By Tina Snell, Staff Writer Rhonda Fochs has spent nearly five years researching the history of Minnesota’s lost towns. Her work is compiled in her first book, “Minnesota’s Lost Towns, Northern Edition.” Fochs is a history teacher by trade, but said she never did like the dates students and teachers were required to memorize.
“I like the backyard history, the stories about the people who lived in these towns,” she said. The book showcases about 130 towns from Morrison County northward which no longer exist. She writes about each one’s creation, what they were like in their prosperous years, why they died and what’s in their place today. But more importantly, Fochs tells stories about the people who lived there. “I learned to love finding out about the history of places from an aunt who lived in Wisconsin. She lived on a spot that once was a logging town – Emerson, Wis.,” she said. “I also had grandparents in Purewater, Mt., which no longer exists. That all fascinates me.”
When Fochs heard rumors about a long-gone town, she contacted local historical societies and searched on the Internet. Then she would go to area libraries and read tons of history books about the area.
“If I could sit down with a local historian, I would,” she said. “I would pick the best stories of each town for the book.”
Fochs is adamant that the real history of a town is in the people who lived there. A couple of towns in Morrison County which don’t exist any longer and are in her book include Aitkinsville, also known as Swan River, Gravelville and Lincoln.
Fochs learned that in 1848, Aitkinsville had a trading post, hotel, general store and a grog shop. It also had a ferry which crossed the Mississippi River between 1850 and 1863. That town was situated near where the Little Falls Golf Course is now.
Lincoln was platted in 1899. It was a booming railroad and resort town with two general stores, two hardware stores, a bank, pool room, barbershop, filling station and restaurant. There was also a potato warehouse, bakery and a yeoman’s hall (a person who owns and/or cultivates a small farm) for dances.
Gravelville, west of Pierz, existed between the years of 1879 and 1905. Fochs learned two brothers founded the town which consisted of flour and saw mills, a general store and a blind pig, an establishment which illegally sold alcohol or sold illegal alcohol. It also had a dam, blacksmith’s shop and school. In it’s heyday, it had nearly 200 residents.
Fochs will be launching her book Thursday, from 4:30 p.m. – 6 p.m. at the Lincoln Community Church on Aster Road in Lincoln. She will be giving a short talk on the book and her research at about 5 p.m. Fochs is already planning a second book about Central Minnesota’s lost towns. She also feels there will be an updated version of the Northern Edition. If unable to attend the book signing, one may order the book at www.rhondafochs.weebly.com or write her at Box 63, Motley, MN, 56466.
Fochs lives in Lincoln with her husband Lenard and their dog, DeeJay. The three travel the state while she researches her books.