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. …
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 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.
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.
Above: Looking over the Red River of the North from the roadway.
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.
In Strand Township, Norman County, not far from Gary, Minnesota and about twelve miles west of Mahnomen stand the remains of a pioneer community. I ran across this church and school by accident as I was returning from a trip to northeast Minnesota to photograph some spots in the forest, including Togo.
This was Immanuel Lutheran Church, possibly built as early as 1910. If anyone knows the history of this church, please leave a comment. I poked my camera through a window to get a photo of the inside, disturbing the pigeons in the process. You can see them in flight near the ceiling.
Just three miles west, this abandoned one room school stands crumbling at the intersection of Highways 200 and 32. This school predates the church by roughly thirty years, dating to the 1880s. This school and the church down the road are just a few miles from Gary, Minnesota, and not far from a few other places we’ve photographed, like Sundal and Lockhart, Minnesota.
Photos by Troy Larson, copyright Sonic Tremor Media
There’s an abandoned stretch of road sandwiched between US Highway 2 and Airport Drive on the outskirts of Bagley, Minnesota. A visitor to this website suggested this place to us after seeing our post on the lost highway in what was once McHugh, Minnesota, near Detroit Lakes.
Based on the map, it looks like US Highway 2 was realigned at some point, leaving this stretch of highway abandoned. If someone knows the details, please leave a comment.
This abandoned road stretches about six-tenths of a mile and parallels the railroad line.
This is Phelps Mill, in Ottertail County, about fourteen miles northeast of Fergus Falls, Minnesota. It was originally known as Maine Roller Mills.
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.
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.
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.
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 remoteness of the site. I also discovered my cellphone was reception was less-than-total.
The fall colors were just starting to show.
The Ottertail River is gorgeous from above.
This window was covered in flies, and for just a moment I had an Amityville flashback.
Photos by Troy Larson, copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC
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.
Photos by Troy Larson, copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC