St. Peter and St. Paul Russian Orthodox Church stands in the forest of the South Koochiching unorganized territory in Koochiching County, Minnesota, about 35 miles northwest of Hibbing. I made a five hour drive from the Red River Valley to photograph this place at peak fall color in October of 2015.
An autumn drive through the Iron Range to reach this place is a treat like few others I’ve ever experienced. The small communities along the drive have a particular character — adorned in the color of rust, it’s almost as if they’re carved into the landscape, and in some places, they are. Working-class neighborhoods line the streets, where men and women work largely blue-collar jobs, equally at home operating heavy machinery as they are working with their hands. A dugout on a local baseball field shows two shades of paint, one layer applied decades earlier, beneath a more recent application, and a banner reads “Spartans.”
I turned north off of Highway 169 between Grand Rapids and Hibbing, where the highway winds past granite outcrops, and aged piles of boulders and mine tailings dot the landscape, and it was very clear that this part of northern Minnesota is the home of can-do people. The unending wilderness was intimidating to a city-dweller like myself, and thoughts of what might happen in the event of a car breakdown or an adverse weather event were not easy to banish from my mind.
The last forty miles took nearly an hour as I drove on a winding, undulating, two-lane forest highway in a hard rainstorm that seemed to spring up out of nowhere. The drive took me through Togo, Minnesota, home to an abandoned public school, and finally I had arrived at this place.
I was surprised first and foremost to discover this church in excellent condition. I had seen a photo of it on Google Earth, and it appeared to be in deteriorating condition. As it turns out, this church has undergone at least two restorations — one in 1995, and another in 2011-2012. There are two metal plaques on the front of the church listing donors for both projects. The restorations, in light of the remote location, are another example of the determination of the people who inhabit this part of Minnesota.
The sign reads:
Built in 1917-18 by the Lucachick & Sorokie families and many other neighbors. The church land was donated by the Lucachicks and the cemetery land by the sorokies.
Work still to be done: window sills & frames, replace the front doors with original design wood panel doors, repair the dome, repair various interior features and foundation.
Please send your tax deductible donation to: St. Peter & St. Paul Russian Orthodox Church
18469 Sugar Lake Trail
Cohasset, MN 55721
Technically, this church is located in Bramble, Minnesota, which is an unorganized community — really, more of a rural cluster of residences than a town.
If you enjoy churches like this, please consider ordering our hardcover coffee table book, Churches of the High Plains.
Photos by Troy Larson, copyright © 2017 Sonic Tremor Media