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Author: Troy Larson

Caribou Church: Beautiful and Remote

Caribou Church: Beautiful and Remote

This is the St. Nicholas Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Caribou, in northwestern Minnesota just a little more than a mile from the Canadian border.

Caribou Church

Many of the parishioners at this church lived in Canada and crossed the border regularly without too much trouble, but US Customs began enforcing boundary laws in the thirties, and this church soon waned.

Caribou Church

When I arrived, I was blown away by the simple beauty of the site. The remote location, the huge white crosses in the cemetery… this is one of the most beautiful places I’ve photographed.

Caribou Church

This church was built in 1905 during a church boom that happened in this area (on both sides of the border) due to Ukrainian immigrants who were settling in the area. There are more on the other side of the border, including this one in Tolstoi, Manitoba, and the oldest Ukrainian Orthodox Church In Canada, in neighboring Gardenton, Manitoba.

Caribou Church

St. Nicholas was renovated in 1974, and they held a Divine Liturgy, the first in 30 years, in 1975.

Caribou Church

Don’t let the remote location fool you. This church is still well cared for. Somebody appeared to be stripping the paint with a wire brush and scraper. Nobody was around, but these tools were still sitting on the picnic table, like the caretaker just walked away a few minutes earlier. The church has received a whole new coat of paint since the day I visited.

Caribou Church

This church was featured in our book, Churches of the High Plains.

Caribou Church

An open foundation is also on-site, as well as a few inhabited homes in the area.

Caribou Church

For more reading on the Caribou church and other churches like these, I would recommend you check out Sacred Sites of Minnesota by John-Brian Paprock and Teresa Peneguy Paprock.

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Photos by Troy Larson, copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC

Duluth’s Uncommon Aerial Bridge, 1908

Duluth’s Uncommon Aerial Bridge, 1908

A few years back my family vacationed in Duluth and we fell in love with the place. I took a ton of pictures while we were there, some of which you can see here. One of the highlights of the trip was sightseeing in Canal Park and enjoying the seaport ambience surrounding the Aerial Lift Bridge.

canal-park3

It’s called the Aerial Lift Bridge today because the center span lifts to allow ships to pass underneath. In the down position, cars can drive over, but it wasn’t always so easy. This bridge was once just the Aerial Bridge — there was no lift. This was a very uncommon transporter bridge, also sometimes referred to as a gondola bridge, and it was the first of only two bridges like it ever built in the United States.

Freight D.O. MIlls, 1908

In 1870 and ’71, the Duluth Ship Canal was dredged through Minnesota (Park) Point, separating settlers on the peninsula from the mainland. After a contest in 1892 failed to deliver a bridge design that was acceptable to the War Department, a second design was commissioned, inspired by a French transporter bridge built in 1898. Architect and Engineer Thomas McGilvray would oversee the project, and the bridge was completed in 1905.

In the photo above from 1908, we see the Freighter D.O. Mills steaming out of the harbor into Lake Superior with the bridge gondola crossing behind. The D.O. Mills was a brand new freighter at the time, having just been launched in 1907. It was 552 feet long and had a listed carrying capacity of ten thousand tons.

Those decorative lamp posts along the pier are beautiful.

Aerial Bridge, Duluth, 1908

Above: from the harbor side, looking out on Lake Superior. Passengers wait on the ramp as the car finishes a crossing.

Aerial Bridge, Duluth, 1908

Above: a closeup of the car. Below: zoomed in a little more. I love that you can see the ladies in their pretty dresses and hats sitting inside the car.

Aerial Bridge, Duluth, 1908

Aerial Bridge, Duluth, 1908

Below: the gondola carries horses and passengers. Note how one person is still mounted. It reportedly only took one minute for the car to cross, and the bridge designers claimed this car could carry 350 passengers.

Aerial Bridge, Duluth, 1908

In 1930, modifications were made, including raising the center span, and the Aerial Bridge became the Aerial Lift Bridge. Today it is a major landmark and tourist attraction, and still a very uncommon bridge.

See Also: Lake Superior Ruins: Duluth’s Ice House
See Also: Canal Park and Aerial Lift Bridge
See Also: Duluth’s Abandoned Interstate Bridge

Phelps Mill

Phelps Mill

This is Phelps Mill, in Ottertail County, about fourteen miles northeast of Fergus Falls, Minnesota. It was originally known as Maine Roller Mills.

Phelps Mill, Minnesota

This mill began operations in 1889 and prospered as a flour mill in the age of hyrdopower that predated steam, gas, and electric mills. The plaque on-site says it closed for good in 1939. The sign shown below says 1931.

Ottertail County bought the site in 1965, and ten years later it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Phelps Mill, Minnesota

We drove up to the mill one weekend afternoon and I was surprised to see the mill standing with the door wide open, welcoming travelers who were passing through. There is also a really nice little riverside park here, perfect for a picnic.

Phelps Mill, Minnesota

This place has it’s own arts and crafts festival every year in July.

Phelps Mill, Minnesota

The restoration and development referenced in the sign above is largely credited to a campaign by local activist Geneva Tweten, referenced on the plaque below.

Phelps Mill, Minnesota

Phelps Mill, Minnesota

The mill is open to the public and pretty well-trafficked on a beautiful day like this. We saw twenty or more vehicles come through while we were there, which is pretty impressive considering the rural location. I also discovered my cellphone reception was less-than-ideal.

Phelps Mill, Minnesota

Phelps Mill, Minnesota

The fall colors were just starting to show.

Phelps Mill, Minnesota



Phelps Mill, Minnesota

The Ottertail River is gorgeous from above.

Phelps Mill, Minnesota

This window was covered in flies, and for just a moment I had an Amityville flashback.

Phelps Mill, Minnesota

Phelps Mill, Minnesota

Phelps Mill, Minnesota

Phelps Mill, Minnesota

Photos by Troy Larson, copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC

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Who Wants a Free Church?

Who Wants a Free Church?

I became aware of this church this morning when someone posted a photo of a newspaper ad which read, “For Give Away: A Rural Church near Moorhead, MN. Must be moved.”

I called the number in the ad and talked to a gentleman named Alvin Swanson who gave me directions, and fifteen minutes later I was standing in front of this place — Oak Mound Congregational Church, just a few miles from Kragnes, Minnesota, a tiny town near the Red River, on the border with North Dakota.

Oakmound Congregational Church

Oak Mound once had a school, an impressive one, right down the road from this church, but it is long gone.  Only the sign remains.

Oakmound Congregational Church

I asked Mr. Swanson for some background on why they’re trying to give this church away, and he replied in a somewhat melancholy manner that they had their last services here about two years ago and the church has since been flooded.  It can’t stay here.

Oakmound Congregational Church

Mr. Swanson said he’s a former member of the congregation and that most of the former church members would like to see this church moved and reused as a church again, but interest in the place has not been strong, which, in my opinion, is due to an extensive series of renovations which have masked the charm of the original church.

Oakmound Congregational Church

This church started out as a small church on the prairie, but it was moved to this spot after two years.  The church you see here came into existence in three stages — the original church was moved here, then a basement and an addition were added later.

Oakmound Congregational Church

Oakmound Congregational Church

In my non-expert opinion, this church could still be moved and repurposed but it would be best used if restored to its original form, with the additions simply scrapped. It could be beautiful again.

Oakmound Congregational Church

Oakmound Congregational Church

The coat room.

Oakmound Congregational Church

There are a series of photos on display inside the church which illustrate the history of this place quite nicely.

Oakmound Congregational Church

Mr. Swanson gave me permission to give his phone number out, but I would personally request that you only call it if you’re serious, because he’s an elderly gentleman and we don’t want to blow up his phone too much for no reason.  He also said they are still determining what to do with all the pews and fixtures.  Interested parties can leave their number and he will get back to them when they decide what to do with it all.  Alvin Swanson: 218-233-4226

Oakmound Congregational Church

The basement was covered with black mold everywhere… on the floor, the ceiling tiles, the walls.

Oakmound Congregational Church

Photos by Troy Larson, copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC

St. Pauli Lutheran Church

St. Pauli Lutheran Church

This is St. Pauli Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church in Almond Township, Big Stone County, just a short drive north of Ortonville on US Highway 75.

As I understand the explanation on this page, I think this church was built in 1896 after a split within the Norwegian Lutheran community created two new congregations with separate churches.

St. Pauli Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church

St. Pauli Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church

The grounds of this church and cemetery are in remarkable condition.  It’s clear there are some people who really take pride in this place.

St. Pauli Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church

St. Pauli Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church

St. Pauli Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church

Photos by Troy Larson, copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC

Mehurin Township Hall

Mehurin Township Hall

This old township hall stands alone beside a gravel road in Lac Qui Parle County, just a few miles east of the border with South Dakota.  I found it particularly beautiful, on top of a hill, with purple blooms in the prairie grasses.

Mehurin Township Hall

Mehurin Township Hall

Mehurin Township Hall

Mehurin Township Hall

Mehurin Township Hall

Mehurin Township Hall

Mehurin Township Hall

Photos by Troy Larson, copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC

Headwaters of the Mississippi River

Headwaters of the Mississippi River

Within the borders of Lake Itasca State Park, about twenty miles southwest of Bemidji, Minnesota, flow the headwaters of the Mississippi River.  The source of the Mississippi River was discovered in 1832, when Ojibwe Chief Ozawindib guided Henry Rowe Schoolcraft to the lake.

Headwaters of the Mississippi River

Headwaters of the Mississippi River

On the left is Lake Itasca.  On the right, the Mississippi River.  It’s about three feet deep at the deepest spot, and a lot of fun to wade across.

Headwaters of the Mississippi River

Headwaters of the Mississippi River

You’d never suspect this is North America’s mighty Mississippi River.

Headwaters of the Mississippi River

Headwaters of the Mississippi River

Headwaters of the Mississippi River

After we left the headwaters, we got lunch at the Headwaters Cafe (more of a snack bar, really) and headed off down the park drive to check out the old fire watch tower.  It’s about a fifteen minute drive.

Aiton Heights Fire Tower

Aiton Heights Fire Tower

The hike from the parking lot to the fire watch tower is a little more than half a mile, uphill, and a pretty good workout for the average person.  We were walking up this trail when we first caught a glimpse of the Aiton Heights Fire Tower through the trees.  It’s on the other side of a lake and my wife Rebecca said, “That looks like more than half a mile.”

Aiton Heights Fire Tower

You get to the top of the hill, and there are still plenty of stairs to climb.

Aiton Heights Fire Tower

Aiton Heights Fire Tower

The sign at the bottom warns no more than six people on the tower at a time.  On the day we visited, there was no ranger on-site.

Aiton Heights Fire Tower

After a strenuous climb to the top, you’re rewarded with a stunning view.  These photos were taken in the spring and the trees were just budding.

Aiton Heights Fire Tower

It was a pretty breezy day, and while we were at the top, we could feel the tower swaying.  There were three of us, then two more people showed up at the top.  And below us, four more people started climbing the tower, apparently oblivious to the sign warning of a six person limit.  We climbed down.

Aiton Heights Fire Tower

Aiton Heights Fire Tower

Aiton Heights Fire Tower

Photos by Troy Larson, copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC

Lockhart, Minnesota

Lockhart, Minnesota

Lockhart, Minnesota is a near-ghost town in Norman County, Minnesota.  It’s an unincorporated community with just a few residents, but home to what was once a very impressive school.  There were several volumes of a book called “The History of Clay and Norman Counties, Minnesota: Their People, Their Industries and Institutions” by John Turner and C.K. Semling published around 1918 with fairly detailed histories on most of the early settlers in the area.  There are a lot of family names in the book that genealogists might find helpful.

Lockhart, Minnesota

A word of caution: a very large, very heavy section of roof hangs precariously overhead in the front entry of this school. We would not recommend anyone explore the interior.

Lockhart, Minnesota

Just inside the front door

Just inside the front door

A classroom

A classroom

Lockhart, Minnesota

It's hoppin' downtown

It’s hoppin’ downtown

Lockhart Public School

Lockhart Public School

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


The Beautiful Plains of Sundal, Minnesota

The Beautiful Plains of Sundal, Minnesota

Sundal, Minnesota is in Norman County and notable for two striking structures of entirely different character.  Sundal is a loose knit collection of farmsteads with a reported population around twenty.  On the east end, the abdandoned creamery — the building with the smokestack you see below.  On the west end, the beautiful Sundal Lutheran Church.  Sundal’s parent township, sometimes spelled Sundahl, is named for a village and river in Norway.

Sundal, Minnesota

The former Sundal Creamery.

Sundal, Minnesota

Sundal, Minnesota

Sundal, Minnesota

Sundal, Minnesota

Sundal, Minnesota

Sundal, Minnesota

Across the road, this home stands abandoned.

Sundal, Minnesota

This part of the state, like southern Minnesota, is decidedly more prairie than the forested lands to the northeast.

Sundal, Minnesota

Sundal Lutheran Church was featured in our book, Churches of the High Plains. The plaque at the bottom of the sign shown below reads: In memory of persons buried 1881 — 1891, Original Cemetery, NW Corner, Sec. 15, Sundal Township

Sundal, Minnesota

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


Melvin, Minnesota

Melvin, Minnesota

Melvin, Minnesota is in Polk County, about 14 miles southeast of Crookston, and is something of an enigma.  There is very little written history of Melvin to be found online, but the physical remains tell the story of a place which was once significant in the lives of a small number of Minnesotans.  There appear to be one or two inhabited farms in the area, and aside from the buildings in these photos, that’s about all that remains of Melvin.

If you know Melvin, we would welcome your comments below.

Melvin, Minnesota

The sidewalk now leads nowhere, but once served several buildings on this side of the street.

Melvin, Minnesota

Melvin, Minnesota

This would have been a very stately home in its heyday.

Melvin, Minnesota

Melvin, Minnesota

Melvin, Minnesota

Melvin, Minnesota

Melvin, Minnesota

Melvin, Minnesota

Melvin, Minnesota

Melvin, Minnesota

That gray streak through the middle of the photo above is all that remains of a curb which once marked the edge of the “street” in Melvin.  Now, it’s overgrown with weeds and brush and the street is simply a gravel road.

Melvin, Minnesota

Melvin, Minnesota

Just down the road, the Onstad Township hall still stands.

Melvin, Minnesota

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