David Bronson and Business Ventures in the Region
David Bronson arrived in Stillwater in 1855, just as the white pine logging boom was beginning. He initially worked for Isaac Staples, General Samuel Hersey and Dudley Hall (of Boston). By 1869 he managed and was part owner of the Bronson & Folsom general store, a combination retail operation and a winter supplier for logging camps. In 1888 Bronson and partners created the East Side Lumber Company, which operated a sawmill and was situated on shoreline well suited for staging large log rafts. He then acquired several steam powered paddle wheelers including the Isaac Staples, Clyde, Junita, Ravenna and the Ellen M which were capable of pushing log rafts of up to 1,500 feet in length down the river through the Lakes St. Croix and Pepin to mills in Clinton, Iowa and St. Louis, Missouri.
By 1905 the St. Croix River logging boom was over. Harvests were greatly diminished, and by 1912 Bronson had sold all of his river boats. He was The Last Rafter. David Bronson died in 1919, survived by a son, James, who continued in the lumber business.
Another son, Roscoe Bronson, predeceased his father in 1913. Roscoe was survived by his only child, Ianthe. Ianthe married George Hardenbergh and they had one child, Mary Gabrielle Hardenbergh. Ianthe was widowed in 1944 and she and her daughter lived together in their Summit Avenue home and a summer home on White Bear Lake. Gabrielle never married and had no children.
Image Source: The Last Rafter, by Robert Goodman. Published by the Washington County Historical Society, Stillwater, Minnesota 2009
Creation of the Hardenbergh Foundation
Ianthe and Gabrielle created the St. Croix Foundation (now renamed the Hardenbergh Foundation) in 1950, funded with an initial gift of just $500. Ianthe was a generous giver and continued to make gifts to the Foundation throughout her lifetime. A large early gift to the Lakeview Hospital stands out as evidence of her priorities. After Ianthe’s death in 1983 Gabrielle followed her mother’s example, routinely donating 50% of her income to the Foundation. Gabrielle died in 2003, leaving a will which gave her entire estate to the Foundation. Her $41,300,000 devise increased the Foundation’s endowment to $50,370,000.
During their lives, Ianthe and Gabrielle focused the Foundation’s grantmaking on charitable organizations operating in the St. Croix River Valley or the East Metro (St. Paul) where they lived. They did not focus on specific areas of interest, but instead tried to respond to current community needs. They were blessed to have two community leaders, R. D. MacDonald and then Robert Davis, who served as Presidents of the Foundation for a combined period of 59 years.