History buffs and curiosity seekers revel in finding a piece of the past. Stumbling across something long-forgotten is a great way to travel back in time, even if it’s only for a few moments. Thanks to the internet, the stumbling has become easier. Over the summer, Google maps helped me to stumble across an abandoned section of Highway 61. I set off on my adventure during one of the hottest days of the year with my gps, a satellite map printout, and my camera. A couple of hours later, I pulled off the highway with my map in hand and started off toward the farm fields. I quickly found what I was looking for; an abandoned and neglected section of overgrown concrete that was once one of the most traveled roads in Minnesota.
Highway 61 may be one of the most famous highways in Minnesota. Songs and books have been written about it, and just about every Minnesotan can find it on a map. The highway has been around for almost as long as the automobile. By 1934, Highway 61 ran the eastern length of Minnesota from the Canadian border to La Crosse. Over the years, the original dirt path was replaced several times over. Each time improvements were made, straighter and safer routes were found and sections of the original road were abandoned in the name of progress.
I found my destination near Kellogg, in southern Minnesota. There are two abandoned sections of Highway 61 here that run alongside railroad tracks. The southern section is more remote, but both are drivable and easy to find. I was the only one on the narrow, two-lane road the entire time I was exploring. The weeds growing through the cracks in the concrete added to the ambiance. Except for the singing cicadas and buzzing horseflies, it was quiet. As far as the eye could see, wildflowers and farm fields flowed along the eastern side of the old road, and the western side featured a large hill that leads to the current path of the highway. It was easy to imagine travelers motoring north in the family station wagon on their way to the north shore.
There are several abandoned sections of Highway 61 to explore throughout the state. If you’re like me and the thought of meandering down a piece of history makes your heart race, I highly recommend Deadpioneer’s Historic Minnesota Highways website.