By Starrla Cray
CARVER COUNTY, MN Ever been to San Francisco, MN? Or how about the nearby city of Schnapesburg?
With 15 ghost towns in Carver County, you’ve likely been close to a few long-gone locations without even realizing it.
“I grew up in Hollywood Township, but I didn’t find out about a town called Hazelton, northwest of the Hollywood Sports Complex, until after I started working at the historical society,” said Marlene Magnuson, who has been a researcher at the Carver County Historical Society in Waconia the past 15 years.
Magnuson said Hazelton used to have a store, but the tiny town disappeared entirely around the 1920s.
Another forgotten landmark is Helvetia (an ancient name for Switzerland), which was located southeast of Mayer.
“The stores moved to Mayer when Mayer got the railroad,” Magnuson said.
A bit further south was an “almost” town called Mound St. Clair.
“Land prospectors plotted it, and people bought land, but they never came,” Magnuson said. “Eventually, the farmers took it back.”
Evidence that these ghost towns ever existed is sometimes hard to spot. In Swede Lake (northeast of Mayer), for example, the only remnant is a cemetery.
In San Francisco, on the southeast side of the county, all that’s left is a large farmhouse.
“San Francisco was our first county seat,” Magnuson said.
According to the historical society’s website, the location of the town (along the Minnesota River) wasn’t ideal, and the river flooded nearly every year. Rapids also made it difficult for steamboats to reach the town.
In the 1860s, a big flood destroyed some of the buildings, and most of the people moved away.
“I don’t think they ever rebuilt anything there,” Magnuson said.
The historical society reports many reasons why a town might not survive, such as “being circumvented by the railroad, poor location, or being enveloped by a neighboring town.”
People of the past
Ghost towns are just one of many topics Magnuson has had the opportunity to research at the historical society.
“I enjoy my work,” she said. “A lot of interesting people come in here, and I learn something new every day.”
She was hired in 1998, after retiring from her previous career (at her husband’s contracting business).
“I saw an ad in the paper that the historical society was hiring, and I thought, ‘that would be fun,’” she recalled.
And, it is.
Each week, she looks through the Herald Journal, and indexes births, deaths, marriages, and other notable information about businesses, schools, and the community. The information is transferred to a database, where it can be used for future reference.
“People call, e-mail, or stop in to get information,” Magnuson said. “Generally speaking, it’s genealogy-related.”
In her own family, Magnuson’s paternal great-grandparents are from Switzerland, while other relatives are from Germany. Her husband, Dale, also has German heritage, and his father is from Sweden.
“Some families can trace back a long way,” Magnuson said. “Some go back to royalty, and some have had murders in the family.”
In addition to helping people discover their family history, the historical society also assists lawyers regarding probate questions, and provides information about historical homes and buildings.
“Last year, we had a phone call from the NBC show, ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’” Magnuson recalled. “They were doing research on a celebrity with connections to the Minneapolis area.”
One project Magnuson undertook a few years ago involved compiling a month-to-month list of significant occurrences in Carver County. For example, Jan. 10, 1975, was recorded as the “worst blizzard of the century,” and the village of Waconia was surveyed and platted March 25, 1857.
The full list can be accessed on the Carver County Historical Society website.ies
record of 15 ghost towns in the county, including:br>
• Swede Lake
• Mound St. Clair
• Hyde’s Lake
• West Union
• San Francisco
• Oberles Corners