Early settlers in Marine Township (the name until 1893) were lumbermen originally from the eastern states, chiefly New York, Pennsylvania, and New England. By the mid-1850s most of the immigrants were arriving from the Scandinavian countries, mainly Sweden. Other early immigrants were Irish, German, English, and Canadian.
Minnesota’s first sawmill starting sawing in Judd’s Mills, now Marine, in 1839. In 1846 Martin Mower and others built a water-powered sawmill and adjacent home and store between Marine and Stillwater in an area that would eventually become known as Arcola Mills. By 1856 the water-powered mill had been replaced by a steam mill that produced two million feet of lumber a year. Mower was involved in many enterprises including building of the Territorial Prison in Stillwater, establishment of the St. Croix Boom Company, and construction of a business block in downtown Stillwater.
May Township was organized in 1893 out of the southern part of Marine. A year later the Town Hall was built and the first supervisors were elected. Along with various road and bridge improvements, the first supervisors made an attempt to organize a village along the west shore of Lake Carnelian in hopes of developing a prosperous summer resort. One of the town's early settlers was an English immigrant who eventually became one of the more prosperous farmers of the northwest, at one time owning 2,000 acres. It was after this man, Morgan May, the township was named.
In the 1880s Stillwater lumberman Isaac Staples assembled a 3,500-acre stock and dairy farm in the township to supply his lumber camps. Maple Island, located on the railroad, had a store, elevator, feed mill, and creamery, and was a shipping point for grain.
Scenery-seeking tourists flocked to the St. Croix River from earliest days, many enjoying it from excursion steamboats. Unfortunately for its development as a resort area, the railroad did not push through May Township until 1887. The township’s popularity as a summer destination had to wait for the construction of roads suitable for automobiles.
During the 1950s, expansion of the transportation network in the metropolitan area began the process of suburbanizing the township. A boom in residential development has caused the population to more than triple since 1960. At present, land in May Township is a mixture of residential use, agricultural use, and public open space
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