Lost Highway 61

  • December 4, 2017

History buffs and curiosity seekers revel in finding a piece of the past. Stumbling across something long forgotten is an excellent way to travel back in time, even if it’s only for a few moments. Thanks to the internet, the stumbling has become easier. In the summer of 2013, Google maps helped me stumble across an abandoned section of Highway 61—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.

I set off on my adventure during one of the hottest days of the year with my navigation system programmed, a satellite map printout just in case technology failed me, 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.

Two abandoned segments of Highway 61 near Kellogg run parallel to railroad tracks. The section to the south is more remote, but both are still 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.

I took a similar trip in 2017 to locate another abandoned section of the highway about eight miles south of Kellogg, near Weaver. The original 12-mile section of road was created in 1924 to connect Kellogg to Minneiska and guided travelers through downtown Weaver. The now-abandoned portion of the road was used until 1969 when the current alignment of the highway opened, which bypassed Weaver altogether. Like the deserted segments of the highway near Kellogg, the roadway is narrow and weeds grow through the cracks in the concrete. Mosquitos were plump and plentiful. The section is split in two by a bridge (gated to prevent cars from crossing) over a backwater area of the Whitewater River. Trees line the road and buffer some of the sounds from the modern highway, but it isn’t quite as peaceful as the segments near Kellogg. Fragrant wildflowers, lots of birds, and a couple of curious toads made my walk along this section a pleasant break from hours in the car.

These abandoned stretches of the old alignment make it easy to imagine travelers motoring north in the family station wagon on their way to the woods and water of the north shore. By 1934, Highway 61 ran the eastern length of Minnesota from the Canadian border to La Crosse. The original dirt path has been replaced several times over. Each improvement made the highway safer and sections of the original road were abandoned in the name of progress.

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.

 


References:
Deadpioneer’s Historic Minnesota Highways

 


This article was originally published on December 9, 2013 and featured the abandoned Kellogg section of Highway 61. It was updated in December 2017 to include the the sections near Weaver.

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