Charles Lindberg, the Aviator, was born in 1902, and lived in Little Falls, Minnesota until he went to college in 1920. The original house was a three-story mansion built by the river just outside of town. It burned to the ground and was replaced with the more modest two-story building we see today. Charles lived there with his mother. His parents were not on the best of terms so his father had a place in town. In 1931 the 110 acres and the house were donated to the State of Minnesota and the Minnesota Historical Society took over the house and 17 acres. The remaining acres are now the Charles A. Lindbergh State Park.
Lindbergh is most famous for being the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. He did this in 1927. The plane he flew across the Atlantic, the Spirit of St Louis, is on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. In 1929, he married the daughter of the US Ambassador to Mexico, Anne Morrow. Their first-born child, Charles A. Lindbergh Jr. was kidnapped and killed in 1932.
A museum containing lots of information about Charles’ life and accomplishments is on the property in Little Falls. There are a couple of good films about his transatlantic voyage and tickertape parades. There are also activities for small children.
Down the road from the Lindbergh house, there is a small county museum, the Charles A Weyerhaeuser Memorial Museum. It has a few turn of the century artifacts and a genealogy library and research area.
Frederick Weyerhaeuser was a German immigrant who started a lumber business in Rock Island, Illinois in 1858. From there he moved to St Paul, Minnesota. He ended up in a joint venture with James J Hill, also of St Paul. The Weyerhaeuser Timber Company was incorporated in Tacoma, Washington in 1900.
John, Frederick’s oldest son, followed him to become president of the company. In 1935, John’s 8 year old son George, was kidnapped but luckily it ended happy with the child being returned unharmed, and the kidnappers apprehended, unlike the Lindbergh affair. George grew up to be the president of the company. Today Weyerhaeuser is an international public company and per its website is “one of the largest sustainable forest products companies in the world.”
Charles was another son of Frederick’s who was also in the lumber business. He headed the Pine Tree Lumber Company in Little Falls, Minnesota with his business partner Richard Drew Musser. It quickly became the second largest mill in the Northwest. In 1920 the mill closed and all the timber was gone. In the 1930’s the federal and state governments surveyed the area full of stumps. New regulations were implements restricting cutting and demanding re-planting. Most of the trees in Northern Minnesota are now back but the white pine is rare today.
After the mill closed, Charles moved to St Paul and died in 1930. His mansion in Little Falls is now open to the public. The county museum named in his honor does genealogy research.
Jessica Lange also lived in Little Falls when she was about eight years old. You could drive by her school and house if you are so inclined.
The Dakota were pushed out of the area by the Ojibwe and then they were pushed out by the Europeans who settled in the area in the early 1800’s. The town is named for a series of rapids that ran on the Mississippi. Today a dam harnesses those rapids.
There is plenty to see and do in Little Falls. We stayed at the newly built County Inn and Suites and had an excellent meal at the A.T. Black and White, originally built in 1931 and known as the Black and White Hamburger Shop. Today it boasts a Cordon Bleu chef. We had the scallops in citrus beurre with asparagus and risotto and the linguini Alfredo with chicken that was light and flavorful. The evening ended with a brownie sundae with thick chocolate sauce and a touch of caramel.
About a ten mile drive north of Little Falls is Camp Ripley, a National Guard, 53,000-acre training center. It is named for Fort Ripley, a frontier Army post occupied from 1849-1877 that once sat on the property. The new training site opened in 1931.
We visited the Minnesota Military Museum at Camp Ripley. We had to drive through huge solid gates and show our ID’s at the gatehouse in order to enter. The museum was close to the main entrance so we didn’t see a lot of the camp. The museum was very well done and quite extensive, I recommend it to anybody interested in history. There were also exhibits on the grounds surrounding the museum and smaller buildings that housed jeeps and other military vehicles. Part of it was interactive. I tried on a couple of helmets (they are heavy).
On the way back to Little Falls we decided to make a circle and swing by the Crane Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. We figured we would just jump out of the car, take a quick walk, take some pictures and be on our way. The Refuge was established in 1992 to preserve a large natural wetland. It is basically a marshland that is home to many species of birds including the sandhill cranes.
Our idea had one small flaw. Mosquitoes. Of course there would be mosquitoes in a marshland and we did know that but we had no idea just how many mosquitoes there would be. Within two minutes we were under full attack and had to run for cover. I was still swatting them in the car when we got back to town.
We consoled ourselves with pizza and beer at Charlie’s Pizza in Little Falls. The next day on the way out of town we stopped at Thielen Meats. John Thielen opened the shop after working for his parents at Thielen Meats in Pierz, fourteen miles east of Little Falls. We originally thought we were going to the market featured in the New York Times but they are all related so no disappointments. Amy Thielen, a chef featured on Food Network, is also related.