The quaint, scenic town of Lanesboro, Minn., has had the experience of being a boom town when the railroad came through to bleak times during economic downturns and has now come full circle, back to a bustling city beginning with the creation of the bike trail which takes the path of the old railroad through town.
The City of Lanesboro will be celebrating its 150th birthday with special events taking place July 4-7, 2019, and many other interesting events taking place throughout the year.
“Lanesboro, at the confluence of the two main branches of the Root River, has been an active area for thousands of years,” states Jane Skinner Peck, artistic director of History Alive! a Lanesboro Tour with pop-up plays.
“Dakota communities traditionally spent winters in its valleys and carried on trade. Ho-chunk communities also hunted and spent time here. Norwegian and Irish immigrants settled farms in the area soon after the tribal treaties in the 1850s,” explains Peck.
“The railroads continued to push west after the Civil War and businessmen in New York and Massachusetts took notice. Our own Southern Minnesota Railroad began in La Crosse in 1868 with the expertise of Dennis Galligan,” details Peck.
“The Lanesboro Townsite Company was formed with an eye on the area’s ideal dam site for both tourism and waterpower. They purchased land from the Scanlon, Johnson and Christensen families in the damsite area in 1868 and began a monumental building plan,” says Peck.
“There would be a stone dam with lake behind, a huge stone hotel (sadly burned within 15 years), new roads and the important railroad stop,” Peck adds.
When the railroad came through Lanesboro the town prospered. “The railroad was soon bringing farmers, families seeking new roots, aspiring business people, and more than a few colorful characters (like Dr. Frank “White Beaver” Powell and his friend Buffalo Bill Cody) to the new and bustling town of Lanesboro,” according to 150.lanesboro.com, the website created by the Lanesboro Area Chamber of Commerce for Lanesboro’s sesquicentennial.
“Lanesboro was an agricultural boomtown for over 10 years with three mills for wheat, many stores and hotels, and expectations to grow very large. Easterners did not come in droves to visit as they hoped, but 120 years later tourism finally happened,” notes Peck.
As the railroad tracks sat idle for years, when the Root River State Trail was developed in the 1980s, using the route of the former railroad tracks, the town came back to life.
Tourists from around the world visit Lanesboro to enjoy the small-town feel and natural beauty of the area and local residents appreciate the fact that they are able to enjoy and appreciate their surroundings all year long.
Year-round outdoor recreation is another reason people are drawn to the area and the friendly people encountered while visiting is what makes tourists want to come back year after year. The variety of businesses and the exceptional items in the retail shops are also popular with adults and children alike.
Lanesboro has a very strong arts presence, so much so that the entire town is known as an “Arts Campus,” and is home to Lanesboro Arts, the Commonweal Theatre, the Lanesboro Community Theatre, History Alive! pop-up plays, Over the Back Fence radio show and other opportunities to experience and engage in the arts.
The momentum that Lanesboro has gained shows no signs of slowing down as the town looks ahead for new opportunities and advancement, not only in relation to tourism but also for area families and residents.
Lanesboro residents showed their support for future generations when a bond referendum was passed in November 2018, paving the way for an impressive project at the school which will include not only additions to the building but also renovations to the existing school.
With so many things that make Lanesboro special, it is no wonder that the town is ready to host a big celebration as it turns 150 years old!
During the four day event there will be many interesting, educational and fun events including exhibits, self-guided tours, theatre performances, musical entertainment, fossil hunting, farmer’s market, beer, wine and spirit tasting; baseball tournament and much more.
The Sons of Norway Hall will be holding heritage demonstrations Friday from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. and on Saturday will host a Celebration of Heritage and invites the public to the open house of the newly renovated building from 2-7 p.m., including a History Alive! pop-up play from 3-3:30 p.m. and outdoor music by the Rutabaga Brothers from 5-7 p.m.
The Lanesboro History Museum will be open each day and will host the dedication of the Don Ward Library on Saturday from 4-5 p.m.
A highlight of the sesquicentennial celebration for kids may be the bicycle parade Saturday, July 6 at 10 a.m. To join in the fun, decorate your bike and meet in Sylvan Park.
A free Zumba class in Sylvan Park starts the festivities on Sunday, July 7, followed by an ecumenical church service at the Sons of Norway.
One of the most exciting events of the sesquicentennial celebration will be the burying of a time capsule. Items for consideration in the time capsule must be submitted to the Lanesboro City Office no later than 3 p.m. on Friday, July 5. Rules do apply.
Voting on what submitted items should be included in the time capsule will take place at a Community Potluck in Sylvan Park on Sunday, July 7. Following a welcome from the mayor and enjoying ukulele music, the time capsule will be buried and not opened again for 50 years.
Events celebrating the sesquicentennial continue throughout the summer including a surprise sculpture with Lanesboro Arts, community mural to be painted downtown, community theatre summer musical “Fiorello,” Community Education summer recreation, summer reading program at Lanesboro Public Library and more.
The celebration continues in September, as History Alive! pop-up plays will present true stories of Lanesboro’s beginnings, “Founding Lanesboro 1869,” a pop-up play in the streets, at no charge. These will be held at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. on September 21, 22, 28 and 29. For more information visit the History Alive! Facebook page.
Plan now to attend all of the sesquicentennial festivities in Lanesboro as the town only turns 150 years old once!
When asked his thoughts on this exciting time, Andrzej Zalasinski, Jr., executive director of Lanesboro Area Chamber of Commerce, shares, “This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience: I am, with respect, learning about Lanesboro’s past, fully living its present and am proud and honored for the opportunity to participate in shaping its future.”
“Amidst the optimism and uncertainty of American Reconstruction, Lanesboro was founded by people looking to the future. A future to be shared by all those that call Lanesboro home. A home built on family, community and faith,” states Jason Resseman, mayor of Lanesboro. “These values have served us well throughout history and are emblematic of who we are.
“So as we recognize our sesquicentennial let us remember the efforts of the past and celebrate our optimism towards our future,” states Resseman.
For more information on the Lanesboro Sesquicentennial Celebration visit lanesboro-mn.gov or 150.lanesboro.com.