Located in the heart of Indianhead country in northwestern Wisconsin, Polk County offers a diversity of attractions to the visitor-as well as to its residents. The St. Croix Wild and Scenic Riverway forms its western boundary, and the river bluffs abruptly give way to rolling countryside. The land is dotted with lakes and flows with rivers that offer swimming, fishing, boating, kayaking and canoeing. Interstate State Park is Wisconsin’s first state park at St. Croix Falls. It is a splendid testimonial to the era of volcanoes and glaciers that formed this place, the magnificent Dalles of the river presenting the terminus of Wisconsin’s Ice Age Trail. The park headquarters presents an overview of the natural forces that formed this land. Also in the park is mute testimony to one of the dreams that brought early settlers to this place….a failed attempt to mine copper in the latter 1800’s.
But it was logging and lumbering that were primary attractions in what became Polk County….the lush pine forests upriver and the awesome power of the Falls of the St. Croix River bringing the first settlers as early as 1837, even while this land was still home to the Chippewa Indians.
Legal settlement started at St. Croix Falls in 1838, making this the oldest community in the St. Croix River Valley. A few miles south, Osceola Mills grew around grain milling and steamboat building enterprises. The lovely Cascade Falls graces the heart of downtown Osceola and today a historic train ride attraction offered to visitors, is reminiscent of the day when the first railroad reached across the river into Polk County in 1883. Eventually, trails and roads led to fledgling farming and dairying communities to the east, and to placid lakeside resorts.
Daniel Greysolon, Sieur du Lhut (Duluth) and his four French-Canadian companions are recognized as the first white persons to traverse the St. Croix River in 1680, to visit what would eventually, in 1787 become part of the Northwest Territory, then the “Territory of Wiskonsan,” in 1836, and the State of Wisconsin in 1848. In 1853, Polk County was carved out of what had previously been known as St. Croix County. It was named in honor of James K. Polk, the eleventh president of the United States. At that time it included far more territory than its present 700,000 acres with new counties being formed to the north and east.