Although Savage is considered a Twin Cities Metropolitan suburb, its roots go much deeper than many neighboring communities. The city's history is rich and varied, offering tales about a famous racehorse and its owner, the crash of an airplane flown by a famous pilot, and an industry fueled by the war effort.
The Minnesota River and its transportation qualities can be credited with the birth of this community known today as Savage. In 1852, a small trading post was established at the junction of Credit River and the Minnesota River. Shortly afterward, Hamilton Landing was built on the banks of the Minnesota. This is where many Scottish and Irish settlers exited the steamboat they had boarded at Fort Snelling, setting up a village named after the steamboat landing.
But even before white settlers arrived, the area around Savage was inhabited by Indians. Black Dog Indian Village was located just outside of Savage. The journeys of the Indians throughout the area created paths that settlers would eventually follow from the river into Hamilton.
As more and more people arrived at Hamilton, the tiny village grew. Shops and homesteads were built, with farming and trading being the primary industries.
The first railroad tracks were laid in Hamilton in October of 1865. The route ran to Mendota, and hosted the first steam locomotive in the state. One year later, a post office was constructed in the village.
While Hamilton continued to establish itself as a rail and river town, an entrepreneur by the name of Marion Willis Savage was building an empire across the river. He was the founder and owner of the International Stock Food Factory in Minneapolis, which manufactured and sold animal feed as well as veterinary supplies. Although M.W. Savage was a prominent businessman in the area, it's likely few in Hamilton were aware of the impact this man would have on their quiet village south of the Minnesota River.
In 1902, M.W. Savage purchased Dan Patch from Manley E. Sturgis for $60,000. It was under Savages ownership that the racehorse excelled - setting records and charming crowds until his death in 1916.
Dan Patch was housed with Savage's other horses on the International Stock Food Farm that the entrepreneur built in Hamilton. The complex included a one-mile track, a covered half-mile track, and a heated stable with an onion shaped dome. Although Mr. Savage lived in Minneapolis, he had a summer home on the north bank of the river where the Masonic Home exists today. The location was perfect for Mr. Savage: he had a great view of his stock farm, and was just a ferry ride away from visiting his prized horses.
M.W. Savage heavily promoted Dan Patch prior to each race. He advertised in the local newspapers, and assigned his employees to distribute posters and flyers about the horses pending appearance. The world grew to adore the horse, and in 1904, the folks of Hamilton renamed their town for the man who brought them Dan Patch.
Love for the famous pacer only grew when in 1906 Dan Patch broke the world record by completing the mile in 1 minute and 55 seconds. This famous race occurred at the Minnesota State Fair. It would be another 54 years before that record would be broken.
Dan Patch's owner capitalized on his horses fame. Dan Patch was an advertising icon for the International Stock Food Company, and today, items carrying his image are collectibles. When Dan Patch journeyed to races and public appearances held throughout the country, he traveled in a luxurious 65-foot railroad car built exclusively for him. And during the holidays, Dan Patch would haul a cutter full of gifts that were delivered to the poor in Minneapolis. Dan Patch truly was, and still is, a beloved American celebrity - much like Rin Tin Tin and Lassie.
Dan Patch retired from racing in 1909, after injuring one of his legs. He continued, however, to make public appearances.
Both Dan Patch and M.W. Savage took ill on July 4, 1916. While Mr. Savage was recovering from surgery July 11, he learned his favorite horse had died. Mr. Savage died less than a day later. His physicians claimed Mr. Savage's death was caused by the shock of losing Dan Patch.
Without the lead of M.W. Savage, the International Stock Food Company and its farm began to decline. In 1922, a fire destroyed the stables known to all as the Taj Mahal. Several years later, an attempt was made to establish a dog racing track on the site, but state gambling laws quickly ended that venture. Today, there is little indication of the expansive farm that once graced the banks of the Minnesota River. An outline of the track is still viewable, however, from the air.
Photo: The stables where Dan Patch and several other horses were housed in the early 1900s, which was destroyed by a fire in 1917. It was located on the banks of the Minnesota River, where the radio towers stand today. Photo courtesy of the Dan Patch Historical Society.
In the summer of 1923, an obscure pilot named Charles Lindbergh was in route from southern Minnesota to see his father campaigning in Shakopee. But as the 21-year-old Lindbergh approached his landing site, he encountered a thunderstorm so severe he was unable to descend. He continued on until engine failure forced him to land in a swampy area near Savage. The soft ground tipped the nose of his newly purchased World War I Curtis Jenny forward, cracking the propeller.
The uninjured aviator cut himself free from the wreckage. After reviewing the damage, he headed toward a nearby farmhouse for help. He was met by a farmer who had seen the plane crash. Two boys had also witnessed the accident and spread the news that a plane had crashed in Savage. Before long, the townspeople had gathered to see the felled plane on the site now occupied by Port Cargill. With their help, Lindbergh pulled the plane onto solid ground. The broken propeller, however, kept him from going much further. For three days Lindbergh remained in Savage as he waited for a replacement propeller to arrive from his hometown of Little Falls. He stayed in the Savage depot, and was kept company by depot agent and mayor Charles F. McCarthy.
Four years later, Savage's unexpected guest made world history by completing the first nonstop transatlantic flight from New York to Paris. In the months that followed, Lindbergh toured the United States with his airplane, Spirit of St. Louis. Among his stops were the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Before he left the area, however, Lindbergh made a special pass over Savage to acknowledge the hospitality and friendship extended to him a few years earlier. McCarthy, the man who hosted Lindbergh during his short stay in Savage, witnessed the return visit, telling others that the aviator had swooped down on our town at 12:15 circling the village three or four times, coming down to scarcely more than 100 feet.
In the summer of 1989, Lindbergh's celebration U.S. tour was re-enacted by Capt. John T. Race. Although only those cities that Lindbergh had actually landed in were included on the re-enactment tour, former resident and successful entrepreneur Roman F. Arnoldy saw to it that the pilot flew over Savage just as Lindbergh had done 62 years earlier. Arnoldy's interest stemmed from his witnessing the Lindbergh crash in Savage. In appreciation for Arnoldy's efforts to preserve and celebrate local history, Arnoldy was commended for outstanding citizenship by the City Council on August 10, 1989.
Camp Savage Military Intelligence Service Language School
Savage's involvement in shaping the nation's history continued with World War II. In 1942, the city became home to the Military Intelligence Service Language School. The school's purpose was to improve the foreign language skills of Japanese-American soldiers, and to train them in military intelligence.
The school was necessary because the Nisei (children of Japanese immigrants) had become more Americanized than initially thought. In fact, only 7 percent were fluent or proficient in the Japanese language.
The school was first established in 1941 at the Presidio in San Francisco. But then Pearl Harbor was bombed, and in the interest of national security, Japanese-Americans were evacuated from the West Coast. Consequently, a new location had to be found for the Language School. Savage was selected after a nationwide survey found Minnesota to have the best record of racial amity. Language school commandant Col. Kai E. Rasmussen was quoted as saying he believed Savage was a community that would accept Japanese-Americans for their true worth.
The selected site was on 132 acres located south of what is today Highway 13, near Xenwood Avenue. The site had been used by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930s, followed by a program that housed elderly, indigent men. Although not initially, the site eventually consisted of barracks, mess hall, classrooms, radio shack, theater and auditorium, gymnasium, and an officers' mess. Dubbed Camp Savage, the school's first classes began on June 1, 1942 with a total of 200 soldiers enrolled. Within two years, the school grew to have 52 academic sections, 27 civilian and 65 enlisted instructors, and 1100 students.
A typical day at the camp consisted of nine hours of studying the Japanese language, a 90-minute lunch break and a two-and-a-half hour dinner break. On the weekends, the soldiers' time was spent recreating on site or visiting Minneapolis or St. Paul. Those who completed classes at the school were stationed throughout the Pacific Theater and in Alaska. Their duties included translating captured documents, monitoring Japanese radio broadcasts, interrogating captured enemy soldiers, and translating for Japanese-speaking civilians.
In 1944, the school outgrew its facilities in Savage and was relocated to Fort Snelling in Minneapolis.
Today, there is little left of Camp Savage except for a historical marker erected in 1993. The lone remaining building is used by the Minnesota Department of Transportation Highway Department. The adjacent land has been turned back to the City and is being used as a public dog park.
While Nisei soldiers were learning Japanese for intelligence purposes, hundreds of workers were building ships nearby for use in World War II.
Ship launched into the Minnesota River
Cargill, Inc. built 22 ships for the U.S. military during WWII. Photo courtesy of Savage Public Library.
Cargill Inc. located in Savage in 1942 in order to build ships for the U.S. Navy. The Navy became interested in Cargill after seeing the company's success at building ships and barges used to haul grain. Savage was selected as a site for the shipyard in part because the employment pool was plentiful. Before the first ship could head toward the sea, however, 14 miles of the 3.5 feet deep Minnesota River had to be dredged to 9 feet at a cost of $250,000.
The first ship to be built in Savage, the USS Agawam, was launched on May 6, 1943. Cargill was originally contracted to build only six AOGs (auxiliary oil and gas carriers). The company ended up constructing 18 AOGs and four towboats in four years. AOGs were not engaged in actual warfare activity; rather they were used to carry fuel for other ships and vehicles engaged in WWII. During peak production times, the shipyard employed approximately 3,500 people at once.
After the war ended, Port Cargill in Savage became involved in the shipping of grain and other products. Today, hundreds of trucks visit the site on a daily basis, unloading the corn, wheat, and soybeans grown in Minnesota fields to be distributed throughout the world.
In addition to ship building and intelligence training, the community made other contributions to World War II.
The Savage Tool Company manufactured machine tools and precision gages used entirely for the war. Many of the company's employees resided in Savage. Continental Machines, still in operation in Savage, manufactured precision tools for the war. While all of these were beneficial to fighting the war, these efforts did take a toll on Savage. Housing was lacking, as were proper sewer and water facilities.
City records indicate an attempt by officials to construct a Public Water Works and Sewage system in the village. There also are letters referring to a proposition for defense housing within the community. However, other historical accounts point to a lack of supplies as causing both projects to be delayed. Mayor Charles F. McCarthy was quoted as saying, "We had plans for a housing project all prepared, with water and sewer system but materials are scarce."
The Savage Depot, a historical landmark of railroad days gone by, is located on the southern frontage of Highway 13.
Important Dates Regarding the Depot
- 1880 | The Savage Depot was originally built by the Chicago and North Western Railroad Company
- 1970 | The Savage Depot closed after a new depot was built on the Savage-Shakopee border.
- 1973 | The Savage Depot was sold to Murphy's Landing (now The Landing) and moved to the living history museum's 88-acre site in Shakopee.
- 2002 | The Dan Patch Historical Society sent a letter to Three Rivers Park District indicating an interest in The Depot if Three Rivers, which had recently assumed ownership of Murphy's Landing, no longer wanted the building.
- 2004 | Three Rivers Park District agrees to sell the Savage Depot as part of a move to reduce the number of buildings the District maintains.
- March 8, 2005 | The Savage City Council hired a consultant to develop a site plan for the public square that could possibly be the new location for The Savage Depot.
- March 16, 2005 | The Dan Patch Historical Society agreed to raise the funds to move The Savage Depot to a location in Savage, remove the foundation at The Landing and restore the land to its original state. The Society also facilitated acquiring volunteers, contributions and a general contractor. A slogan of "Bring the Depot Home" was adopted.
- July 28, 2006 | The Depot was "brought home" to Savage after a 33-year residence at The Landing (formerly Historic Murphy's Landing). A partnership between the Dan Patch Historical Society and the City of Savage made the relocation of the Savage Depot possible.
The Depot now rests just across from the site where it was built on the Minnesota River. The building is owned by the City of Savage and decisions on the restoration were made by the Depot Task Force, which consists of two elected city officials, two representatives of the Dan patch Historical Society and three City employees.