Nestled in between Lake Pepin and Frontenac State Park, the village of Old Frontenac is easy to miss. Drive past the turnoff along Highway 61, and you’ll miss a glimpse of Minnesota in its earliest years.
The village captivates the hearts of many. That includes Lorry Wendland, who moved there in 2000 and hasn’t left since. Wendland is joining other villagers on a new crusade to preserve the past and honor the settlers that made the spot along the Mississippi River their new home.
“[They had] great hopes of owning their own land,” Wendland said. “They had a promise of a lot in the village, to build the village.”
Wendland reflects on the village’s past as she looks across Lake Pepin at Frontenac point, a triangular piece of the shore that gives those on land a unique view.
“It’s a beautiful view, and you can see both up river and down river,” she said.
In the 1850s, the village came alive with fur trappers, and later, farmers. Soon, the area’s recreational value became clear.
In 1868, the three-story Lakeside Hotel opened as a renovated warehouse offering guests a lake view hard to beat. Over the years, the structure transformed into an inn, and eventually, a Methodist camp for kids to enjoy in the summer.
Old Frontenac resident Bill Flies now owns the structure. He’s in the middle of a thirty year renovation project to make it a 4,000 square foot home.
“I came to camp here in 1951 and fell in love with the area,” Flies said. “When I had the chance to buy it in 1986, I wanted to restore it to what I remembered it to be.”
Zoning regulations required Flies to chop off the second floor, leaving a two story structure that closely resembles the building’s original look. The hotel is the last of several projects Flies has led over the years. Newly restored homes are now owned by Mayo Clinic doctors and others looking for a piece of Lake Pepin.
The lone church in town is Christ Church Episcopal. Founded by a Civil War general, the church is also undergoing a makeover in time for its 150th anniversary this year.
According to Rev. Stephen Gheen, a seven-year fundraising campaign and countless hours of help by parishioners has the church looking angelic. He spent the week ironing out the wrinkles in time for the first service in the renovated chapel this weekend.
Wendland has spent much of her time recently at the Old Frontenac cemetery, scrubbing off headstones of important villagers of the past. Israel Garrard founded the village when he arrived in 1854. Buried with his family surrounding him, Garrard embodied the spirit of the village’s pioneering spirit.
Wendland doesn’t have to think long to share what she loves about the village Garrard left behind.
“We don’t have any retail,” she said. “We don’t have any sidewalks. We walk on gravel roads. We don’t have any streetlights so we enjoy dark skies.”
That love turned into a five year research project and the publishing of two books this year. Hundreds of pages include photos, tables, and records of generations gone by. Wendland says it’s vital to preserve the past.
“I hope that it maintains that ambiance, but it takes work. It’s not something that comes easily. It’ll take future generations to take an interest in the history to want to maintain it.”