The first construction by European people dates back to 1854. The river ran shallow in that area, and a number of small dams were built to raise the river level to allow logs to float downriver. The first major dam at this location was built in 1884 by a logging company to prepare for the major logging operations to cut the virgin pine trees. That dam had five 18-foot gates, and was built out of logs.
The last log drive was made in 1912. A few years later, the log structure of the dam burned. A wooden walkway was put in place to allow foot traffic to cross the river.
The current dam was built starting in 1935 by the Works Progress Administration, a depression era jobs program. The dam was completed in 1937. The key reason to build the dam was to maintain existing water levels. The dam was estimated to impact water levels in 30 lakes. The dam was given its current look when it was upgraded in 1988, and the 8 foot wide walkway was installed. That structure is shown in the photo above, taken from the southwest corner of the dam spillway.
At one time, a much larger dam was proposed for this site. Just prior to the railroad boom, the US experienced a canal boom. Canal projects were proposed and built across the US. The project for the Saint Croix river was to build a much higher dam that would raise the water level high enough for canal boats to cross the continental divide near Solon Springs. A corresponding dam on the Bois Brule River would let boats back down so they could continue towards Lake Superior. This lock and dam system would have created a water route between Stillwater (near the Twin Cities) to the major ports on Lake Superior (Ashland, Duluth, and Superior).