Togo: Where the Pavement Ends and the North Begins

Togo: Where the Pavement Ends and the North Begins

Togo, Minnesota is a remote outpost in Itasca County, about thirty five miles northwest of Hibbing. Located in George Washington State Forest, a wilderness covering more than three hundred thousand acres, Togo is an outdoor paradise in warm and cold weather. This part of Minnesota is characterized by numerous marshes and bogs, punctuated with tamarack and black spruce trees, thousands of which are dead in the wet, low-lying areas. The result is acres of bare tree trunks, devoid of foliage — just stalks pointing to the sky like a scene from a post-apocalyptic disaster movie. In truth, it’s just a stage, a momentary snapshot in the natural renewal of the forest.

Togo’s motto is “Where the Pavement Ends and the North Begins,” and it’s a motto that couldn’t be more exact. There are a number of campgrounds in the area for anyone who wants to sleep under the stars among the pine, spruce, fir, and birch trees, and Togo is one of few places where there might be even more recreation in the winter. Snowmobiles are as common as automobiles in the cold months, and Togo is something of a mushing mecca where you can get sled dog training.

Togo, Minnesota

Togo had a post office, founded in 1905, and the town was reportedly named for Admiral Togo by Miles Nelson, the first Postmaster. An unsourced history of Togo states the original post office (not shown) is now a residence.

Togo, Minnesota

The building shown here is the former Togo Public School which reportedly became a residence after the students were gone, although it did not appear to be occupied when these photos were taken.

Togo, Minnesota

There are a few inhabited homes and some buildings in Togo which are obviously still in use, but the only business appears to be Junction Bar & Grill, where they have a Fourth of July parade, and they keep track of the hottest and coldest days of the year on a blackboard. At the time of this writing, the coldest day of 2015 was -35 on January 5th, and the warmest was a July day when the mercury reached 95.

Togo, Minnesota

Since 1955, the Minnesota Department of Corrections has operated a juvenile correctional facility near Togo known as Thistledew Camp, which focuses on wilderness training. There is also a boot camp for women in the Minnesota penal system.

If you’re looking for a scenic drive, a pure forest experience without truck stops or convenience stores or rest areas, the drive west from Togo to Effie, Minnesota on State Highway 1 is a trip you will never forget.

Togo, Minnesota

Photos by Troy Larson, copyright © 2015 Sonic Tremor Media



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34 thoughts on “Togo: Where the Pavement Ends and the North Begins

    1. My grandfather, William Scheel, built that little black house, in the 1930’s My mom, Othelia was born, in Togo, in 1922. I’ve been living on my grandparents old property since 1989. Love it up here.

      1. I don’t remember when we moved into the house I was too small. We then moved to the house on the lake by the Bearville Cemetery.
        Where is your grandparents property at?

        1. Do you still own that house on the lake by the cemetery? My families property is on thistledew road. The roebucks. We just never see the gate down or people in or out of that driveway

          1. I remember the Roebucks. Amos Turkey(SP?) that lived at that lake when I was growing up was my a brother to my Uncle Harry’s wife. I went fishing with him on that lake many times. No, we do not own the farm anymore. My grandmother sold it in the early 70’s. It has been sold a few times from what I have been told. The last I heard it was up for sale. I still stop at the cemetery when ever I am up there as most of my family is buried there.

          2. Turkia lol that’s so cool. Amos was a great uncle my mom Cindy, uncle Rick, and uncle wally , and my cousin Gary. They were born in 50s and 60s. I didn’t see a for sale sign on that property

  1. Went here along with my brother and sister. I think my brother may have been in the last graduating class before we all went to Bigfork. Lots of great memories. We had Mr Mann as our teacher, 4,5, and 6.

    1. I had Mr. Mann for 4th grade at Warba elementary sometime in the 80’s. Is he still around? What was his first name? Trying to locate him.

  2. we´re thistledew boys we have no toys we live in caves n ditches when pussy is rare we´ll fuck a bear cuz we´re mean sunsabitches that was our song in juvie 1990

    1. Kevin Kling! You were in juvie? Are you the same Kevin Kling who is a famous story teller now and who gave the first performance in the new Edge Center for the Arts in Bigfork MN??

  3. My uncle drove school bus to Togo school, for a while he used an older limousine he called “stretch”. We felt pretty special.

    1. Gail, I remember that stretch very well. It was a 1953 Mercury with 4 doors on the passenger side if I remember correctly. He would go to Bear Lake area and pick up kids, then stop and pick up Lynda Olson, then me, then on to the YCC camp to pick up kids there. We would stay in a room at the log cabin by Dear lake Charlies. I believe the I heard the log cabin burned down. I remember your Uncle very well. He was quite a musician also.

      1. Love this page, I grew up at Bear Lake, We had a driver named Myron, he whistled all the time.
        We would get on the bus at 6 a.m. and he would whistle all the way to the next bus.
        Is this the same guy? Loved him.
        I stopped at the school more then 10 years ago, a distant relative of mine was turning
        it into a sawmill. Was very sad to see, but I did get to go through it, lots of fun memories.
        So much smaller then I thought it was, when I went there.
        I would love to know if things have changed, has anyone stopped in?

        1. The driver was Myron Carlson. Drove school bus for many years. The Togo bus driver was Paul Rosvit.
          By the way do you have a brother Kenny and a sister Penny? If so, I went to school with them.

          I would like to get some pictures of how the area looks now.

          1. Paul was, the other driver. No Penny and Kenny are relatives. I think they have both passed on.
            I have lived in Wa. for 38 years, but I was there last year, and took my daughters there to see where
            I was raised, and drove right on past my own house, didn’t even look like it was in the same place.
            The road to Bear Lake has been totally redone. I still love it though. I don’t know if you knew
            the “Kerstings” , they live right between our house and the other Cochrans house . Joe bought
            the house we grew up in.

          2. I remember Myron when he delivered propane. My family had a chicken farm on highway 1, nine miles east of Effie. My grandpa was Gus Smith, raised all his kds there and had a resort on Deer Lake in the forties.

  4. So long ago!! I had Leona Anderson as our van driver. I always hoped to see her get out of the van in the winter when she came to pick me up becuz it meant it was too slippery and cold and she thought it wasn’t safe to travel the roads!! I had Mrs. Olikala in 1st-3rd grades. Mrs. Engdahl 4th & 5th. (She always had her watch face on the inside of her wrist with a hankie behind the wrist band! And her geraniums!!) And Mr. Mann for 6th. Remember Francis Olson? The BEST lunch lady! Lee Vezina was the librarian. And who can forget Henry the janitor!!! He would come walking across the street, from his house, and lift each one of us off our feet and spin us in circles!!! Oh hot days we might get to walk to the artesian well that was down the street or get to run to the Big Diamond!! The huge (to us then) Jackpine tree across the field. And how exciting it was when they put in the skating rink!! And the special days when we got to go to the rooms on the top floor, very rare! What some memories!! I loved reading thru all of yours!

    1. I remember Henry and when I was there, his wife Irene was the cook. Their last name was Schall. I remember at the time how old I thought they were but as I grew up and figured it out one day, they were in their 30’s.

      The great home cooked meals everyday and the day you were finally old enough to help in the lunch room by setting up the tables, bring out the plates and silver ware. No plastic utensils there.

      MY teachers were Mrs Pearson for first, Mrs Waters for second, Mrs Norby for third and part of 4th grade, Mrs Libke for 5th and 6th and Mrs Zagrebelny for 7th and 8th grades.

      The big diamond where the big kids got to play softball. I remember the days when we had kids from Effie and Big Fork come to challenge us to softball.

      The gym at the school was like no other. Basketball baskets were to low because the ceiling was not high enough for regulation but when we played schools from other locations we usually had the upper hand because you could not arc your shots but on the other hand, we were lost when we went to their gyms.

  5. Togo Tech, where i was the volunteer music teacher. We had standing room only crowds at our programs, and the Newman sisters and myself on guitars, Lindy Wilenius on flute and Irene Schall on Piano as the band accompanying the singers grades k-6.
    Who could forget the homecoooked meals everyday and the dedication and love of the teachers and principal.

  6. I am from MN and never heard of Togo, MN. I guess it has been a ghost town even while I was growing up. I was born in 1957 So maybe the school closed before that. Anyway, was interesting seeing towns from my home state.

  7. I went to Togo school for 8 years in the 1950s. My first and second grade teacher was Mrs. Persson, Mrs. Engdahl for 4th grade, Mrs. Libke 5th and 6th grade, Mrs. Zagrabelny 7th and 8th grade. My bus driver was Paul Rosvit. So many great memories from those school days, like Achievement Day where we competed in sports such as hitting a target with a soft ball, distance throwing, and many others. Then the winners would compete in Grand Rapids with other schools in the district. I remember this because I won best in distance throwing (girls) for the district one year and got a blue ribbon. I used to love having a hot lunch every day, Mrs. Schall was a great cook. Also, loved the basketball games, “Togo Blackhawks”. I remember Dave Willenborg, Jon Romnes and Glen Seopa were good players, and several others. Of course our school Christmas party every year was so much fun……got to see Santa and get a bag of candy. Pretty special….

  8. We go there almost every year with our horses to Togo Horse Camp. Some of the best and beautiful forrest riding for miles and miles. Great fishing all around. Ride the horses to the bar for a bevie and a bite to eat. God’s country.

  9. My dad’s cabin is on the tennis court next to the schoolhouse. And curiosity always kills this cat about the history and the pictures of this town. Besides just the logging stories.

  10. My great Grandparents Dan and Celia Seopa lived in Togo from 1905-1937. I will have to go take a look up there next time i’m in Min-eee-soda. Does anyone know any of the Seopa descendants? I would sure like to know where they specifically came from.

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