Forest Center, Lake County Minnesota
In 1949 the Tomahawk Timber Company created the town of Forest Center along the southern shore of Lake Isabella in Lake County. The town was built to house employees and their families working the nearby logging operation and lumber mill. At its peak, the community was home to 250 residents and over 50 homes. The company also built a school, a restaurant, a coffee shop, a recreation hall, a general store, two churches, and a post office.
An Isolated Community
Located about 40 miles from Ely, the community was isolated from the rest of the world. It was set deep in Minnesota’s Northwoods down unpaved roads that were scantly marked and could be difficult for an outsider to find. Because of this, it became a tight-knit community that has been described as “1950s suburbia, Northwoods style”. The community would come together on weekends for dances at the recreation center or a community baseball game. Most of the homes boasted white picket fences and a garden in the back.
Forest Center Becomes a Ghost Town
Like many towns in the area, Forest Center was abandoned when the industry it was built on ran out of materials or faced more government regulation. Because of its proximity to the BWCA, the Tomahawk Lumber Company found the area becoming greatly limited for logging operations. After logging more than 100,000 cords per year for 15 years, operations ceased in 1964. The residents of Forest Center moved on to other jobs and communities. Many of the homes and buildings were moved or demolished. Thus, leaving behind just a few signs that a once-thriving town once stood there- mostly the roads in town and a few foundations.
The forest quickly reclaimed the area, making it nearly impossible to detect. In 2011 whatever relics were left of Forest Center were destroyed in the Pagami Creek Fire that swept through the area. The fire, however, cleared out some of the overgrowths once again revealing some of the foundations and other signs of the community. It would still take a knowledgeable eye to spot anything that was once a park of Forest Center, however. Even former residents who have returned say the area is unrecognizable to them.
These days, the Forest Center site is now a parking lot used for the Isabella Lake entry point for the BWCA and as the trailhead for the Powwow Trail. If you are ever in this lot for those purposes, take a look around and see if you can spot any signs of the community that was once there.
Take Highway 1 from Highway 61 (near Tettegouche State Park). Turn right on Co Rd 7/Wanless Trail near the town of Isabella. Turn left on Trappers Lake Road. Stay on Trappers Lake Road for 5.8 miles and take a slight right onto Forest Road 173. After 2.9 miles turn left onto Forest Road 369 (NOT MARKED WELL!). This road eventually becomes Forest Road 379. When the road ends, turn right onto Tomahawk Road. Look for signs for the Powwow Trail Head, turn into the parking lot. The town was located in this area. Please note that these are not paved road and not well marked. Please consult a map before heading out and ensure you know where you are going. Cell phone reception is not available here. A four-wheel-drive vehicle is recommended.
Listen to Joe and Jaye explore and discuss Ghost Towns on the Exploring the North Shore Podcast: