Trip to Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park (pt. 1/2)

This was our first visit to this state park in southeastern Minnesota. We’ve visited many of Minnesota’s state parks over the years, but I honestly don’t know why we hadn’t made it to this one yet. We obviously didn’t know what we were missing, because it’s a great park.

We left on Sun., May 27 and stayed until Weds. the 30th. It’s an easy 2 1/2 hour drive from our house, and we arrived in the early afternoon (our campsite was occupied the day before, and checkout isn’t until 4 p.m.). Unfortunately the temp was on its way to a high of 92 degrees, and quite humid, so setting up was a bit unpleasant. But we cranked on the a.c. in the trailer, drank a beer and cooled off.

Have I mentioned how much I like the creature comforts of our trailer?

We spent most of the trip checking out the park itself and the dogs enjoyed some nice swims in the south branch of the Root River, which runs through the park. The park’s name comes from historic Forestville, a village that was founded in 1853 and thrived for some time before it began withering away when the railroad bypassed it in 1868. Mystery Cave is located west of the main part of the park; I’ll write about our cave tour in a separate post.

Forestville is operated by the Minnesota Historical Society and the village is maintained as it stood in 1899. Several buildings are in remarkably good condition, including the general store (complete with merchandise in place in 1910, when it closed), the store owner’s house, granary/tool shop, and barn — the largest in the county when built, sheltering 20 Percheron draft horses and an equal number of dairy cows.

Felix Meighen opened the first general store at Forestville in 1852 with business partner Robert Foster, then built the existing brick structure in 1856. During its short-lived peak, the town included a school, brickyard, 2 hotels, 2 sawmills, blacksmith shop, furniture-making shop and gristmill, in addition to the general store. A total of 104 people called Forestville home. By the 1890s Felix’s son, Thomas Meighen, pretty much owned the entire town as well as some 2,000 acres scattered in different places. He employed everyone who still lived in Forestville, paying them in store credit and renting them houses that he owned (sounds a bit feudal to me; I hope he treated his employees fairly and was a decent man).

Thomas moved to a nearby town in 1905. When he closed the general store for good in 1910, Forestville effectively ceased to exist.

Guides in period costumes provide tours of the buildings and explain what daily life was like in Forestville in 1899. That sort of thing has never been my cup of tea, partly because it seems a bit forced for them to stay in character; I’d rather just have someone explain it. They all did a really nice job, however, and the slide show below provides some highlights of our tour.

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