For a change of pace, The Cruisington Times’ executive editor Wallace Immen made a nostalgic trip far from any seaport–to a family reunion in the heart of America.
The clock stopped in Lanesboro, Minnesota in the 1950s when the railroad abandoned the line along the Root River that supported the small farm towns near the southern border of Minnesota.
But that’s precisely the attraction of this pretty, bluff-lined town of 750 on a meandering river that’s found a new life thanks to enthusiasts of back-roading, biking and B and B’ing.
Some places to stay in this area are now so popular in the summer you’ll need reservations as much as a year in advance. Here’s a taste of quintessential Americana:
My mother, Eleanor Immen (nee Storlie), was born in the town of Whalan, Minnesota. It was a stop on a branch of the Milwaukee Road railroad, the main route in and out of the area before the era of paved roads. Her family and another family that her sister married into, ran the two general stores in the town, which then had close to 500 inhabitants, but today has dwindled to a permanent population of 63.
Our family’s reunion was held in the Whalan Lutheran Church hall as well as at the Sons of Norway lodge in the neighboring town of Lanesboro, which grew prosperous in the early twentieth century because of its stockyards, grain elevators and the emporiums along its main street.
Lanesboro calls itself the B and B capital of Minnesota, and it seems that every house in the Victorian-era community and even some former commercial buildings are now guest homes in the summer season. Mrs. B’s B and B, a substantial stone hotel on the main street, has been a landmark since 1872 and still has its original character inside and out, including canopy beds in its rooms.
Room and board places go back a long way in Lanesboro. Mom went to high school at Lanesboro High in the 1930s and even though it was only four miles from Whalan, in the winter the sledding was tough. So she boarded at a house here and went home on weekends to stay with her family.
My uncles recall that in their day, they bravely trudged to school over the hills, even when there was a foot of snow on the ground.
Today, getting around is quicker and easier.
Bring your own bike or rent one to try out part of the 60-mile state-owned bike trail along the former railroad route that follows the river. The rolling countryside features 300-foot high limestone bluffs and forests where it’s easy to spot wild turkeys, deer, hawks, and turkey vultures.
An original gas station in Whalan was restored for use in a film shoot and remains intact, although it’s not in operation today. That’s a pity, because the price on the pumps is 17.6 cents a gallon.
A major claim to fame for Lanesboro is that it became the home of the first of Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Shows. The show was comprised of six Indians, including two Indian maidens, Buffalo Bill and characters named White Beaver and Mr. Man. Today an annual Buffalo Bill Days festival is a multi-day event in the summer that includes beer and bratwurst tents, a re-enactment of a bank robbery and fireworks.
People here are enormously proud of their heritage and their country. Red, white and blue flags are everywhere in the town that was originally settled by Norwegian immigrants in the 1850s.
Outfitters have trucks loaded with inner tubes and canoes for lazy floats down the scenic, slow-moving Root River. You can even rent a floating cooler for bringing along a little liquid refreshment.
Apres-biking rehydration is a right in this town. There are 14–count ’em 14– restaurants and taverns in Lanesboro, not including a soon-to-open pub and a craft distillery. Cheers–or in Norwegian, Skol.