The Pine River, a tributary of the Mississippi River, was once a creek connecting Cross Lake with Upper and Lower Whitefish Lakes and surrounded by 13 other natural lakes. The construction of the dam at Crosslake raised the water level, making channels between these lakes and thus forming the Pine River Reservoir, now better known as the Whitefish Chain of Lakes. This 13,660-acre body with 190 miles of shoreline has become one of the premier recreation locations in central Minnesota’s lakes area.
The dam itself is a part of the Mississippi Headwaters project of the US Army Corps of Engineers. The original timber structure was constructed in 1884, with machinery and supplies reused from the construction of the Winnibigoshish and Leech Lake dams, and was put into service in 1886.
The dam was reconstructed between 1905 and 1907. The control structure was 233 feet in length and consisted of reinforced concrete supported on timber piles. There were 13 sluice ways, a log sluice and a fishway. A series of perimeter dikes built around the dam between 1899 and 1914 allowed the reservoir to be filled to capacity. The arched openings of the Pine River Dam gave it its distinctive appearance. A new dam tender's dwelling built in 1911 was later destroyed by fire in 1959 and was not rebuilt.
The original site contained 17 buildings, none of which survive. Included were a dam tender's dwelling, laborers' quarters, engineers' quarters, a dining hall, an office building, an officer's house, a woodshed, a chicken coop, a barn, a warehouse, a sawmill, a carpenter and blacksmith shops. The Corps removed a number of these buildings immediately after the dam construction was finished.
A major rehabilitation project on this dam started in the winter of 1998 and was completed in 2003. Work included renovating the 112-year-old dam structure by raising the height three feet and installing two new sluice gates in the existing stop-log bays. Additionally, the 16 dikes maintained by the Corps that surround the reservoir received upkeep and maintenance consisting primarily of brush and tree removal on the dikes to facilitate safety standards in the event of a high-water condition.
Interesting historical item:
For more than 35 years US Mail was delivered by boat to lakeside residents. The Mail Boat has been restored and is on display at the Crosslake Historic Log Village. This 2017 article tells that story.