you would not wonder at it if you could see the crowds at the mines. It is hard for lumps of gold to escape being dug by someone. It is now over a year since I arrived here and I have never yet known but one man to get over $6000 in four to five months and he was lucky in finding a vein where the dust held out well.” Most of his friends and acquaintances lasted only a few weeks at the mines and returned to San Francisco, broke and dispirited. Some probably found jobs and stayed. The wages were good and work plentiful. However many returned to Calais and became prominent citizens including George Lowell who became president of the Calais Savings Bank pictured left at the corner of Main and Church Street. Lowell lived in the home on Main Street now owned by Ralph Mercier.

In 1849 the national insanity known as “gold rush fever” spread like wildfire throughout the United States. Even the St. Croix Valley, as distant from San Francisco as any place in the country, was in its full grip by the summer of 1849. Every week the Calais Advertiser and Frontier Journal reported on ships returning from California so loaded with gold dust they could barely stay afloat. Gold nuggets weighing several pounds were, if you believed the reports, scattered across the California landscape like rocks on a Maine beach.  The locals were easily convinced and began leaving for California in droves. On June 13, 1849 S. H. Foster, Asa Rolf, Reuben and George Lowell and John Stillson left for the gold fields. The Advertiser wished them success and admonished them to return with a sack of gold nuggets.


On September 10th, 1849 15 others left on the Brig Brazilia, passage arranged by Jas Porter & Co., St Stephen at $200.00 a head.  So many left that by November the local papers were warning the exodus was likely to be the ruin of the City but the disease was too advanced to be checked. Even reports from California of mass murders in the gold mining towns by bands of Mexican bandits, lynching and robberies could not stem the tide. Porter had shipyards on both sides of river and arranged to send many locals to the gold fields but there others like David Eastman found innovative ways to make money from the gold in California.