Spencer Brook: Nearly a Ghost Town

Settled in 1854 by Pennsylvania native Benjamin Spencer, Spencer Brook was one of the first communities in Isanti County. During the 1850s, Spencer Brook became a favorite spot for east coast Yankees seeking lumbering opportunities. The nearby Rum River provided the flowing waters needed to float logs downstream to the Twin Cities.

The first post office in the county was established in Spencer Brook in 1857 and a school in 1858. A hotel, blacksmith shop, implement store, creamery, photography shop, general store, and a grist mill soon followed. To ease crossing the Rum River, a ferry began operation in 1870. In 1874 a bridge was built to replace the ferry, but it was destroyed by ice the following spring. The brook that splits the town was dammed for the grist mill, and the resulting millpond was a popular recreation area for the residents.

Spencer Brook became known as the largest settlement of native-born Americans in the state outside of the Twin Cities. Swedish immigrants began arriving in the area in the 1870s and fields of potatoes and navy beans began to surround the township.

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The Pine Tree Lumber Company

Pine Tree Lumber Company was established in Little Falls in 1890. Located on the banks of the Mississippi River in central Minnesota, the company was run by Charles Weyerhaeuser and Richard “Drew” Musser. Little Falls was chosen as the location for this new mill because of its proximity to the Mississippi River. The dam created a large boom area where the logs could be stored and sorted, and the  Northern Pacific Railroad passed through town which made transporting lumber convenient.

An existing mill was purchased by the partners on the east side of the river, and a larger facility with cutting-edge equipment was built on the west bank. Commercial operations began at Pine Tree Lumber on May 18, 1891.  In this new venture, Weyerhaeuser was put in charge of the logs and the mill while Musser managed sales and bookkeeping. The mill employed several hundred men and doubled the population of Little Falls less than ten years.

An office building for the operation was built in 1891 on the east bank of the Mississippi, just south of the railroad bridge. The rectangular brick building features a hipped roof with eyebrow dormers that allow light into the attic where Musser is said to have held exercise classes for his employees. The first floor contained offices and meeting space. Living quarters for Weyerhaeuser and Musser were located on the second level of the building.

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West Riverside School Near Cambridge

Built in 1898, the West Riverside School was originally known as District #38 School. Isanti County once had 67 rural schools similar to this. Aside from teaching children, one of the important roles of rural schools was to teach immigrants the English language and prepare them for the American citizenship exam. Most were also an important community center for social and cultural events.

Located one mile west of Cambridge, the West Riverside School is constructed of brick made in nearby Springvale Twp. The open bell tower still houses a black iron bell. West Riverside operated until 1971 when the last of the remaining rural schools were consolidated. The school has been restored to its 1900 appearance by the Isanti County Historical Society. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

Jefferson Highway Through St. Cloud

Lincoln Avenue, located on the east side of St. Cloud, became part of the Jefferson Highway system in 1916. Edwin T. Meredith of Iowa believed an international highway from New Orleans to Winnipeg would be economically beneficial to farmers and promoted his idea in states along the proposed route. A committee determined that the Minnesota route would enter the state at Albert Lea and proceed through Owatonna, Faribault, Northfield, and Farmington before arriving in the Twin Cities. From there it would pass through Osseo, Anoka, Elk River, St. Cloud, and Little Falls before turning northwest. The entire route was completed in 1922 and was touted as the longest paved road in the United States.

This sign persuaded travelers to make a stop in downtown St. Cloud via St. Germain Street. The sign was erected by the St. Cloud Automobile Club for $1,000 in the early 1920s. The sign stood 20 feet tall and 30 feet wide and was illuminated by 300 lights after dark.

Portions of the Jefferson Highway still retain its name in several states—including sections near Osseo and Wadena—but in many places it was replaced with a numbered highway system in the mid-1920s. Lincoln Avenue became part of U.S. Highway 10 in November 1926. In 1953, a new four-lane highway was constructed just east of Lincoln Avenue, and the route was discontinued in St. Cloud by late-1958.

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The Fire Relief Houses of Pine County

After a devastating forest fire had obliterated the villages of Finlayson, Hinckley, Miller, Mission Creek, Pokegama, and Sandstone in Pine County on the afternoon of September 1, 1894, the state put forward an unprecedented humanitarian effort to attend to the needs of survivors. Hundreds of people were left homeless and without necessities such as food and clothing. Governor Knute Nelson appointed a state commission that would receive and distribute contributions of money and supplies, as well as provide victims with temporary shelter, food, clothing, furniture, seed, and tools. The commission also oversaw the construction of houses for survivors who owned homes before the fire but lacked sufficient insurance to rebuild. These homes became known as fire relief houses.

Within three months of the fire, 149 simple 16-foot-by-24-foot fire relief houses were erected in the burned area. The houses were either one or two levels depending on the size of the family, and cost approximately $150-$180 to build.

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Lundring Service Station in Canby

As the popularity and accessibility of automobiles grew throughout the 1920s and 1930s, the problem of planning where to put filling and service stations became a concern for residents and city officials. Filling stations in the mid-1910s were merely a curbside gas pump connected to an underground tank. The pumps were designed to fill a tin can, which would then be taken home and stored in the garage until it was needed. Although this option was more convenient than having to visit a wholesale gasoline seller, which were often only located in large cities, refineries were looking for new ways to make purchasing gasoline even more convenient for automobile owners. They wanted to bring pumps closer to residential areas and eliminate the need for customers to store gasoline in their residential garages. This was done in part to reduce the risk of the tin containers catching fire and putting homes in jeopardy.

Communities understandably didn’t want gasoline pumps located close to residential neighborhoods, so oil companies began looking for more attractive ways to bring their product closer to their customers. Their first offering was known as the shed design. As the name implies, sheds were typically built on corner lots with gravel or dirt driveways leading to the pump. The shed was used to house equipment, oils, and greases needed for early cars and the gasoline pump was located in the front  or at the side of the building. They were more utilitarian than attractive and often drew complaints from neighbors about the look of the building, as well as the smell and clutter that typically surrounded them.

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Thomson Pioneer Cemetery Gallery

The Thomson Pioneer Cemetery is located within the boundary of Jay Cooke State Park near Carlton. This cemetery was the burial place for many pioneer families of the nearby village of Thomson. The majority of the graves date to the 1880s and 1890s and most of them are unmarked.

Historic Ness Lutheran Church

The Ness Congregation was originally organized as the Norwegian Evangelical St. Johannes Congregation of Meeker and surrounding counties in 1861. The name was changed to Ness in October of that year. By 1864, the congregation had raised the $100.00 needed to purchase forty acres of land that had previously been set aside as a cemetery since the first interment there six years earlier. This land would eventually become the home to the Ness Lutheran Church, Ness Memorial Cemetery, a state historical monument, and the original granary where the congregation’s first services were held.

Between 1861 and 1868, sixty-five people joined the Ness congregation. Services were held in a granary built by Ole H. Ness. The first confirmation took place in the granary in 1861—members of the confirmation class were Even Evenson, Ole Kittleson, Hans Johnson, and Helle Kolberg. Many baptisms and weddings were presided over by guest pastors in the Ness granary before a permanent pastor was found and the church building was constructed.

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Ness Memorial Cemetery Gallery

The  Ness Memorial Cemetery is located on the same property as the historic Ness Lutheran Church. The first burial took place in 1858—sixteen years before the church was built. More information about Ness Lutheran Church can be found here.


Have you ever wondered how avid readers in rural communities kept up with their favorite authors in the 1950s and 1960s? If they lived in Aitkin, Chisago, Isanti, Kanabec, Mille Lacs, or Pine county, they probably participated in the Mail-a-Book delivery program. This photo shows a patron receiving the Mail-a-Book program catalog in the mail in 1959. He would choose a book and mail the form back to the library, who would then send the requested book to the patron. When he was done, he’d simply return the book by mail.

Photo courtesy of the East Central Regional Library.

Hasty: A Minnesota Ghost Town

The town of Hasty in central Minnesota began with the construction of a new Great Northern Railway line. The tracks were laid in 1881, adjacent to land owned by Warren Hasty. The new line connected Minneapolis to Osseo, Monticello, and Clearwater.

Construction of a railroad depot for Hasty began in the fall of 1888, and opened with little fanfare in February 1889. From the outset, residents of nearby Silver Creek spearheaded an attempt to have the Hasty Depot renamed Silver Creek Station. Since Silver Creek was a larger town than Hasty, they thought the name change would be a helpful guide to riders and bring passengers to their businesses. The argument for the name change was noted, but the depot retained its original name.

The increase in business along the route meant that Hasty needed a few essential services for farmers who used the line to get their crops to Minneapolis, as well as passengers making their way through Hasty to points beyond. Warren Hasty started a blacksmith shop in March of 1889. A brickyard was also established that year by W.F. Shattuck. The brickyard thrived; three or four railcars of bricks left Hasty each day. Swan Ahl opened a general store in May near the blacksmith shop. Not to be outdone, Warren Hasty built his general store right next to the depot in August. However, Warren Hasty’s store was short-lived. He auctioned the contents and razed the store just before he moved to St. Cloud in 1890.

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The Pressroom at the Little Falls Herald

Take a look inside of the pressroom at the Little Falls Herald in the 1910s. The The Herald was a weekly newspaper that covered local news in Little Falls and served as a news source for other nearby towns in the county. The paper also included state, national, and some international news within its eight-page, six-column format. The Herald was published each Friday beginning in March 1889. The last issue went to press in August 1950.

Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society (17600).

Historic Park Island Hotel Threatened With Demolition

The Park Island Hotel in Center City opened in 1900. The secluded, lakeside property offered guests nearly 3,000 square feet of space to relax on the main level alone–including a large dining room and a lounge at the back of the hotel that overlooked the lake. Twenty guest rooms were located upstairs. Some rooms had a private bathroom while others shared. The long dock featured a bandshell at the midway point. Bands and orchestras played in the bandshell on weekend evenings, drawing guests and locals to the lake.

As with so many other hotels from this era, the Park Island Hotel fell out of favor with travelers once automobiles became common and vacationers sought destinations farther north. The hotel was forced to close. More recently, the historic building served as a group home for adults with developmental disabilities. During that time, the aging building was only minimally maintained. When the maintenance costs became too high, and the building became unsafe for residents, it was abandoned.

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Bailey Brothers Prove They Sell Durable Overalls

In 1902, a large crowd surrounded the Bailey Brothers Store on Main Street in Belle Plaine as the brothers demonstrated the durability of the overalls they sold in their store. The publicity stunt was advertised in the newspaper and brought out more than one hundred people. A local band played music and the crowds cheered as the brothers pulled and tugged at the pants. There is no information about whether the sales stunt was a success, but it undoubtedly brought more than a few new customers into their store on that day.

Photo courtesy of the Scott County Historical Society.

Expeditionary Crew for the Northern Pacific Railway

This 1869 photo shows the main expeditionary crew for the Northern Pacific Railway. The crew consisted of one Native American woman, two Native American men, and twenty-five railroad scouts. Together, they charted a westward route across the state while financial backers were being courted. Crews like this often maneuvered through tough terrain such as swamps, bogs, and tamarack forests to find the best route. Leading this crew were Pierre Bottineau and G. A. Bracket.

Photo courtesy of the New Brighton Area Historical Society.

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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Waverly’s Moderne Village Hall

The original village hall in Waverly was built in 1893. The two-story, brick and stone building sat on the corner of Third Street and Elm Avenue. Built in the Romanesque style, the town hall featured a large corner tower that looked out over the small village. It was the home to the city’s government offices, fire department, and jail. The upper floor of the building was used for social activities such as dances and school performances. In the summer of 1938 the interior of the building was destroyed by fire. The Great Depression left the city’s coffers low and the community without much hope of rebuilding the hall. 

City officials in Waverly decided their only hope was to request funds from the federal government. They decided to submit a proposal to the federal Works Progress Administration (WPA). The WPA was one of President Roosevelt’s New Deal Programs. The WPA constructed a wide variety of municipal facilities based on the needs of particular communities. The projects ranged from small buildings such as a rural fire department garage to large-scale projects like auditoriums and libraries. These projects were especially significant because they often provided meaningful improvements in rural or struggling communities. Without the assistance of the New Deal programs, these projects would never have been possible in communities like Waverly.

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Oliver “Tuddy” Kaldahl

Spectators flocked to this 1942 ski jumping tournament in Glenwood, MN. Glenwood became a popular place to hold tournaments because it was the home town of Oliver “Tuddy” Kaldahl. Tuddy was the 1916 junior ski jump champion at the first National Ski Championship held in Glenwood, Minnesota. He set the American record for four years straight. In 1921, Tuddy won the Canadian National Class A crown. He went onto compete and win numerous events throughout his skiing career and became a highly celebrated ski jumper throughout the world.

Fandel’s Department Store

Interior view of Fandel’s Department Store in St. Cloud from 1946. Fandel’s opened in 1900 on St. Germain Street, between Sixth and Seventh. The building was razed in the 1980s to make way for the new Herberger’s department store.

Herdliska Jewelry Store

The Herdliska Jewelry Store was located at 101 South 10th Avenue in Princeton. Raleigh Herdliska also co-owned the hardware store just a few buildings away. Pictured here in 1900 are Mr. Herdliska, August Schlesner, Fred Mueller, and August Meyer.

Photo courtesy of the Mille Lacs County Historical Society.

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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