A few miles west of Black Bear Casino on Highway 210, there is a rusty old garage with a dilapidated satellite dish standing next to it. Where the town of Iverson used to stand there is now just an empty lot. What might be a minor detail off the road to most is a world of history to Rhonda Fochs.
Fochs’ new book, Minnesota’s Lost Towns, centers its focus on just what a reader would expect: towns around Minnesota that no longer exist. Fochs will be sharing her book and giving some insight into these deceased townships in the newest addition to the “Lunch with the History People” series put on by the St. Louis County Historical Society.
Newly retired, Fochs has a broad professional career spread all over the professional spectrum. She worked industry jobs, which include Tonka Truck assembly and LP distribution. Fochs went on to work assorted public government positions, manage a construction office and finally settled down as a social studies teacher at the age of 42.
Driven by her love and curiosity of the Midwest, Fochs was finally able to seriously start her book after retiring. The inspiration came naturally.
“People travel all over the world, but sometimes they forget there’s history in our back yards,” said Fochs, thinking about her passion for Minnesota history. “Fascinating people and places.”
It took Fochs around three years to write and publish the book, but she has been doing the research for most of her life. Her interest was piqued at a young age when she heard stories of Emerson, Wis., from her aunt, who lived on the land where the town used to be.
“You can see the cellar depressions and what the town looked like today,” Fochs said. “It kind of stuck with me my whole life.”
Once a prosperous sawmill and logging town, Emerson was ruined by a fire that engulfed the area in the 1890s. The town’s people simply packed up and moved on.
Craig, Minn., is a town with a less-tasteful history. Founded in 1953, the town was known for its bars and brothels. Craig was located almost on the border of Canada in Koochiching County.
In a time when people used the railroad for travel, Iverson thrived. The tiny town used to be a popular train depot where people could get off and pick blueberries right off the train. When railroad ridership began to die out, so did the town.
There is a nature of hands-on investigation to the book and for good reason: Fochs’ meticulous research strategies include traveling to the sites of these towns. Fochs would research one of these ex-towns even if there was little to nothing left. Sometimes there would be only one building to go off of.
“I just started gathering every piece of information I could,” Fochs said. “Certainly some towns left a lot of information behind. Some left behind very little, only a post office or so.”
The book was finally released in May of 2014, and Fochs is already planning a sequel to be released next year.
“I found about 80 more (towns) that I could write about,” Fochs said.
But preserving the memories of these small townships is more than a hobby for Fochs; it is a personal mission.
“Some people’s lives are based in these towns,” she said. “And I wanted to save them.”