This time of year, many city-dwellers travel south looking to take in the beauty of the season by roadtripping down through Red Wing and Wabasha to take in the fall colors of bluff country. Many pass right by a virtually undisturbed Civil War-era community that is surrounded by a state park and the Mississippi River.
The old town of Frontenac is now located within Florence Township, about halfway between Red Wing and Lake City. If you travel Highway 61, you may have noticed the section of Frontenac known as Frontenac Station. Keep in mind that the highway replaced railroad tracks and a station of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad. If you turn off the highway and head northeast on County Road 2 past the entrance to the state park, you will run into Old Frontenac along the banks of the Mississippi River.
Brigadier General Israel Garrard traveled to the area in 1854 on a hunting trip and was overtaken with his surroundings. Garrard began construction of a comfortable hunting lodge, which he named St. Hubert’s, in 1855. German and Swiss craftsmen working on the lodge also settled in the area. Storage buildings and a general store were built to support river commerce and provide provisions to residents. Evert V. Westervelt was named Postmaster and the small village called Westervelt was on its way to becoming a 19th-century destination resort town.
In 1857, Westervelt and Garrard purchased 4,000 acres of pristine land and divided it into quarter shares–three shares were for Garrard’s family, and one share went to Mr. Westervelt. Another 320 acres were set aside for a proper village, which was renamed Frontenac in 1859.
The village attracted some fur trading and logging industry, but Garrard saw a greater opportunity in the natural beauty of the area. A storage building was converted into the Lakeside Hotel to attract travelers. The general store was turned into a recreation hall, later known as the Pavillion, with a small theater and billiards. A tavern soon followed. Word of mouth spread quickly about the little resort town. Railroad travelers quickly became enchanted with the area and a picturesque village of summer homes and waterfront estates for wealthy travelers emerged. Frontenac was often referred to as the Newport of the North.
After a seventy year run as a premier resort town, interest waned. Many buildings fell into disrepair. Luckily, in 1973, Frontenac was designated as the Old Frontenac Historic District and placed on the National Register of Historic Places. A gradual effort to restore the town began in 1987. Today, taking a drive through the town proves the area has attracted preservation-minded people who are lovingly restoring and preserving this little piece of the world. Houses rarely go on the market, and when they do they are snapped up quickly. Almost 160 years after Israel Garrard first set foot in Frontenac, people are still overcome with the surroundings of the tiny village which is still undisturbed by modern development.