Today there are no visible signs or buildings left to pinpoint Garen, but to the farmers and residents that lived in that area, the memories are sharp.
South of Forest Lake on Highway 61 to 190th Street is the crossroads of what once was the farming community of Garen in the early 1900s.
Some of the farmers in the area were Steve Pollreis, Earl Lord, Frank Green, Sam Hehner, Frank Daninger, the Thons, Ted Corey, the Palmers, Mathes, Berger Olson, Chester Hopkins, Anna Mays, Reuters, Axel Johnson and George Taylor to name a few.
From the spark of a train, Garen came into existence. The spark lit a fire in the vicinity of the Steve Pollreis farm and burned into the peat bog. Since bog fires smolder for a long time, this fire caused much distress for the cattle farmers in the area.
The Northern Pacific Railway sent a lawyer to settle with the affected farmers. The railroad agreed to build a “switch line” so the farmers could load their cattle into box cars to be shipped to St. Paul. They also built cattle pens along the switch line.
There had to be a name for the station, and the railroad preferred a short name and one that had not been used in the area. Deciding to name it after one of the farmers affected by the fire, they called the town Garen, after Frank Garen and his wife, Sarah Jane, and sons, Jack and George, owners of a 360-acre farm.
The railroad moved a boxcar next to the track and it became the train station, complete with the Garen signs. The inside was furnished with a stove for heat. Many local farm boys played cards in there at night. Garen was not a scheduled stop, so the train was flagged down by would-be passengers. The fare to Forest Lake was 15 cents for a one-way ticket.
C.I. Olson owned a little store west of the railroad tracks, very much like today’s convenience stores. It was a place for neighbors to meet to exchange the news of the day as they did a little shopping.
Because children had to travel so far to school, there were three schools in the area: Garen School was District 72 South, the Lathrop School was District 72 North, and west of the tracks was North School.
Two former students of the school, Grace (Garen) Stoltzman and Mike Daninger, recall school days in the one-room school. Typical of that time, the school had an outside pump and toilet facilities and a big stove with a heat shield to keep the room warm. A heart-warming memory of Grace and Mike was the thoughtfulness of the fathers driving their children to school in the horse-drawn bobsleds on snowy, blustery days. The mothers showed special concern for their children by taking turns bringing to school a hotdish, soup, home-baked beans or scalloped potatoes to add to the cold lunches in their lunch pails.
The school building was also used as a community center. It was a place for meetings, social activities such as Christmas programs and dancing. Popular musicians playing for the dancers were Mrs. Butterfield, Tillie Hopkins and Gus Erickson from Wyoming. If live music wasn’t available, a phonograph was used.
Around 1934, children attending the three schools were bused to school in Forest Lake. Eventually there would be a use for the building when it became the site of the Toni Home Permanent Company. One night a fire of unknown origin consumed the old Garen schoolhouse.
During the 1930s and 40s, roadside taverns were popular. In Garen, the Half Way Inn was built by Grace and Clarence Siebert. At one time this was called the Happy Landing. There were several owners, but there is no information on its demise.
Silence at the Garen crossroads has replaced the trains stopping at the red boxcar station, cows mooing in the pasture and children laughing during recess at the country schools. It is a community gone but not forgotten.
All Elsie Vogel material is excerpted from her book, “Reflections of Forest Lake.” Vogel was a former columnist at The Forest Lake Times.