Go Back to the Future

By Mpls.St.Paul Magazine / Inspired by Lea Thompson's My North

Rochester-born actress and director Lea Thompson is famous for roles ranging from Beverly Switzler in Howard the Duck to Caroline Duffy in the 1990s TV series Caroline in the City. But what really put her on the map was her role as Lorraine Baines, Marty McFly’s mom, in the Back to the Future trilogy. In honor of that here are five Minnesota places where you can make like McFly and go back…to the future!

Fort Snelling, St. Paul

Fort Snelling
Fort Snelling, in St. Paul

Minnesota’s most historic fort has been presiding over the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers since its inception just after the War of 1812. It’s been everything from a fur trading outpost, to a military base, to the wedding venue of Dred and Harriet Scott, and, sadly, even an internment camp for Dakota and Ojibwe people. Today it’s owned by the Minnesota Historical Society, and operates as an interactive living history museum where you can learn what it was like to live and work in the fort in the 1800s, and hear about the fort’s lasting impact on Minnesota's Native populations.  

Grand Portage National Monument, Grand Portage

Way, way up in the tippy top point of the northeastern corner of Minnesota (where the state’s fingertip extends up into the northernmost reaches of Lake Superior) sits one of the most historically significant outposts of the fur trade. During the fur trading period, Grand Portage National Monument was the central hub of interactions between the Northwest Company and Grand Portage Ojibwe Tribe, and a visit there offers a glimpse back to what life was like during that time. In addition to exploring the history and stories of the monument itself, visitors can exploit its epic Lake Superior vistas from numerous surrounding paths and trails.

Nobles Pioneer Village, Worthington

In 1958, Noble County acquired a one-room schoolhouse and moved it to the county fairgrounds in Worthington. They thought it seemed lonely, so they acquired a few more 19th century buildings to go around it—49 in total—and a pioneer village was born. And, while it’s technically not an actual 1880s village, but rather a patchwork of pieces of them, it does paint an accurate portrait of what life was like during that time, via demos of how hard even simple tasks were on the frontier. It’ll make you glad you’re only back in the 1880s for a few hours.

Historic Forestville, Preston

Shucking corn in Historic Forestville
Shucking corn in Historic Forestville

Outside of Preston in far southeastern Minnesota, there’s an old red bridge inside of Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park. It’s too narrow for a car, which seems a bit odd until you realize it was built before cars were invented! Cross the bridge by foot to enter the living, historical town of 1899 Forestville. For a time, this once-bustling pioneer town could boast hotels, grist milling, a brickyard and a blacksmith shop, but when the Southern Minnesota Railroad bypassed Forestville in 1868 the town’s fortune was sealed—by 1899 it was all but abandoned. Fast-forward 118 years, and what was left has been painstakingly reconstructed to the way it once was, so when you cross over the Carnegie Steel Bridge you can interact with its period citizenry and explore what small town living was like in 1899.

Oliver Kelley Farm, Elk River

Of course, not everyone in 1800s Minnesota was living in small towns. Some of them were farmers. To experience what life on the farm was like for an old-timey Minnesotan, hit the Oliver Kelley farmstead in Elk River. The preserved 19th century farmstead was the creation of Oliver Kelley, a Boston-born journalist turned telegrapher who settled the vast swath of land in 1850 when there was speculation that Itasca (now Elk River) would be named the state’s capital. When that didn’t come to fruition, Kelly and his wife Lucy, neither of whom had ever farmed before, decided to farm the land, learning their new trade from farm journals and books. Now owned by the Minnesota Historical Society, the farm’s regular cast of characters spend all day tending the farm as though it were still working by mending fences, milking cows, and tilling field.

My North is a weekly video series created in partnership with Mpls.St.Paul Magazine and Explore Minnesota. If you missed Lea Thompson's story, view it here.

>See more My North itineraries