The St. Croix's first settlers arrived nearly 12,000 years ago while inland portions of North America were still locked in the last great Ice Age. Their descendants shared the St. Croix with others such as the aboriginal Red Paint People, whose ocean-going canoes travelled the North Atlantic coast around 20004000BC.
For many centuries the St. Croix was a major crossroads traversed by tribes who came to the lower St. Croix to harvest fish and clams or used the upper lakes as a canoe route to the great Penobscot and Saint John river systems.
In 1604 French explorers Sieur de Monts and Samuel de Champlain chose Saint Croix Island for the capital of L'Acadie. Their settlement there was short-lived but set the St. Croix so firmly in record that it was used to mark future boundaries, including that between the United States and British North America, now Canada. The present US/Canada boundary was set at midstream, down the entire length of the St. Croix system, in 1798.
After the end of the American Revolutionary War in 1780, Loyalists and Americans alike settled along the St. Croix and started anew to make this one of the Northeast's major lumbering and shipbuilding centers. Hundreds of ships took shape in local shipyards, built from the St. Croix timber they would also haul to world markets. Evidence of many wharves from this 'age of sail' still mark town waterfronts and quiet coves.
To supply the ships, thousands of men and horses hauled logs from inland forests, sending them cascading downstream to nearly 140 mills at places such as Upper Mills and Milltown. In time these were replaced by a single pulp mill at Woodland which has been a mainstay of the local economy since 1907. The last log drive on the St. Croix took place in 1965; timber now travels by truck.
In the late 1800s the coming of railroads added another facet to the St. Croix's heritage by providing transportation to serve new factories, and tourists. St. Andrews, at the end of its own rail line, became a summer resort for Montreal and Boston elite who built elegant homes on tree-lined boulevards. Inland, Vanceboro and McAdam grew as rail heads for lake tanneries and forest timber while, on the tidewaters, St. Stephen and Calais found success in factories that could export by land or sea.
The architecture and some of the enterprises of this era can still be appreciated, including the chance to sample the wares of a major candy manufacturer.
While times have changed, the St. Croix region continues to live its history daily with a strong reliance upon the cross-border ties and waterway traditions that are its legacy.