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Wisconsin National Register of Historic Places

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Cushing Land Agency (M. Svendsen photo, 2004)

Cushing Land Agency (M. Svendsen photo, 2004)

Cushing Land Agency (M. Svensen photo, 2004)

Cushing Land Agency Building
106 S. Washington Street, St. Croix Falls, Polk County
Architect: Abraham M. Radcliff
Date of construction: 1882

The Cushing Land Agency was one of the earliest and most important land agencies in northwest Wisconsin. It was established in 1854 by Caleb Cushing, a Massachusetts lawyer, politician, and land speculator in the St. Croix Valley. Major John S. Baker, a Civil War veteran, served as Cushing's agent beginning in 1869 and took over the company in 1887. He eventually handled hundreds of real estate transactions in Polk, Burnett, Washburn, and Barron counties.

Harry Baker, Major Baker's son, joined the company in 1892 and took over day-to-day management soon thereafter. In 1911 the business name was changed to Baker Land and Title Company. Harry Baker's creative advertising campaigns successfully drew timberland buyers, farmers, and recreational land buyers to Polk County where they invested and settled. After 1911, Harry expanded the Baker Land and Title Company into the banking business. He achieved ownership or controlling interest in at least nine Polk County banks by 1919. He also became a key figure in the efforts leading up to the establishment in 1899 of Wisconsin's first state park, Interstate Park located along the Dalles of the St. Croix River south of St. Croix Falls. Harry Baker remained active in the real estate business until 1966 when he retired at the age of 92.

The 1882 Queen Anne/Eastlake Style building is based on a design by Abraham M. Radcliff, a prominent St. Paul, Minnesota architect. Radcliff's firm designed dozens of opera houses, churches, courthouses, residences, and commercial buildings in Minnesota and Wisconsin from 1857-1889. The firm served as the training ground for several architects who later distinguished themselves in the upper Midwest and throughout the nation. Noteworthy changes in the building include the installation of its vault, "the first in Polk County," in 1886, the building of an addition in 1887, a damaging fire in 1904, and the rebuilding and expansion of the rear addition later that year.

The building's interior is laid out with a front office or waiting room for customers off Washington Street. Cabinetry, wainscoting, and trim feature Eastlake ornamentation. Maple floors extend throughout the corridors and rear offices. Major Baker's preserved office is the most elaborate space in the building with oak wainscoting and tall windows looking out onto State Street. The rear wing built in 1904 remains intact with a continuous band of tall double-hung windows on the exterior walls.

The building serves as the St. Croix Falls Historical Society museum with offices for the St. Croix Falls Chamber of Commerce in the front office. The building is open during normal business hours.

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