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Author: Troy Larson

The Night the Lights Went Out in Fergus Falls

The Night the Lights Went Out in Fergus Falls

In the early morning hours of September 24th, 1909, Ben Snyder was sleeping in the power house of the Fergus Falls City Light Station, a hydroelectric power station on the Ottertail River near Fergus Falls. On-duty was a second man, N.P. Johnson. At 4:20 in the morning, a rumble awakened Snyder, and he noticed the lights flickering and water splashing onto the platform of the dam, which was barely a year old. He immediately recognized that something was seriously wrong, alerted N.P. Johnson, and as the floor trembled, the two men fled up the riverbank.

An article published by the Little Falls Herald on October 1st, 1909 described what happened next:

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The Oldest Home in Moorhead

The Oldest Home in Moorhead

To be clear, the Bergquist Cabin is described by the Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County as the oldest home in Moorhead still on its original site. (There is another cabin, built in 1860, which has been moved a number of times, even disassembled and put in storage at one time, which now stands in Memorial Park at the Hjemkomst Center) At any rate, it’s fascinating to stand before this little, one-room log shack and imagine what it must have been like to live here.

Swedish immigrant John Bergquist was a man with perfect timing. He emigrated to America and began construction on this cabin in February of 1871. Minnesota had only been a state for 13 years at that time, and the Red River boundary with the still-wild Dakota Territory was just a quarter mile to the west, but the region was about to boom. Just a few months after Bergquist completed this cabin, the Northern Pacific Railroad arrived and began construction on the first railroad bridge to span the Red River, just a few miles to the south.

Bergquist Cabin

Fargo and Moorhead boomed after the construction of the bridge, and John Bergquist saw an opportunity. He started a brickyard using clay gathered from a site nearby, and many of John Bergquist’s bricks were used to build the early structures in Moorhead.

Bergquist lived in this cabin until 1884, when he sold the site. Over the decades, three more families lived in this cabin — the Houcks, the Petersons, and the Shambergers. With each successive family, this cabin was expanded until it was quite literally a log room inside a house which had been built around it. The Shamberger family moved out in 1967 and the house sat abandoned until the Bergquist family launched an effort to restore it in the late-70s.

Bergquist Cabin

The additions to the cabin were torn down, the logs were numbered, then the cabin was disassembled, restored, and reassembled on its original site. Judging by the information I’ve seen on the HCSCC website, the Bergquist Cabin is open once or twice a year for visitors to see the inside, but anyone can go see this cabin from the outside at any time. It’s in a little park, not far from the river, at 1008 7th Street North.

Bergquist Cabin

This is one of those places where you stumble across it by accident, then you feel dumb not knowing about it for so long. I was on my way to pick up dinner with my son when I took a wrong turn in north Moorhead and just happened to drive right by this place. It’s just down the street from the home where I’ve lived for over a decade, and I never knew about it.

Bergquist Cabin

Are these original John Bergquist bricks?

Bergquist Cabin

There are several information panels on site.

Bergquist Cabin

Photos by Troy Larson, copyright © 2017 Sonic Tremor Media

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A Minnesota Beach Where There is No Water

A Minnesota Beach Where There is No Water

As school children, most of us learned about the last ice age, in the Pleistocene Epoch, during which the Laurentide Ice Sheet covered more than half of North America. Between 13,000 and 8,500 years ago, the ice sheet went through multiple melt phases in which the ice sheet created a giant glacial lake–Lake Agassiz, named for Swiss-American Geologist Louis Agassiz, one of the first to postulate about our past ice ages.

Lake Agassiz was a massive body of fresh water in the middle of North America, larger than all of the Great Lakes combined. As the ice sheet retreated, ice dams held back the meltwater to create glacial Lake Agassiz. As the lake drained, sometimes slowly, other times in sudden, catastrophic outflows, the lake shrank and changed, leaving behind a table-flat landscape with some of the richest farmland in the world, and even sandy beaches from it’s ever-shifting shoreline. To the geologically educated, the signs of Lake Agassiz are everywhere, but even to those like myself, without a geologic eye, there are places where you can see the remains of this monster lake. In late May of 2017, I visited one of those places, outside Fertile, Minnesota. It’s a Minnesota beach where there is no water.

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Aged and Rusting: War Memorial Bridge

Aged and Rusting: War Memorial Bridge

This is War Memorial Bridge, sometimes known as Climax Bridge due to its proximity to Climax, Minnesota. The bridge’s official designation is MNDot Bridge #7097. War Memorial Bridge spans the Red River on Minnesota’s western border, between Polk County, Minnesota, and Traill County, North Dakota.

War Memorial Bridge

War Memorial Bridge was built in 1957 and it is considered a significant historical bridge by the state of Minnesota, due in part to its unique construction. As described by MNDOT’s historic bridges page:

The bridge was designed to accommodate shifting Red River of the North soils through previously established engineering techniques such as the use of long approach spans, rocker bents, long finger expansion joints, and swivel hinges. It is significant for its truss design and exemplifying the cooperation between North Dakota and Minnesota highway departments to improve connections between the two states.

Read MNDOT’s PDF report on War Memorial Bridge.

War Memorial Bridge

I decided to photograph this bridge along with several others for a potential future book about bridges. These steel truss bridges are disappearing all the time, to be replaced with highly-functional but comparatively boring modern highway bridges. Another bridge just a few miles to the south, Nielsville Bridge, built in 1939, is a good example. It is closed due to its deteriorating condition, but a grant for a new bridge was denied in 2016, leaving its fate undetermined. I think it’s best to photograph these places before they’re gone.

War Memorial Bridge

War Memorial Bridge

Above: Looking over the Red River of the North from the roadway.

War Memorial Bridge
Image / Google Earth

Above: War Memorial Bridge is directly west of Climax, Minnesota, or about 15 minutes southwest of Crookston. What do you know about War Memorial Bridge? Please leave a comment.

Photos by Troy Larson, copyright © 2017 Sonic Tremor Media

Donnelly School and an Abandoned Church

Donnelly School and an Abandoned Church

Donnelly is in Stevens County, Minnesota, about 10 minutes northwest of Morris, and home to about 241 people as of the 2010 census. It was founded in December 1871, and was originally known as “Douglas”, but was renamed Donnelly in honor of Minnesota Congressman Ignatius Donnelly. Congressman Donnelly is perhaps better known for his book Atlantis: The Antediluvian World, a work which maintains Plato’s writings on Atlantis are factual. The book became the basis for many of the Atlantis legends of popular lore.

We went to Donnelly in 2012 with the intention of getting some shots of the very impressive former public school.

We’re told the owner of the school has (or had) a woodworking shop in the back of the school for a time.

The front of this school is completely overgrown.  Troy had to navigate through the bushes to get onto the front steps and take this photo.

For a town with as many people as Donnelly, we were surprised to find it still had quite a few derelict places to photograph, including this service station which looked like a place out of time.

This church had a notice of forfeiture posted on the door due to back taxes.  The notice had an expiration date of May, 2012 for the owners, a couple from Doylestown, Ohio, to pay more than $5,500 in back taxes, or forfeit the property to Stevens County. We have yet to hear how the situation turned out. Please post a comment below if you know.

Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC

Haunting Abandoned Border Station

Haunting Abandoned Border Station

The former Port of Entry in Noyes, Minnesota was a haunting abandoned relic when we visited in 2013. Check out our new video featuring some history and updates on the fate of this place after a government auction in 2014. This video was uploaded at high quality, so if you have the capability to stream it to your TV, definitely check it out on the big screen.

See also: A Haunting Abandoned Port of Entry in Noyes, Minnesota

Original content copyright © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media

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Two Abandoned Schools in Beardsley, Minnesota

Two Abandoned Schools in Beardsley, Minnesota

Beardsley is in Big Stone County, in the “elbow” of Minnesota, where Lake Traverse, Big Stone Lake, and the Little Minnesota River carve into what would otherwise be South Dakota’s territory.

Beardsley, Minnesota

Beardsley had a population of 200-plus residents in the 2010 Census. Beardsley’s schools were consolidated with Graceville and Clinton, Minnesota long ago. In the photo above, the former High School is in the foreground, and behind it on the left, Beardsley’s other abandoned school, which now appears to be owned by a private party.

Beardsley, Minnesota

Beardsley, Minnesota

The corner of Windom Avenue and Forest Street.

Beardsley, Minnesota

Beardsley, Minnesota

Beardsley, Minnesota

If there’s any question how long this school has been left exposed to the elements, note the broken door in the lower left. We found a picture of this school online, taken in 2009, in which the door was in the same condition. Below, a look inside the doorway.

Beardsley, Minnesota

We did not see a single “No Trespassing” sign on this old school, but we did not have permission to enter, and we didn’t know who the owner was, so we stayed out. We would love to photograph the interior one day, before it’s too late.

Beardsley, Minnesota

Beardsley, Minnesota

This school was built in 1908. For historical context, that same year, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were reportedly killed in Bolivia, Henry Ford produced the first Model-T, and Thomas Selfridge became the first person to die in a plane crash. He was a passenger on a flight piloted by Orville Wright.

Beardsley, Minnesota

Beardsley’s other school was built in 1954, and only a year later, Beardsley’s public schools became the subject of some controversy with the Catholic Church. In his book, “Rooting Out Religion: Church-State Controversies in Minnesota Public Schools Since 1950,” author Bruce Dierenfield details a 1955 controversy in which the Pastor of St. Mary’s Church, Harvey Egan, wrote a letter objecting to baccalaureate services held in connection with graduation and holiday ceremonies on the grounds that the prayers may violate Catholic beliefs. “Upon receiving the letter, the school board canceled commencement and considered dropping its Christmas celebration. The board chairman, C. A. Hundeby, called for ‘a strictly academic year all year with no Christmas programs either.'”

Beardsley, Minnesota

Beardsley, Minnesota

The roof on this school was somewhat unique, and something we hadn’t seen before. It was sloped toward the center.

Beardsley, Minnesota

Do you know more about Beardsley, Minnesota and its schools? Please leave a comment.

Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media

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Why Was This Structure Built as a Fortress?

Why Was This Structure Built as a Fortress?

As we were planning a shoot that would include some Minnesota and Iowa places, we decided to visit Johnson, Minnesota, in Big Stone County, not far from the South Dakota border, to investigate one structure.

The aerial view of the structure in our mapping software seemed to indicate a rectangular building with some kind of bell tower or steeple at one corner, so we marked it and made plans to visit under the assumption we would find an old fire station, or perhaps a school or church. When we arrived in April of 2016, we were very surprised to find something quite different.

Johnson, Minnesota

This abandoned structure stands on the northwest edge of Johnson, Minnesota, and it is the first structure of its kind that we’ve ever stumbled upon. From the front, the ground floor of this building looks like many of the other places we’ve photographed, like a pioneer-era store of some kind. The corner tower, however, appears to have been constructed to provide defense against unknown assailants. Reinforced rifle slots in the north and west walls hint at ominous intent.

Johnson, Minnesota

The name J. Luchsinger on the facade of the building, with the date 1912, might be a clue. Searches reveal two Luchsinger men, John and Jacob, fought in the Civil and Indian Wars of 1861-65 (Fort Abercrombie, North Dakota is not far away, and was besieged in 1862). Another search result revealed an ad from 1922 in the Ortonville Independent which lists Jacob Luchsinger as a merchant in nearby Correll, Minnesota.

Johnson, Minnesota

Was Jacob Luchsinger the namesake of this building? Why was it built as a fortress? If you know the history of this place, we would love to hear it in the comments below.

Update: There is also a genealogy search result that shows a Jacob Luchsinger who was born in Minnesota in 1848, and died in 1916, location unknown.

Johnson, Minnesota

Johnson, Minnesota

Looking at the windows, high on the west wall, Terry had another observation… maybe it was a jail? Another possibility.

Johnson, Minnesota

Johnson, Minnesota

Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media

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Effie’s Logging Legacy

Effie’s Logging Legacy

I stopped in Effie on a whim when I happened to drive by the boarded-up public school on my way home from Togo. Effie is a quiet little town in Itasca County with a population around 130 according to the 2010 Census. In 2000, however, the Census only listed about 91 residents. If anyone knows the reason for the influx of residents between 2000 and 2010, I’d love to hear it in the comments.

Logging Camp Near Effie, Minnesota

Effie, like most of the settlements in this part of Northern Minnesota, is a community that exists largely due to the logging industry. According to Mimi Barzen at the Minnesota DNR, “By 1875 logging was big business, due to the abundance of trees, expanding rail system, and network of waterways extending all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.”

Logging Camp Near Effie, Minnesota

These photos were taken by FSA Photographer Russell Lee in 1937 at a logging camp on the outskirts of Effie.

Logging Camp Near Effie, Minnesota

Loading logs onto a railroad car.

Logging Camp Near Effie, Minnesota

Logging Camp Near Effie, Minnesota

Blowing the horn for dinner.

Logging Camp Near Effie, Minnesota

Effie, Minnesota School

Many Minnesota logging communities were left behind when the white pine logging industry moved on to the Pacific Northwest in the 1930s, and empty schools, like this one in Effie, or the one in Togo, are remnants of the exodus.  Effie clings to life, however, with outdoor recreation in warm and cold weather–hunting, fishing, and snowmobiling for instance–and they have a well-regarded rodeo, the North Star Stampede, held annually, rain or shine, in the last week of July.

Effie, Minnesota School

Effie, Minnesota School

Effie, Minnesota School

Effie, Minnesota School

Black & White photos by Russell Lee, 1937. Color photos by Troy Larson, Original content copyright © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media

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Abandoned Art Deco School in Norcross, Minnesota

Abandoned Art Deco School in Norcross, Minnesota

Norcross is a small town in Grant county, a short drive southeast of Breckenridge, directly west of Alexandria. The sign on the outskirts of Norcross proclaims a population in the sixties.  We decided to visit Norcross after seeing a photo of the beautiful art deco public school building.

Norcross, Minnesota

We spoke to a Norcross resident who told us this school is owned by a couple from Arizona who intended to fix it up, but haven’t been seen in about two years.

Norcross, Minnesota

Norcross, Minnesota

Norcross, Minnesota

Norcross, Minnesota

Norcross, Minnesota

Norcross, Minnesota

Norcross, Minnesota

We spoke to a local man named Jerry who told us the home above was his mom’s house, and he suspected it might have been a store at one time as well. I thought it had a certain depot-type appearance too.

Norcross, Minnesota

This post office is still in use. Very picturesque.

Norcross, Minnesota

Jerry showed us some historic photos of Norcross, including this one which shows the same post office on the far left.

Norcross, Minnesota

Norcross, Minnesota

Norcross, Minnesota

Norcross, Minnesota

Norcross, Minnesota

This was the office for a lumberyard which no longer exists. Just to the left of this building there was once a large community center which is now gone too.

Norcross, Minnesota

If you build it……….. they will go?

Norcross, Minnesota

Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media