Benton Co. History: Mississippi River’s Graham Island
SARTELL -- It's now a home for eagles, but for decades the island in the Mississippi River below the Bridge of Hope on Highway 15 was home to people.
Benton County Historical Society Executive Director Mary Ostby says "Graham Island" was originally owned by A.A. Wright, but he didn't do anything with the land. In the early 1900s, Wright sold the property to Edward Graham.
Mr. Graham decided that he was going to go out there, clear cut and build a tent, and then a cottage, and eventually a two-room cabin out there. He put up his own little world on his own little island.
Graham owned 15 acres where he raised mink, raccoons, and goats. He had a dog and pony as well.
He was selling some items from his mink and raccoons and at the end of a newspaper ad it says located on Graham Island but meet me at the boat landing. So, people were aware that he was there.
Ostby says Graham mostly used a boat to get to the boat landing on the Sauk Rapids side of the river. He talked about building a bridge, but that never happened. During the years when the river level was low, he would drive his car across the river.
Graham and his wife had their own power plant and they installed a telephone on the island.
Graham lived on the island until the day he died in 1960.
Ostby says who owned the island after that isn't clear until the 1990s when Sauk Rapids annexed it into the city. In 2008 Sartell bought it from Sauk Rapids to preserve the island as an eagle habitat.
Ostby says there has been a couple of local legends over the years about Graham Island. One is that a Pony Express rider was being chased by a gang of bandits and he buried his bag on the island before he could be captured. Another is that $30,000 in gold was lost in the river by a military payroll wagon. She says to her knowledge no treasure has ever been found there.
Once a month Ostby is on the News @ Noon Show on WJON talking about the forgotten history of Benton County.