Stillwater film to air on tpt beginning Sunday

"An Ode to Stillwater: The John Runk Films" is showing on Twin Cities Public Television this week.

“An Ode to Stillwater: The John Runk Films” is showing on Twin Cities Public Television this week.

This weekend the state of Minnesota will get a look at Stillwater as it appeared between 1947 and 1954.

On Sunday, Twin Cities Public Television (tpt) on channel 2 will air the documentary “An Ode to Stillwater: The John Runk Films” for the first time and will rebroadcast it throughout the week.

Produced for the Washington County Historical Society by Paul Creager of Square Lake Productions, the documentary draws from about 12 hours of 8 mm film footage by Stillwater photographer John Runk.

According to Brent Peterson, executive director of the Washington County Historical Society, Runk worked as a professional photographer in Stillwater 1899 to 1964. He was also a photo collector who amassed thousands of photos to create “one of the best historic collections ever,” Peterson said.

Runk also dabbled in video, and nearly six years ago, his nephew Jim Runk donated 48 canisters of 8 mm film to the Washington County Historical Society.

Much of the footage showed scenes of the river and Stillwater, including the downtown business district just after World War II. It also featured shots of a Stillwater Loggers baseball game and the ferry crossing at Marine on St. Croix while it was in operation.

There were also shots of screen cards with labels such as “Pioneer Park.”

“Runk was making a film about Stillwater when he passed away,” Creager explained. “He was right in the middle of it, so with this project we were able to finish that project and put our fingerprint on it a little bit.”

The documentary was funded by a Minnesota historical and cultural grant from the state’s Legacy Amendment funds, as well as a grant from the Stillwater Elks.

The historical society hired Creager, who wrote the narration and produced the documentary.

“I went through over a period of months and categorized it, and then was able to create a narrative out of it,” Creager said.

The Minnesota band treVeld provided the soundtrack.

About a half an hour in all, the documentary starts with a brief biography of Runk’s life, and then goes on to show some of his footage.

“The footage was made on an 8 mm camera, so it has almost an abstract quality to it, because it’s not as crisp as 35 mm footage would be,” Creager said. “It almost feels like an impressionistic story line of Stillwater.”

Creager said what Runk did for Stillwater was crucial.

“Stillwater history is a special place, and its visual history is a part of what makes it so poignant,” he said. “Some towns have a lot of history but didn’t have somebody like Runk in the town to preserve it.” Creager and Peterson are excited to share that history with viewers of tpt.

“It gets the story out to a wider audience, and that’s what we as a historical society want to do,” Peterson said.

The documentary is available on DVD for $15 online at or at the Wardens House Museum, 602 N. Main St., Stillwater.

Contact Jonathan Young at

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