Wednesday, September 4, 2013


I arrived in Minnesota just in time for my 50th Class
Reunion followed by a 110 mile drive north to Farm Island Lake for a reunion with some of my favorite cousins. The next day I decided to head to the nearest town of Aitkin to find a coffee shop with wifi so I could do some work on my laptop. It turned out to be a trip down memory lane:

The Aitkin area is special to me because it is where I spent every summer weekend of my life from day one until college. My parents owned a cabin on Farm Island Lake—they loved it and so did the rest of the family. The weekend consisted of a late Saturday night arrival after my parents closed down their grocery and meat market in North Minneapolis for their one day off per week (Sunday), and we jumped in the car to head up north. The return was either Sunday night or a very early (4am) departure on Monday so they could open the store and I could get to school on time (if it was spring or fall). These excursions began in May and lasted through September.  

While at the cabin, we often made the eight mile trip to Aitkin for a little action like a movie, bowling, or a visit to the knitting shop. As teenagers we liked to visit the A&W Drive-in to check-out the men. I also recall attending dances above one of the old bank buildings in town. The trips to Aitkin were always an event because we made them so.

Sixty years later, there are some things about this town that haven't changed:

  • The Rialto Theater, 220 Minnesota Avenue North, which open in 1937, is still showing movies in the same Art Deco style building.

  • The Aitkin Bakery, 2nd Street NW, is still selling cheap bakery stuff in the narrow hole in the wall store. It still has the same shelving, cabinets, handwritten signage, and bakery choices; remarkably all in the same location. Bread lined up on the right wall and cookies on the first shelf to the left then the donuts. Sadly, the bakery is closing this fall.

  • Old Victorian homes like the former Hodgedon Residence, 122 Second Street NW, still exist. Another relic is the former Foley House, Minnesota Avenue South, which is now the Beacon Arch Apartments.

  • Minnesota Avenue is still wide with most of the same old buildings, but different storefronts. For example, The Butler's Store, 302 Minnesota Avenue North, originally built in 1902, is now The Beanery serving coffee, tea and sandwiches. (Best place to find wifi.)

  • The town hasn't grown much. The population is about the same: 2,079 in 1950 vs. 2,165 in 2010. The temperatures in January are still freezing cold--the average low is -2.9 degree F.
  • The Forty Club, 950 2nd Street NW, has been rebuilt due to a fire but it is still the same active spot it always was. I think they still do some dancing on Saturday nights, just like the old days, but I'm not sure about the polka.

A few additional points of interest about this small town in northern Minnesota:

  • The world famous Fish House Parade takes place every year on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.
  • The 40 Club Restaurant is listed in the Minnesota Guide to Haunted Locations. It is haunted by the spirit of a man that died in an upstairs apartment in 1999. The old jukebox turns on and starts playing by itself. The bar lights turn off and on for no reason. Footsteps can be heard upstairs when no one is there.
  • The town is home to a famous old Hollywood movie star: Warren Williams who grew up and graduated from Aitkin High School in 1915. He made 70 movies and has an original Hollywood Walk of Fame Star at 1559 Vine Street.

My favorite addition to Aitkin (after the ghosts) is the Depot Museum, 20 Pacific Street SW, which was officially dedicated in 1980. It is preserved by the Aitkin County Historical Society and located in the 1916 Northern Pacific Depot—both the exterior and interior are essentially intact. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

With some nostalgia, I will now head back to the cabin and soon return to my new home in California. What the future has in store for us we can not be certain, but our plans are to return to Minnesota for an annual summer visit. I'm thankful for my roots—they never go away.


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for a great read! Really enjoyed your blog, heading up to Clear Lake in August. Miss the old bakery too...