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Frontenac Village: A Minnesota Town That Hasn't Changed Much In 160 Years

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- As cities get bigger and towns get smaller, one Minnesota village remains the same.

Frontenac was founded 160 years ago.

"There's just something that happens when you feel that connection to Frontenac," said author Lorry Wendland. "It's something special. The energy is special here."

There's a saying that goes, "Sometimes you find yourself in the middle of nowhere. And sometimes in the middle of nowhere, you find yourself." Wendland found herself when she discovered this hidden village.

"I visited Frontenac and was drawn to it and I moved here in the year 2000," said Wendland. "We have gravel roads, no streetlights, we don't have any sidewalks."

There's also no retail, no city hall, no schools. Named after a French count, two families -- the Westervelts and the Garrard brothers -- helped build the village in the late 1850s. And since then, not much has changed. Wendland has even written two books about its pristine preservation.

"For those of us that love it, it's the ambience we are drawn to," said Wendland.

Old Frontenac Village Finding Minnesota
(credit: CBS)

She's talking about the Winona Cottage built with its rock wall in 1858. And St. Hubert's Lodge, just up the road. There's also Lewis Garrard's house, and a purple house that was once a hotel. It still has its original carriage steps in the front yard. Frontenac Cemetery is a reminder of just how far back it all goes.

"Fell in love with the place and kept coming back year after year," said resident Bill Flies. "When I found a place for sale, I bought it in 1972."

During that time, Flies and others have watched the size of the town remain relatively steady. There are just over 200 people in 85 homes, living on about 400 acres of land -- which is pretty much how it was at the turn of the century. The village is tucked between scenic Lake Pepin and Frontenac State Park. New homes do pop up from time to time. The only rule is that the siding and roof have to be comparable to the homes around it.

Developer John Rupp is drawn to the village, too. He's turning the old Villa Maria girls academy into a hotel and events center, taking a piece of old Frontenac and turning it into something new.

"There isn't anything like this where you find a romantic, European, French country house in southeastern Minnesota," Rupp said. "There's essentially no towns like this where you feel like you are on the New England Coast."

It's that appreciation for history and tradition that the town wants its visitors to experience. While some people hear stories about what things looked like back then, these residents live it.

"I think it's really a snapshot of the 19th century. It's been unaltered reality," Flies said.

Frontenac will be celebrating its 160th anniversary on September 21. There is also a scenic walking tour that's filled with history.

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