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Finding Minnesota: Stepping Back In Time

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(credit: CBS) Mike Binkley
Mike Binkley has been covering Minnesota news for more than 25 year...
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By Mike Binkley, WCCO-TV

PRESTON, Minn. (WCCO) — Most of today’s kids can’t imagine living without cell phones, iPods and computers. How would they do without any electricity at all?

They can find out, by stepping into a virtual time capsule in southeastern Minnesota. It’s the historic village of Forestville in Forestville/Mystery Cave state park.

From the moment you cross the old Carnegie steel bridge on the edge of town, you basically leave the year 2010. The characters you meet will guide you back to 1899.

It’s a place where the general store clerk sells everything from jars of medicine (including opium) to school slates and clothes.

When 11-year-old Tara Mihelich, of Forest Lake, visited with her family, she found herself suddenly being fitted for a corset.

“It’s always fun when they get the first one, isn’t it?” whispered the clerk, Martha Meighen, to Tara’s mother.

Martha’s real name is Jette. She is one of several actors interpreting the real-life people who once lived in the village, just decades after the Civil War.

It’s a chance for children especially to learn that this “simpler time” wasn’t really that simple at all.

“Everything’s all hand tools,” said Doug Mihelich, 11. “They don’t have any machines.”

“But it is kind of fun, just for like a day,” said Beth Hill, 13, of Grand Meadow. “But I think it would get harder as you went, like, living here.”

That’s because “living here” would mean fetching wood for the stove, and cracking corn for the chickens.

At one point, Forestville had as many as 400 people. But back in the 1860s, the new railroad didn’t come quite this far. And the jobs and opportunities went elsewhere.

“The rail brought lots of opportunities to towns,” said Sandy Scheevel, the historic site manager. “And they grew and prospered while Forestville pretty much died out.”

Forestville, though, has come back to life — if only to give a dramatic reminder of how far we’ve come.

Historic Forestville is run by the Minnesota Historical Society. The buildings feature several original artifacts.

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