With St. Patrick’s day just ahead there is an obvious desire to want to write about it. Instead of talking about the day itself, though, I would like to discuss the small hamlet in the Cedar Lake township named after that patron saint of Ireland. St. Patrick, like so many aspiring towns of its time, never really grew bigger than a couple hundred people. Today, St. Patrick is not more than three points of interest, clumped together on a stretch of road called Old Highway 13, and a few residences. What is there has an interesting and long standing histories.
Prior to the intrusion of settlers, the area of St. Patrick was heavily forested land inhabited by members of the Sioux tribe. The Sioux in this area lived primarily on a hill, referred to as Teepee Hill, at the time that settlers first arrived. This hill served as both a village, with 50 bark teepees at the time settlers arrived, and as a sacred meeting place. Nearby lakes were used for fishing. The swamps and woods of the area also provided wild animals for fur and food.
The first white settlers of the area were of Irish decent, arriving in the early 1850s. Ireland at the time, was suffering under the atrocities committed during the Great Famine. Many families were fleeing Ireland at this time to escape the combined problems of potato blight and gross mistreatment at the hands of the British government. This resulted in large numbers of Irish immigrants arriving in North America. The first settler to arrive to the area of St. Patrick was named Thomas O’Donnell. Early on, a total of 65 Irish families ended up settling in the area. The area was then, and is still now, used primarily for farming.
These Irish families were of the Roman Catholic faith, hence the town’s name, and they held early church services in the cabin of one Thomas Quill beginning in 1856. In 1857, these families claimed Teepee Hill for their own and started to build the first St. Patrick Church and cemetery there. Despite this, the settlers relationship with the native Sioux remained friendly with only some moments of tension that never spilled over into violence. This church, which was built from logs, was completed in 1859. In time, this church became inadequate for the needs of the people of St. Patrick. Using limestone from Jordan, construction on a new church was began in 1870 with the cornerstone being laid in 1873. This church and cemetery still stand today.
In the late 1800s, the people of St. Patrick built a combination tavern and hall. This original building burned down in the early 1900s but was rebuilt. A gas station and repair shop were added in 1939. The building is currently known as St. Patrick’s Tavern. This tavern was, and still is, the center of information and social activity in St. Patrick. One of the most popular activities held here were card parties involving games like poker and euchre. There were also plays, dances, celebrations and even traveling medicine shows. Of course, St. Patrick’s Day was the most important celebration of the year. The people had a local reputation for their celebrations, not only on St. Patrick’s Day.
Besides its church, tavern, and renowned celebrations, St. Patrick used to be a popular destination for local farmers to buy feed and sell their milk. This is because St. Patrick used to have a creamery and feed mill which allowed people to take care of selling milk and buying feed in one location. These two places used to be the main source of business in St. Patrick and made it much more of a destination than it is today. When the feed mill caught fire December 2nd, 1962 it was completely destroyed while the nearby church and parish building were both saved. The feed mill was not rebuilt making it less convenient for farmers to sell their milk. Farmers went to places like Jordan or Lydia seeing as both these areas had feed mills as well as creameries. This along with being passed by for railroad construction stopped St. Patrick from growing.
Though it is not growing now, St. Patrick did see more immigrants coming to the area between World War I and II. Czech families began moving to St. Patrick during World War I while Irish families began to slowly move out. The Czechoslovakian families were not well received to the area but these poor relations never led to violence. Throughout World War II more Czechoslovakian, German, and Swedish families moved to the area as more Irish families left. By the mid-1950s only four Irish families still lived in the area. This change was said to have revitalized this community.
The other remaining attraction, besides St. Patrick’s Tavern and St. Patrick Church, was built during the 1950s around the time of this revitalization. On May 25th, 1952, Bonin Field was officially opened just behind St. Patrick Church. This baseball field was named after the former Catholic Priest, Leo Bonin. The field was renovated in 1989 and now has teams from third to eleventh grade as well as two adult teams. One adult team, the St. Patrick Irish, are an MBA Class C team that have won 13 state championships. The other adult team, the St. Patrick Shamrocks, play in the Federal League and have won four Class A state championships and one Class C state championship. The field has no bleachers but fans can get a good view of the field from a hill just past the line between third base and home. Children can make a little bit of money by helping to fetch the balls.
Despite its small population St. Patrick still attracts a decent amount of attention with its three points of interest. St. Patrick Tavern still pulls a crowd, St. Patrick Church still has a strong congregation, and Bonin Field has a lot of baseball going on. From the early settlers rough beginnings, St. Patrick has formed a small and enjoyable community.
Written by Tony Connors, Curatorial Assitant.
Rass, Jeanne. “St. Patrick: Irish settlers move, but town remains.” Prior Lake American, 3 Aug. 1987.
The New Prague Times, 29 May 1952.
“Losses Total In Excess of $50,000 As Weekend Fires Destroy Feed Mill, Granary, Cedar Lake Home.” The New Prague Times, 6 Dec. 1962, vol. 74.
Doerr, Sylvia. “Stories and recollections of St. Patrick, Cedar Lake.” As I Remember Scott County, edited by Marcia Spagnolo et al., Scott County Senior Citizens, 2006, pp. 113-115.