Doing the Impossible: How some Mower County towns survived, whil - KTTC Rochester, Austin, Mason City News, Weather and Sports

Doing the Impossible: How some Mower County towns survived, while others became lost

LEROY, Minn. (KTTC) -

Fifteen towns in Mower County that used to exist in the 19th century are gone now. They disappeared, and are now "lost towns". Some scars remain, like a ramshackle building or two.

Floods wiped out the communities of Two Rivers, Troy City and Cedar City. Tornadoes destroyed another town.

Others died when commerce and progress passed them by. In fact, there used to be a small town called Renova in a small grove of trees, but it died out in 1972 with the closing of its general merchandise store. 

Meanwhile, some towns leeched life from those nearby. The lost town of Hamilton is pretty much gone now, except for a rather large cemetery. There used to be a Congregational Church, but it was eventually torn down, its lumber recycled to build up the prosperous town of Racine, located just over a nearby hill.

Two communities survived though. They did the impossible.

In the 1800s, Waltham and LeRoy each moved a few miles from original platted sites, for the simple reason of staying alive.

The rail lines were sweeping across the Midwest, funneling new life and new economies to hundreds of communities. It forced some established towns to uproot. 

"They were gambling with their futures," said John Haymond from the Mower County Historical Society. "Would the rail stay there long enough to ensure their survival? And would their entire community move with them?"

Those towns that did not take the gamble, withered and died. Today, there are 15 lost towns - ghost towns - in Mower County.

Eileen Evans is the former newspaper publisher in LeRoy. She knows her town's history and she also knows it takes strong-willed people to keep a town going.

"You get knocked down, you start going again," said Evans.

LeRoy was first surveyed in 1852, and settled in 1855. But then, 12 years later, tragedy struck. The rail line came through, missing old LeRoy by a mile. The town's people faced the daunting task of moving to survive. 

"I'm sure they worked as hard as they could to get the railroad as close to town as possible, but you do what you've got to do," said LeRoy Independent Publisher Dan Evans.

Then, in 1894, yet another tragedy for LeRoy. "They had a devastating tornado after relocating the town. But because the rail line was dedicated to the town, it ensured its survival," said Haymond.

Survival, to this day, though the challenges aren't over.

"History is cyclical," said Haymond.

Challenges of competing with larger communities, staying economically viable and being willing to change.

It's a hard lesson entire communities were forced to embrace in the 19th Century. It's a lesson that hasn't diminished in time. 

"It's the same now," said Evans. "We're struggling to keep our community vital. If they've got the feeling of keeping together, you can make it. You can make it."

Some did back in the 19th century, but others didn't . The scars are still visible. Though they too, are fading. 


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