The town of Forestville and the surrounding area became state land in 1963. When the Minnesota Historical Society took over caring for the site in 1978, five original structures remained: the store, Meighen residence, granary, carriage barn and barn. These buildings were in varying degrees of disrepair, with the store as the only structure open to the public.
In 1986 preservation and restoration work began. The process included artifact inventory and assessment and interpretive planning. By 1996 the structures were restored to an 1890s appearance, with the exception of certain areas of the store and house.
The five original buildings represent three major types of early vernacular Minnesota architecture: brick (1857 store and house); hewn timber-frame (1859 granary); and balloon-frame (carriage barn). Today the buildings are interpreted as part of Historic Forestville's living history program.
Historic Forestville is dedicated to the preservation of historical artifacts as well as "living artifacts," such as heirloom garden and crop varieties. Although used frequently, the term "heirloom" is a bit of a misnomer. According to Seed to Seed (Decorah, Iowa: Seed Saver Publications, 1991, p. 13), an "heirloom" is a variety that has been passed down from generation to generation for 150 years, rarely being commercially available. The historic seeds we grow at Historic Forestville were commercially available in the 1890s, but are still considered to be quite rare in today's garden seed market.
All plants grown at Historic Forestville are "open-pollinated," which means they are produced by crossing two parents from the same variety. By contrast, modern-day hybrid plants, which gained favor after World War II, are produced by crossing two parents from different genetic varieties. Hybrid seeds cannot be saved from year to year—they are incapable of producing new plants. They are more expensive, costing several times more than open-pollinated seeds, but often have much higher yields. Shoppers at modern grocery stores have many more vegetables choices than their 19th century counterparts. In addition, because of better shipping and transportation, shoppers can get most kinds of vegetables, such as sweet corn and tomatoes, throughout the year; something unheard of in the 1890s.
The open-pollinated varieties in the Meighen garden and fields were chosen based upon the original store stock seed packets, historical research and educated guesses. We are confident that at least half of the garden vegetable varieties found in Historic Forestville's interpretive program were grown here a century ago.
Check out the contents of our garden.
Our recreated gardens and fields are based on historical research. We have more than 70 varieties of seeds available from the original Meighen store inventory from the late 19th century, as well as occasional references to the gardens in family diaries and store ledgers. County fair reports are another reliable source on what varieties the Meighen neighbors were growing in Fillmore and surrounding counties. Additionally, reports from both the state and the University of Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station show us which crops were grown where. Unfortunately, the 1890 and 1900 U.S. Agricultural Census Schedules no longer survive.