Manganese Days 2023
Picnic on Saturday July 8th at Noon, Camping All Weekend
Join us for a picnic and camping at the 7th annual Manganese Days!
We got this idea from an old story about the 1933 Manganese School Picnic and decided to bring it back for our friends and family.
You can come just for the day picnic on Saturday at noon, or join us for camping all weekend.
During the day, make plans to enjoy the area. There is a small lake (Cole Lake) on the property for swimming, kayaking and fishing, a 19 mile trail for 4-wheeling or biking (Miller-Black Bear Trail), a quick drive to the mine pits for trout fishing or to the Cuyuna biking trails, and plenty of space for yard games. You are also welcome to explore the old town of Manganese.
At the picnic on Saturday, we will provide music and food. BYOB and a side dish to share if you'd like.
See you there!
Map of Manganese
Things to do at Manganese
Less than 2 miles north of the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area, Manganese is your launching point into some of the best biking in the country.
Manganese borders a premier ATV trail. Miller-Black Bear Trail travels 19 miles over rolling hills and past scenic overlooks of the Mississippi River.
The Miller-Black Bear Trail connects you to many other snowmobile trails.
The lots available for lease are designed for a camper trailer.
Plenty of public hunting land nearby.
Fish or canoe on Cole Lake or other nearby lakes.
We will continue to add to this section as we learn more. If you know of anyone who has pictures or stories about Manganese, we'd love to hear them.
Most of the history we have on the town came from a 1985 article in the Brainerd Dispatch. The article was written by Jim Sloan based on an interview he did with Gene Foote, who was a resident of Manganese until 1950.
The stories about The Manganese Annual Picnic and The Church of Manganese Village came from a book called Cuyuna Country - A People's History Volume II from the Cuyuna Country Heritage Preservation Society.
The information and pictures below are attributed to that Brainerd Dispatch article and the Cuyuna Country book.
Our progress on finding the old town's structures
Manganese was named after the mineral they mined from it. We are told that two mines existed within city limits, but we have not been able to figure out where they were. We are also told that there was a mining accident at one point that killed several of the Manganese men, which may have contributed to the town being abandoned.
Manganese had a school and church. We have not been able to find either of these buildings yet, but we found a story about when the church was built and added it below. We are told that it most likely was located on the north end of the property about mid way between the lake and old rail road tracks.
Manganese had a bank. We think we found this building as it still has a spot for the vault.
Fitgers Brewery of Duluth built a huge $10,000 hotel and restaurant. We think we found this building as it is the biggest one in town. In 2023, Daniel Sienko found our website and sent us a picture of the hotel. His grandparents used to live in Manganese so he provided several other pictures from them, shown below.
Manganese had city sidewalks and street lights. If you walk along the sides of the old streets you can kick away the grass and still see the sidewalks. The street lights were reportedly left on when the town was abandoned and stayed on for years after, but we haven't been able to find any of those.
There is an old city water well somewhere that is reportedly filled-in, but still visible. We haven't been able to find it yet.
We are told there is an old cemetery, but have not found it yet. We haven't looked very hard for it either, since we see that it's listed on Minnesota's haunted places...
Pictures below are courtesy of Daniel Sienko and his family.
Greta Weitnauer, in her research, discovered the picture below, which we believe is the same location that we camp at. It is a postcard dated 1917 and says it is The Iver M. Olson home, the first residence at Manganese.
Photo by JC Amundson
Cuyuna Range mining city survives in memories
By Jim Sloan
Brainerd Daily Dispatch
MANGANESE, Minn. (AP) - Moss covers the crumbling stone foundations. Grass pokes through what once were sidewalks and roads. Here and there, a rusty metal pipe sticks up through the brush and poplar trees.
That's all that's left of Manganese, a once-thriving mining town north of Crosby.
Real estate broker Gene Foote of Crosby stood in the town where he reared and remembered life in a simpler time.
"I played in those trees many times," he said, pointing to a stand of gnarled veterans. "It's a lot of memories."
"It was a nice, clean, little town. There was always a camaraderie between the people. People always helped each other out."
"We had Finlanders, Croatians, Austrians, Swedes, even an Irish family. Most people didn't have much, but we didn't think of ourselves as poor."
Foote visits Manganese a couple of times a year to gaze at the weathered foundations and stroll the streets.
"It doesn't look like much now", he concedes, "but back when mining was king on the Cuyuna Range, Manganese was a bustling community."
Why did it die? Mainly, it was a victim of the decline of mining, but there were other reasons. "It was all clay and the roads would get terrible in the spring," Foote recalled. "Water was hard to get. We had three wells and they all caved in."
As the mines died out, the town did, too. People left and, like the thrifty immigrants they were, they took their homes with them.
"When I was a little kid in the 1930s, I can remember them moving a house a day out of this town," Foote said. "The Soo Line came through town. They tore up the track about 1930 or '31."
"Foote left in 1950, when he was 23. His folks, among the first to live in Manganese, were among the last to leave.
"My mother came here to teach school in 1919," Foote said. "My dad was a building contractor."
The town was platted in 1911. A 1912 news account boasted that "buildings are going up and every indication of life and prosperity prevails."
Built by the Duluth Land and Timber Co., the 80-acre town had four mines within its village limits. The Fitger Brewing Company of Duluth put up a $10,000, two-story hotel, complete with dining room and bar.
The First State Bank of Manganese, the village hall, depot, grocery store and a two-room school served the needs of the tiny community.
"We had several pool halls," Foote said. "My brother and I used to walk down there and get a penny's worth of candy."
A livery stable, water tower and that indispensable small-town item, a dog pound, are all gone now or reduced to stone foundations.
Foote's father ran Dower Lumber Co. His home boasted a town rarity: an inside bathroom.
"My dad never worked in the mines," Foote recalled. "He would work for the mines, building stuff, but he never worked in the mines."
"We didn't have a hospital, because in those days everybody was born at home."
"The school had two rooms, one teacher, an indoor toilet and a well. Children went to school to the eighth grade, then attended high school in the "big town" of Crosby", Foote said.
"We played a lot of ball," Foote recalled, "Annie-Annie-Over, stuff life that."
"As far as you could hit a kitten ball, it was open," he said, looking at the trees that have taken over the town. "For me, that wasn't too far because I was kind of a scrawny kid."
The town had a Methodist church. "It was basic Methodist," Foote recalled. "Fire and brimstone."
Like a lot of little towns during the Prohibition era, the town also had a "blind pig", or liquor still, Foote said. "It was run by a woman at her home."
The last residents moved out in 1955. Structures that weren't moved out were torn down. The site, owned mostly by a man from Chicago, now is a favorite spot for keg parties and four-wheel-drive vehicles.
"When my folks left here in 1952, all the streets were maintained, and the street lights were on. Everybody had electricity, and most folks had telephoens," he said.
Today, Manganese lives only in Foote's memory.
Picture below is Manganese teacher Fern Grimmer, sitting on the school steps on a snowy morning. She was Gene Foote's mother.
Picture below is Anna Dugan, former Manganese teacher, with the Manganese Depot and Section House in the back-ground.
The Manganese School (pictured below) was not fancy, but it was well-loved and a source of community pride - and some controversy. Geene Foote writes of a memorable school picnic here. The teacher in the middle of the back row is Lottie Phelps. Students were partially identified as Mable Sorg and another Sorg child, Hazel Frazier, Leo Buchanan, Hattie Frazier, Bessie Frazier, Leo Buchanan, George Wolford and Faye Wolford.here.
Story of The 1933 Manganese School Picnic
The Manganese School Picnic
(Geene Foote fondly recalls the annual Manganese School picnic for District 86. Here is his account:)
Our school picnic was the final day of school. We had received our report cards the day before, and were excited because we were going to the picnic.
The picnic was always looked forward to, and everyone in our district was invited - pre-schoolers, babies, fathers and monthers, older kids already out of school, and everyone else, including the widows and bachelors.
It was 1933, in the depth of the Great Depression. The annual picnic was potluck, but being a small community just about everyone knew what they were more or less expected to bring.
About 10 a.m. everybody met at the school with their goodies, including a tub of ice for the lemonade. Many drove their own cars, but my dad was working, so I began to feel that we wouldn't be able to go after all, and I started to cry, as he had the car.
The Les Johnson family, which didn't have anyone in school, had brought their Model T truck and Les came over to me, picked me up, and said: "Your're going to ride with me." And my mother, her daughter in-law and children and my brother Billy climbed inside the box.
Les put me up on his lap and away we went. I will always remember that kind deed.
The picnic was at Rabbit Lake bridge, north of Cuyuna, and some tables were put up and the ladies put on some tablecloths and all that wonderful food, including Mrs. Travis's great donuts, were spread out in abundance, plus the lemonade.
Some older men started a fire and we had some races, including a wheelbarrow race, one-legged race, and the backward race. In this, we were teamed up with another person, back to back, and our legs were tied together so we faced opposite directions. That left one member of the team struggling to run backward each way, with a lot of cheering on the sidelines. There were other games as well.
Someone had brought along horseshoes, so the men stepped off the distances, and with a shovel turned over the sod, drove in a pipe and chose up sides. Then we kids cheered for our families as they pitched the horseshoes.
Some of the kids went swimming and dived off the wooden bridge between East and West Rabbit Lake and others just visited. Everyone had a good time.
Grace was said before we started eating at about 1 p.m. We had been munching on Mrs. Travis's donuts, all kinds of pickles, and all that wonderful food spread out on the tables.
Then we roasted our wieners (mind fell into the fire), and also toasted marshmallows.
The day was complete when I saw my dad and my older brother Lynol arrive. What a surprise! They brought ice cream - two big, tall metal five-gallon containers, which were placed in a tub of ice. They also brought a whole box of ice cream cones, and there was plenty of everything. Lots of food, lots of fellowship, lots of friendship and lots of price in our little community picnic.
About 2:30 p.m., the fire died down; the horseshoe pits were returned to put the earth green side up. There was still a good deal of food left over, and the ladies then shared the remainder among themselves, boxing and saving the bountiful plates to take to those who could not come, including Grandma Turcotte, who was an invalid.
The area was all cleaned up, and Les Johnson had brought a garden rake and returned the area to the way we found it. Two of the older boys went down to the lake, each getting a pail of water to put on the fire to make sure it was out.
We climbed into Les's truck and once again I sat on his lap, and as far as I was concerned I was driving that Model T truck. We were all very happy people.
Back at the school house, the neighbors of those who could not attend took the fixed plates to them as we said our good-byes. And we knew in our hearts - yes, even those of us who were so young - that God had favored us with not only a picnic but also a beautiful example of community pride and a perfect spring day.
We said goodbye to our teacher, who was going back to St. Paul for the summer, and we all looked forward to summer vacation - and next year's picnic!
Story of The Church of Manganese Village
The Church of Manganese Village
(This account of the Manganese religious life was provided by Gene Foote, whose family helped make the church possible. It provides a good example of how many early churches came to be, and the valued place they had in community life. The buildings themselves depended on having able-bodied parishoners with at least an instinctive knowledge of architecture and the willingness to donate materials and labor. The hardships of the ministers called to serve perhaps led to the saying "poor as a church mouse".)
From its incorporation in 1912 until the late 1930s, there was no local church in Manganese. But there was religious activity, because off and on someone would start a Sunday School, a prayer group, or Bible study groups. There was a week of Bible school in the summer, sponsored by the American Sunday School Union and Camp at Pillager, Minnesota.
In the early 1930s, Mr. and Mrs. Francis Chase of Crosby started a Sunday School, held in the Manganese school. Mr. Chase had been instrumental in starting the Assemblies of God Church in Brainerd, and he and his wife were members of the Crosby Assemblies of God Church. They were just good Christian people.
An item in the Manganese news column in the Crosby Courier during that time stated that there were 35 at Sunday school on the past Sunday.
About 1938-1939, a Rev. Warner came to Manganese to start a Wesleyan Methodist Church and Sunday School. He had a 1929 Model A Ford two-door and had added a dome light (a single light about two inches square installed near the center of the roof of the car), so he had a light in his car that he could read by. The only other interior light in the 1929 Ford was in the center dashboard. That also housed the ignition switch, the gasoline gauge, the amp meter and the odometer.
Rev. Warner lived in a Methodist parsonage just east of the Perry Lake School, on the farm land of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Prushek.
In the beginning, he held the church services in the school house on Wednesday evenings. Rev. Warner procured an organ, as the school had neither an organ or piano, and he asked Fern Foote (Mrs. Roy) to be the organist.
The early services were typical of the Wesleyan Methodist doctrine. There was an opening prayer, and two to three hymns (one could request certain hymns from the hymn book furnished by Rev. Warner).
Next the minister preached a sermon, using his Bible. In it, he had colored certain verses in red, green and brown to identify the passages he had used in previous sermons. Those attending sat at school desks and other chairs around the school room. There were four electric lights hanging from the ceiling with large 200 watt bulbs, which gave ample light to any evening event. In the front of the school room there was a large coal and wood stove with a sheet of metal jacket, which provided adequate heat for the room.
On the first night of Rev. Warner's service, the school janitor had let the fire go out and it was a bit chilly, until the other men got the fire going. After that, the janitor kept the fire going after school and the room was always nice and warm for the Wednesday night meetings.
Following the sermon, a unique collection plate was passed. It was a small light green enameled pan with green felt on the bottom, made from a phonograph record player.
After the offering, there were up to three hymns, and sometimes the congregation only sand the refrains. Rev. Warner then asked for the names of anyone who should be remembered in prayer, and offered the closing prayers.
As people left, the older boys would collect the hymnals and move the organ to the back of the room and place the hymnals on top of it. The older men would check the fire and the lights were turned out, the school house locked, and everyone walked home.
A bit later, Rev. Warner announced he would like to build a church and Lynol Foote deeded the church the lot where his home was located before he moved to Crosby.
The church that was built was about 24 by 40 feet, and it was built on the original concrete foundation of the Foote home. There was a small concrete-walled basement in the southwest corner, which became the location of one of the wood-burning barrel stoves used for heating the church.
The floor joists were rough cut 2 x 12s, placed 16 inches on center and the lining floor was rough unplaned white pine. There never was a second or finished floor. The exterior was built of 8-inch sawed logs, erected vertically. These logs were peeled pine logs, rough cut to a width of about 8 inch and cut square on three sides with the peeled round sides forming the exterior.
This method is a very cost-effective type of construction, as these logs do not require the use of studs. To keep the logs in place, they are nailed from inside horizontally on a 1x4 about every 24 inches from the floor to the top of the exterior walls.
The rafters were built as trusses, so the entire church was without interior walls, except for the entrance to the basement. Roof boards were rough cut pine and the roof cover was rolled granulated green roofing. As Gene Foote remembers, the church never had an interior ceiling and was open to the roof trusses.
There were 10 double-hung windows, four on each side and two on the north end, where the entrance was located. It had double varnished wood doors. Actually, the exterior doors and the electrical fixtures were the only items not produced locally.
To make the structure more solid, 1 x 4 inch pine strips were nailed to the inside of the sawed logs, over two layers of red common building paper, then about every 12 inches there were vertical strips nailed to the interior walls. This gave the interior of the church a woodsy flavor.
On the south end of the church there was an elevated platform, about 8 x 12 feet, where the alter and lectern were located. Alter seating consisting of four seats, which could be folded inward, were donated by Mr. Roy Foote. They had been salvaged from a shoe store. Even the Red Wing Shoe logo on the back of the chairs remained.
A barrel stove was located in the center of the room for additional heating. This was a vertical stove typical at that time, and there was the other barrel stove in the basement.
The original organ was moved over from the school house. Other furnishings consisted of the pews, which were bench style made out of 6 foot planned lumber with 2 x 4 frames and they were very moveable, so they could be moved closer to the barrel stove, or turned around to make pods for Sunday School.
Sunday School was at 9 a.m. and church service at 10 a.m. Occasionally, a prayer service was held on Wednesday night.
On occasion, revival meetings were held and guest pastors came in for services every night for a week or so.
The actual church was really a monument to Rev. Warner, as he did so much of the building by himself.
After several years, Rev. Warner and his family were called to a new church and he was replaced by Rev. Ward. It was during the war, with gas and food rationing.
Gene Foote said he doesn't know if Rev. Ward received a stipend from the church main office or not, but everyone did know that, at best, his money resources were limited. From time to time the little congregation would have a special service and the congregation would bring pounds of food stuff, such as canned fruit, vegetables, with a bushel or two of potatoes, beans, cabbage, rutabaga, home-grown apples, squash, pumpkins, along with sugar, flour, butter, coffee, tea, evaporated milk, lard, and sometimes some home smoked bacon, yeast, and limited amounts of fresh meat.
Once a surprise "pound shower" was held, without notice to Rev. Ward. His sermon that day was based on church giving and the parable of the loaves and fishes. Rev. Ward said that on the previous Thursday, the family was entirely out of food and he walked over to Perry Lake to see if he could catch some fish for dinner. The fish were not biting, but as he reached home some prankster, who must have been a very cruel person, had dumped some fresh potato peelings on his doorstep. With tears in his eyes, he told of gathering them up, taking them inside and washing them and boiling them for supper. And, actually, he said how happy they were to get them, even though they were intended as a cruel and vicious act.
He shared the table grace his family gave, thanking the Lord for the peelings and asking for divine guidance. Come Sunday, they found the secret pound shower, which revealed to all that our Lord does work in mysterious ways.
Generally there were about four Sunday School classes, based on the age of the children. And if it wasn't too cold, they each had a corner of the sanctuary. If it was very cold, they cuddled around the barrel stove and the Sunday School teachers all took turns and each had an abbreviated class.
Sunday School supplies came from the Wesleyan Church headquarters in Iowa.
When the church started, there were approximately 60 to 65 people in the Village of Manganese. Several families came to services from Trommald and from Mission, Wolford, Perry Lake and other communities. Attendance was usually 30 to 35, depending on the weather. There were two Roman Catholic families and they and their children came to Sunday School and to church.
The Christmas holidays were observed with Christmas trees and Christmas hymns and the Sunday School program.
One year, the church had a "watch" service, where they had a New Year's Eve supper and singing and fellowship until after midnight and the New Year. Most then went home.
About the late 30s and early 40s, some of the families moved to where they could find employment and there was gasoline rationing.
Young men were called into service and church attendance began to become less and less. The church still kept up with the concerns of family, friends and neighbors, with a special time at each service where the congregation asked for prayer and those away from home in the service. There was a service flag, and as men left for service a red star was added, until the church closed. Fortunately, there were no gold stars for the men who perished.
Sometime during the early 40s, the church was without a pastor. After the war, the church was sold and torn down, and it was the end.