Wednesday, February 13, 2019

A Detour to Grand Marais

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

At the end of June in 2010, Joann and I were starting to head for home from a marathon photography trip to northeastern Minnesota, when we visited the Toimi School. Toimi was settled by Finnish pioneers and the school is the only remaining building.

The school was built in 1913. As the number of students increased, an addition was needed. At the same time, an apartment for the teacher was also added.

After the addition, the school had two classrooms, a library and the teacher’s apartment. One classroom was for grades one through four and the other was for grades five through eight.

The school also functioned as a meeting place for the whole community with dances and meetings being held there. In 1923, the Toimi Town Hall was built just across the road and community functions moved there.

From a high of almost 100 students, enrollment began to decrease until the school was closed in 1942.

After the school closed, it was used as a storage building for the U.S. Forest Service fire fighting supplies and then as a garage for the Lake County Highway Department.

In 1977 a full school reunion of former classmates was held. This was the first public event at the school since its closure in 1942.

In 1991, ownership was transferred from the Lake County Board of Commissioners to the Toimi School Community Center Committee and restoration work began. Since the building had been used by the Forest Service and then by the county, the building was still structurally sound. The building has been totally restored to its former glory.

We left the school and headed for highway 61, which follows the shore of Lake Superior. On the way we discussed whether we should take a detour and go north to visit Grand Marais where I had several historic locations marked to photograph. We decided we didn’t know when we would get that far north again, so we’d go on this trip.

Since it was summer and vacation time, there was a lot of traffic heading north, and it was slow going. It was also foggy with intermittent rain showers.

When we finally arrived at Grand Marais, we decided to head to the northern edge of town to visit St. Francis Xavier Church. It is the only building remaining in what was the town of Chippewa City.

Chippewa City was an Ojibwe community of about 100 families located near this site. Jesuit missionaries held services in residents’ homes until the church was established in 1895. To raise money for construction, local women held basket socials where area lumberjacks bid heavily on handmade birch bark baskets filled with home-baked goods.

Jesuit priests served Chippewa City until 1905 when Benedictines from St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, became responsible for this territory. They, like the Jesuits, made only monthly visits until 1933, when Father Oswald Johannes became the resident pastor.

For a time, he alternated Sunday services between this church and the newly-constructed St. John the Baptist Church in Grand Marais. A declining congregation forced St. Francis Xavier Church, the last remaining building in Chippewa City, to close in 1936. Its religious functions were transferred to the Grand Marais church. Although empty for decades, this church remains an important example of the state's 19th century Indian missions. It was restored in 1970-1974.

After visiting this historic church, we came back into Grand Marais to find the Bill Bally Blacksmith Shop.

The building’s original owner was Sam Bally, who relocated from Bayfield, Wisconsin to Grand Marais in 1903. He was a blacksmith with the Cook County Manufacturing Company until he opened his own shop in 1911.

After Sam’s death in 1922, the shop was taken over by his son, C. Albert. And, in 1946, the shop passed to William. William “Bill” Bally died in 2010 in Grand Marais.

Since its founding, the Bally Blacksmith Shop has been the only blacksmith in Grand Marais. It has chronicled the history of the city from horse-drawn, lumber camp equipment to motorized commercial fishing rigs, to tourists’ automobiles and snowmobiles.

The building is now maintained by the Cook County Historical Society, which bought the building from Bill’s widow in 2013. The building is host to the Annual Bally Blacksmith Shop Demo Day where you can tour the building as well as see demonstrations of blacksmithing.

Happy Shunpiking!

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  1. Very interesting stories of some of the places you visited on that trip, Ruth. And, as always, wonderful photos to accompany the stories, Joann.

    1. Thanks, Phyllis. That was quite an interesting trip with many more stories to tell. We'd like to go back, especially since we tried to find the ancient Indian cemetery mentioned on the Chippewa City historical sign, but didn't succeed and ran out of time.

  2. Great story and great photos. You two must have just the best time traveling together! That's so great to see. So few families enjoy each other that much, so it warms my heart to read about your adventures together!

    1. Thanks, Donna. We do have a lot of fun. And these trips would not be possible without Ruth's extensive research and planning beforehand and navigating and logging while on the trips.

  3. As usual Marvelous Pictures and Story! I am thinking I would love to make a trip up there see for myself.

    1. Thanks, Stephanie! The drive along Lake Superior is wonderful. We have a lot more we are planning to share about this area.