Since its original construction as a school house in the unincorporated town of Lorne, the 103-year-old Minnesota Falls Township Hall has served a wide variety of community uses.
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Since its original construction as a school house in the unincorporated town of Lorne, the 103-year-old Minnesota Falls Township Hall has served a wide variety of community uses. Now, thanks to the passions of a local resident Maureen Aakre-Ross, it will go on serving the Minnesota Falls area community for perhaps a few decades more.
“I want to provide the village of Lorne a place to unite community again. It’s important.” said Aakre-Ross. “Many cities have a distinction of seeing themselves as the center – when I prefer to think of community as gatherings of like mind people in a convenient setting.”
It was around this time last year that the fate of the fabled structure, located three miles south of Granite Falls along Highway 23, was brought into question. In recent years, its only use had been relegated to that of an area polling station – which with the introduction of centrally located electronic voting machines, had become obsolete. As a result, the Township Board no longer recognized a function for the building and so found itself feeling responsible to taxpayers to either find a buyer or tear it down.
Proposals and bids from prospective buyers were sought by the board in local papers. Aakre-Ross declined to reveal the price she paid for the building, but did add another $1,000 to the offer to buy back the land.
An ideal caretaker
In many ways it would be tough to find a better caretaker for the property. At the turn of the 19th century, the land had originally been owned by Aakre-Ross’s grandparents, B.J. and Suzie Aakre, before the pair donated it to Education District #92 to allow for the construction of the original school house – which would later be re-built in 1911 after it was destroyed by fire.
In addition, Aakre-Ross lives adjacent to the site in a home that still stands connected to those early days of Lorne when it had served the community as the “Hays Store,” offering dry goods, livery stable, and dance hall. Built in the 1880's it was moved to its current location in 1909.
Known also as Tweed and Fraseville during its early goings, it was the construction of the Great Northern Railroad in 1888, with a train depot connecting the towns of Hanley Falls and Granite Falls, which seeded the development of Lorne.
In all, the railroad would pave the way for a post office, two elevators, a lumber yard, stockyard, blacksmith shop, two stores hotel, and a schoolhouse. But the settlement would maintain a relatively short shelf-life, as transportation developments made it easier to travel to and from nearby cities, resulting in the closure of the post office and school by the onset of the mid-30s, while the last grain elevator was razed in 1958.
The closure of the school would allow the structure to be re-purposed into Minnesota Falls Township Hall. And it was in this incarnation that the township was able to hold monthly meetings and election polling, as well as other gatherings ranging from 4-H, Farmers Union and Lorne Community Club meetings to less formal affairs such as ‘whist’ card games, Halloween parties and the Valley Riders Saddle Club.
Re-creating a legacy
Over the years appreciation for this legacy has been made evident by the care of the 32 x 24 ft. Township Hall, as the rich hardwoods, old kitchen and even original blackboards of the old school were all kept in relatively pristine condition.
For her part, Aakre has sought to continue the care of the Lorne community legacy while making the necessary updates, removals and repairs in order to bring the past into the present with a purpose suited for this day and age. This means the old ceilings, plywood panelling and all but one blackboard are being re-purposed and, in their stead, tasteful replacements – sure to mesh better with new kitchen appliances and environmentally conscious utility systems, that include a battery powered propane stove and waste incinerating toilet.
Roughly six weeks away from finishing the project, Aakre-Ross-is awash in the little surprises and memories that schoolhouse project brings. There are relatives and friends initials carved into old desks, an abstract detailing the original donation of land by her
family and, even, behind one of the blackboards, an old piece of artwork drawn by the aunt of the boy who was her very first kiss.
“It made me weak in the knees,” she laughs.
For now, Aakre-Ross says that she plans to open the schoolhouse to community activity from early April through the first Sunday in December. Annually, she foresees holding a community holiday party to close out the year while the exact purpose to hold other gatherings and events will reveal themselves with time. "People are very curious about what is going on there, and as a result I already have bookings in 2015 and 2016", she says.
Whatever the case, Aakre-Ross is having a blast recalling and, in the healthiest sense possible, reliving the past – and, now, just can’t wait to bring others into the fold.
“It was a wonderful memory as a kid,” she says. “Why not recognize how we can define community again around smaller centers. Why not rescue it. Why not re-create it?”