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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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St. Peter and St. Paul Russian Orthodox Church

St. Peter and St. Paul Russian Orthodox Church

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.

St. Peter and St. Paul Russian Orthodox Church

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.

St. Peter and St. Paul Russian Orthodox Church

St. Peter and St. Paul Russian Orthodox Church

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

Todd Lucachick
18469 Sugar Lake Trail
Cohasset, MN  55721

St. Peter and St. Paul Russian Orthodox Church

Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox churches are fairly common in northern Minnesota, North Dakota, and across the border in Manitoba, too.

St. Peter and St. Paul Russian Orthodox Church

Technically, this church is located in Bramble, Minnesota, which is an unorganized community — really, more of a rural cluster of residences than a town.

St. Peter and St. Paul Russian Orthodox Church

If you enjoy churches like this, please consider ordering our hardcover coffee table book, Churches of the High Plains.

St. Peter and St. Paul Russian Orthodox Church

St. Peter and St. Paul Russian Orthodox Church

Photos by Troy Larson, copyright © 2017 Sonic Tremor Media



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