District #28 School in Ramsey

The District #28 School was constructed in Ramsey in 1892 to replace a smaller, wood frame school house. Buff-colored bricks manufactured by the nearby Kelsey Brickyard cover the exterior of the school. Inside, one large classroom dominates the space. It has a pressed metal ceiling and chalkboards covering the walls. All windows and the original double entry door are arched to match the decorative brick arches above.

From 1947 until 1977 the old school house served as Ramsey’s Town Hall. One of the cloakrooms was converted into a kitchen, the chalkboards painted over, and many of the interior walls covered with fiberboard. The beautiful arched windows and front door were blocked in with plywood so rectangular windows and a standard door could be installed.

After being abandoned by the local government, the Anoka County Historical Society formed a restoration committee that concluded many of the school’s historical integrity remained intact. It was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979 and accepted on February 11, 1980. It continues to be one of only a handful of one room schoolhouses in Minnesota on the Register.

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Buchanan: A Town of Firsts

Rumors of copper riches hidden in the North Shore’s streams and hillsides had excited the imaginations of mineral prospectors and speculators for years. Copper towns were numerous along the North Shore of Lake Superior in the mid-19th century. With few exceptions, the townsites, much like their creators’ dreams, never became a reality.

In 1856, Buchanan was established as the seat of the U.S. Land Office in the northeastern land district in Minnesota Territory. The founders of Buchanan had high hopes of creating a boomtown — they believed there was a lot of copper in the nearby bed of the Knife River. The first settlers expected Buchanan to eventually become the capital of the county and the greatest copper port in Minnesota. Along with the perceived mineral seams, a seemingly endless supply of white pine and fur-bearing animals all around, and the close proximity to the port of Duluth seemed to make this an ideal place for a town.

It wasn’t long before a hotel, several saloons, boarding houses, a steam dock, residences, and buildings for the post office and newspaper office sprang up in Buchanan. All of the buildings were likely constructed with logs from the forest along the shore. An early copper prospector described that, “Timbers were taken out, nicely hewen for five two-story buildings in town.” Two of these buildings were used by the land officers while the others served as a hotel, boarding house, and saloon. When men ventured out of the wilderness and into Buchanan, they typically were looking for three things; provisions, a saloon, or the temporary companionship of a woman.

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Tenney – The Evolution of a Ghost Town

For several years, Tenney held the distinction of being Minnesota’s smallest town. The 2010 census showed that Tenney boasted two families, and an average age of close to 57 years old. The total population was five. When the numbers dwindled to just three residents, it became nearly impossible to keep the town alive. Tenney was on the brink of becoming a ghost town.

Tenney is located about 65 miles south of Moorhead on what was once the flat bottom of glacial Lake Agassiz in western Minnesota. The rich, fertile soil left behind drew settlers from all over the country beginning in the 1870s. John P. Tenney owned several hundred acres of land in the area and sold many of those acres to the railroad in order to establish a line through the county. Once the railroad came through in 1885, farmers had a way to get their crops to the Twin Cities, and then on to the east coast.

A provisional plat for Tenney was registered with Wilkin County in August of 1887. A post office opened the same year. The land was officially surveyed in 1901, and the plat for the town was adopted. It consisted of four square miles of land which would provide room for a sufficient population to have saloons, a general store, and other services that every up-and-coming town needed. It didn’t take long for Tenney to start drawing new business owners to town.

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Maine Prairie Corners: A Minnesota Ghost Town

A township of new settlers from Maine sprung up in Stearns County, Minnesota around 1856, but it wasn’t until 1858 that the small pioneer village officially adopted the name Maine Prairie. During the Dakota Conflict of 1862, Maine Prairie became the site of a small log fort, known as Maine Prairie Fort. Built in August of that year, the fort was a two level, 40’x40’ square stockade that was manned by a volunteer militia. Although there was some fighting nearby, the Maine Prairie Fort and nearby village was never attacked.

By 1865 several small business and community buildings had sprung up near the fort. A post office, blacksmith shop, cheese factory, general store, lodge hall, and three churches were erected at the intersection of County Roads 8 and 15. Residents of the little town decided to change the name to Maine Prairie Corners that same year. A short time later, a community cemetery was established just north of the town. Maine Prairie Corners became a vibrant settlement. Families began to build homes near downtown while the fertile countryside was snatched up by farmers.

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Lost Highway 61

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 print-out, 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 almost as long as the automobile. By 1934, Highway 61 ran the eastern length of Minnesota from the Canadian border to La Crosse. Through 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.

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Taconite Harbor – Lake Superior’s Once-Upon-A-Time Town

In 1957, trucks loaded with prefabricated homes rolled along Highway 61 toward a new building site just south of Schroeder. By 1990 the homes were leaving the same way they arrived.

In the 1950s, business at the Erie Mining Company was booming. Taconite pellets harvested from mines in Hoyt Lakes were sent by train to the company’s loading docks, which were designed to be the fastest loading in the world, along the shore of Lake Superior. From there it would be sent by ship to Detroit to make automobiles, or to the steel mills further east. Each year an average of 10 to 11 million tons of taconite pellets were sent out of this facility.

Twenty-two tidy three- or four-bedroom homes arrived in 1957 to line the two streets nestled between Highway 61 and Lake Superior. Each home was built in about two hours. A fire hall and community center were erected around this time as well. Although the area was technically part of Schroeder, the little area established itself as Taconite Harbor.

For $400 down and $100 per month, workers at the nearby loading dock and power plant could settle into the quaint bungalows which were painted in pastel colors. Ornamental trees and shrubs were planted, and backyard gardens were tended with care. A playground, baseball field, and tennis and basketball courts were carved out of the ample open space behind the homes. There were block parties and volleyball games in the summer, ice skating and hockey games in the winter. For a while, there were as many as 74 kids in this small neighborhood. Families flourished here.

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Elegant Dining on the North Shore

If it weren’t for a sign announcing that you’ve arrived in Little Marais, you may just speed through this little resort town on your way north on Highway 61. Scandinavian fishermen settled in the sleepy town during the late 1880s, but by the 1920s tourists began motoring their way up the north shore – looking for accommodations as they went. Small resorts and gas stations popped up along the route.

Originally built as a rustic log store, the Little Marais Store was a popular stop for basic provisions. It was transformed twice after that; first into a grocery store and gas station with small rooms for travelers looking for a good nights sleep, and later into a lovely white clapboard inn with an elegant dining room and housekeeping cabins along the lake shore. It was renamed the Little Marais Lodge and Store.

The white clapboard building with its charming green shutters soon became a popular destination for couples on their honeymoon. The refined structure stood out among the rustic accommodations that populated the North Shore at that time.  Inside, antique lamps cast a warm glow in each room and historic maps hung on the walls.  An abundance of windows, white paneled walls, and cool lake breezes gave the lodge a light, airy feel. The gabled roof added gentle sophistication of the exterior.

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