Minnesota boasts a rich tapestry of history and culture, but amid its intriguing past lies the enigmatic ghost town of Forestville. Once a thriving hub of trade and commerce in Fillmore County during the 19th century, this now-silent and deserted town stands as a haunting relic of days gone by. In this blog post, we delve into the history, decline, and legacy of Forestville—a forgotten gem in the Minnesota landscape.
The Rise of Forestville
Founded in 1852 by brothers John and Levi Meighen, who sought a new life in the frontier, Forestville quickly attracted settlers drawn by fertile land and abundant water near the South Branch of the Root River. The Meighens established a bustling center with a general store, post office, hotel, blacksmith shop, and mill, becoming prominent merchants in the region. By 1860, Forestville had grown to over 200 residents, making it the largest town in Fillmore County.
The town flourished with a diverse population, boasting a school, church, newspaper, Masonic lodge, brass band, and even a baseball team. Forestville gained a reputation for its progressive and tolerant nature, welcoming immigrants, Native Americans, and African Americans. Notably, it served as a stop on the Underground Railroad, aiding escaped enslaved individuals on their journey to freedom.
The Fall of Forestville
Despite its prosperity, Forestville faced challenges that led to its decline. In 1868, the railroad bypassed the town, opting for nearby Preston instead. This severed Forestville’s connection to vital transportation and communication networks, causing a decline in trade and commerce. The blow intensified in 1890 when a fire, allegedly started by a disgruntled employee, razed numerous buildings, leaving residents homeless and the Meighens financially devastated.
In 1902, Forestville suffered its final blow as the state redrew county boundaries, annexing the town into Olmsted County. Losing its town status, Forestville faced higher taxes, prompting many residents to abandon the town. By 1910, only 20 residents remained, and by 1940, Forestville lay deserted.
The Legacy of Forestville
While largely forgotten, Forestville found a savior in the Minnesota Historical Society in 1963. Acquiring the land and buildings, they transformed it into a state park and historic site. Preserving original structures and artifacts, the park offers guided tours, interpretive programs, hiking trails, camping sites, and picnic areas. Forestville’s legacy lives on, inviting exploration and appreciation for a place that mirrors the history and spirit of Minnesota and America—a place that beckons us to learn, wonder, and remember.