Veterans Evergreen Memorial Drive Scenic Byway

Minnesota State Highway 23 spans from southwestern to northeastern Minnesota and is the second longest state route in Minnesota, after MN 1. A welcome change of pace from I-35 for those who prefer to “go the long way” or “enjoy the ride”. I am one of those people. As I ventured north on 23, I passed through the Veterans Evergreen Memorial Drive Scenic Byway. This 50 mile stretch, traveling through Pine, Carlton and St Louis counties is known as the scenic route to Duluth. If you ever take this way, you will notice the groves of trees that trace the route from Askov to Duluth. What you may not know is that a Vietnam veteran named Geoff Steiner, a psychotherapist who suffered from post-traumatic-stress disorder, planted the 40,000 trees as a form of personal therapy, in commemoration of those soldiers who didn’t make it home from the war.

At the southern end of the byway sits the Veteran’s Memorial Overlook. A somber, exquisite place that gives an incredible view of the St. Louis River Valley. The memorial is a centerpiece in the Lake Superior Basin for reflection, a healing backdrop if there ever was one.

Pine County Historical Society and History Museum

I like to go off the beaten path and in this case, it means venturing off I-35 to meander through the smaller, less trafficked towns. Askov, off Highway 23 in Pine County is one of such towns. Home to the annual Askov Fair and Rutabaga Festival, the town was originally the Village of Partridge, initially a Great Northern Railway stop.  Partridge was mostly destroyed in the Great Hinkley Fire of 1894 and had to be re-built. In doing so, the new town was founded by the Danish Peoples Society in 1906.

The name “Askov” means “ash forest” in Danish and solidified the towns roots in Denmark’s culture; nearly all the streets in Askov have Danish names. It was incorporated in 1918. It currently has 368 Askovians in residence, taking up approximately 1.26 square miles. In 1910, just before the town was incorporated, the Hans Christian Andersen School was dedicated, named after the famous Danish storyteller who wrote children’s books. Some of his most famous stories include: “The Emperor Has No Clothes,” “The Ugly Duckling,” “Thumbelina,” “The Princess and the Pea” and many others. It ran for 71 years before being demolished. It was rebuilt in 2004 and used as a school until the new East Central School was built across from Banning State Park, leaving the big school building empty.

The Pine County Historical Society acquired this building in 2012. It has since become a historical treasure trove to those to have passed through town. The Pine County Historical Society and History Museum’s 50,000 sq ft is absolutely brimming with turn-of-the-century tools, clothing, books, historical data, military, music, furniture, household items, archeological finds, textiles, and other historical artifacts.

For a cool $5.00 admission, you can peruse the extensive collection of photos, paintings, unique artifacts and displays representing the history of early settlers and pioneers of Pine County. The museum is divided up into themed sections and represent the diverse industries such as: logging, milling, railroads, quarries, farming, and rutabaga production. They even have “room tours” that include rooms like; “doll room,” the “music room” that houses old high school uniforms, the “camera room,” the “military room” holds uniforms from WWI, WWII, Vietnam, up to Afghanistan. Other rooms include machinery, religion, politics, cities of Pine county and even one called the “trains room” that displays miniature trains that run between Minneapolis and Duluth. The museum also has a a wooden car, a 1982 Mercury Grand Marquis.

Lastly, and my favorite, the old cafeteria was repurposed and opened as The Little Mermaid Cafe, an ode to the Danish poet whom the school was named for. There is even a replica of the Denmark’s Den lille Havfrue (Little Mermaid statue), carved out of wood by Cliff Letty of Sturgeon Lake for the Danish Brotherhood Society of Askov. It also has a creative co-op and antique shop, is open daily and is run only by volunteers. How cool is that?!