Sunday, June 28, 2009

Mysteries of Annandale Minnesota

Parental anxieties, not without foundation, led me to a secret location a few miles from my eldest son’s overnight camp. I was under cover, he was not to know I was positioned for first night emergency response.

My bolt hole was a very small AmericInn in Annandale, Minnesota, a town of 2,700 white people that’s somewhere southeast of Lake Wobegone


My home is the “A” in the above, and Annandale is the “B”.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries Annandale was a railway stop that morphed into an agricultural service center and a resort community. It later became a summer lake town and probably struggled economically. Now it’s gradually being absorbed into the monster sprawl between Minneapolis and St. Cloud. If life continues on the current path (unlikely post-Peak Oil) it will be fully exurban within 15 years.

Of course I had to explore. I started with the downtown, which looks like it made a serious effort at being tourist-friendly in the past decade. There’s a genuinely artistic fountain by the library, for example. On a Sunday things are quiet, so I ended up at Tootsie’s Bar and Grill here seen in the Google Street View ..


Yes, the friggin’ Google Street view. Think about it.

I’d had enough sense to put pants on, so they didn’t beat me up. Still, it ain’t the kind of place that sees a lot of strangers on a Sunday night. I made the mistake of sitting at a table. I think I could have died of old age there. I did better at the bar.

The white skin didn’t fool the locals. They could tell I didn’t belong.

I went to check out the library since I’ll need a place to work tomorrow. While I was sitting there the local cops pulled in. Coincidence, I’m sure.

I knew there had to be a mystery in Annandale, so before the cops chased me away I scanned the sat view of the town on my iPhone. Sure enough, this looked odd …


What was laid out in a grid like that, and what were the flat greenish areas? Street view didn’t go in there, and the satellite res was too low. It looks like a big parking lot, but the scale is wrong.

What could all those units be?

Think …

This is what used to be called a “trailer park”, the more correct term is modular home community (See also – a lot of American live in these communities, 10-15% maybe. They’re often hidden just out of sight). I’d guess there are about 300 units, so a good portion of Annandale lives here. These communities are too intimate for me to drive around in, but I did navigate back to check out the green area and I drove by some homes. The community looked more occupied than the rest of the town, with groups of teen and pre-teens in the streets.

The mystery areas, by the way, appear to be a manufactured wetland and the town dump. I think the latter is commonly found by modular home communities.

There are other mysteries near Annandale. One is a sign saying “Big Woods”. I had to chase that down, but the road turned to dirt and I ended up at in farmland. A sat map check didn’t show anything even remotely woody. So that one’s still a mystery.

On the other hand, I did turn up the Minnesota Pioneer Park in Annandale.


An Annandale historian tells the story. The Pioneer Park was built in the 1970s from the remnants of a train depot with the help of a group of reasonably prosperous and well connected summer residents who appeared to have an insane amount of time and energy. Thirty years later the park has seen better times, but I’ll look for a chance to get the kids out when it’s open.

Which led me to Annandale Online, the personal project of a Ms. Jill Bishop (emphases mine) …

Jill Bishop started the Annandale Online Website in 1999 while studying for a Masters of Liberal Studies. She had considered ethnography of the Annandale area for her project when she came across another city’s community website. In March 1999, Annandale Online became part of the internet after the City of Annandale okayed it. Now eight years later, Jill is still the website administrator of the site, which is sponsored by the City of Annandale. The website has grown from 50 pages when it was introduced to 600 pages of information. (A “page” can include many screens of information.)…

…The Annandale Online home page features a picture which is changed every week or two. Currently, it features a 1945 Annandale street scene. The sections include Events, Government, Library, School, Business, History, Advocate, Civic Groups, Religion-Spirituality, Health, Visitors, Other, and Weather.

The Events section includes the what, where and when of what’s going on each month in Annandale…

… There is also a link to a website in Finland listing Annandale area cemeteries and an alphabetical listing of burials in those cemeteries. This is a project completed by Ernest S. Lantto.

Annandale Online includes most everything a person would want to know about Annandale.

Actually, I don’t think it says much about the sociology and history of the modular homes, but it does hold rather a lot of information, including an explanation of how the town came to be (the page counter reads 1,263 today. If you read this, please do visit and kick the counter up a notch).

Mysteries, mostly, resolved.

I’m a great tourist.

Update: A visit to Tootsie’s should be balanced with a cup at In Hot Water on the other side of the tourist area (old main street). Superb organic/free trade coffee, great outdoor seating, small and welcoming indoor seating.


Annandale 001

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