Preston’s Historic Campus
The Preston Historical Society has coined the name Historic Campus by the Trailhead in Preston because all of their buildings and railroad rolling stock are located in that area.
The first restoration project was of the Milwaukee Road Elevator built in 1902. The elevator has been listed on the National List of Historic Buildings. Grants were received from the MN Historical Society to reroof and reside the elevator. A more recent grant from the Preston Area Foundation allowed the Society to install plexi-glass doors on the west side of the Elevator so anyone can stop by, look inside and see several grain-related items on display. Grants have been received for doing an archeology study at the site and for development of plans to restore the bagging shed that was once located on the north side of the elevator. However, grant funds have been more difficult to garner as of now the bagging shed has not be added to the site.
The first addition to the campus was a 1939 authentic Milwaukee Road rib-sided boxcar. It was purchased for $1 from the rail site in Calmar, Iowa, then moved to its new home in Preston. It had to be to be sandblasted and then repainted before it could be set on the original tracks that had been saved when the trains left Preston in the early 1970’s. Several grants and additional fundraising by the Society helped to complete the restoration of the boxcar.
A 1951 Milwaukee Road Caboose No. 992095 was then added to the Preston Historical Society campus. A dedication of the caboose was held on Saturday, August 16, 2014 at the Trailhead Parking Lot Area, Corner of Center and Fillmore Street in Preston. Representatives of the Milwaukee Road Historical Association were on hand for the dedication.
The Preston Historical Society had worked for 5 years after the purchase in 2009 to completely restore the actual caboose once used on the Milwaukee Railroad. After purchase in Mauston, Wisconsin, the caboose was then moved to Preston. Funds were received from the Preston Area Foundation to repair the window frames and glass windows to better weatherize the caboose. A grant was also received from the Foundation for the re-upholstery work. Valspar paint products were awarded to the Society to paint the caboose. Fundraising helped to get the caboose welded, set on original rails, painted, reupholstered, and with new lettering, the caboose is open for tours during Trout Days, and other special events in Preston or by appointment.
A Motor Car has joined the other Milwaukee Road rolling stock on display at the Trailhead in Preston. The Preston Historical Society secured a Milwaukee Road motor car that was originally made in Fairmont, Minnesota by Fairmont Industries with a Fairmont motor. The society was very fortunate to have Ila Mae Olstad supply the funds to acquire and restore this vehicle in memory of her late father who worked for the Milwaukee Railroad for more than 40 years managing and working with different section gangs. With a lot of help from another historical society member, Mike Schultz, we acquired this car from his cousin in Lawler, IA. Solberg Welding did the mechanical work and EZ Fab sandblasted and painted it.
To complement the Motor Car, a trailing car has been restored and now follows the Motor Car ready to carry the supplies to do ‘work’ repairing the tracks.
Interpretive Railroad Sign
A new attraction at the trailhead is an outdoor display – “The Milwaukee Road in Preston.” Pictures depict a “day on the railroad” including “turning” the engine, switching rail cars, departing town along the Root River, meeting a train at Isinours, and returning to Preston with new deliveries. The other side features a timeline of the railroad from 1868 to its “final run” in 1976 along with historic pictures of trains, work crew, and the caboose dedication. Maps show the “Preston Yard” with the buildings along the railroad, the Isinours to Preston route, and nearby towns served by the railroad. The roof of the display features a facsimile PRESTON depot sign and is supported by reproductions of the roof eave brackets of the historic Preston depot. The sign is illuminated at night and sits adjacent to the restored caboose which also features its historic lighting inside and out. The display honors nearly 40 employees who worked for the railroad in Preston as well as the donors who provided pictures, memories, and labor with special thanks to the Preston Historical Society (PHS).
The O’Hara District schoolhouse is located across the Root River from the other Preston Historical Society displays. The building was originally donated by the School District (#29) of Amherst Township to the Fillmore County Historical Society in 1961. In later years the Fillmore County Historical Society obtained an older building and moved it to their site in Fountain, MN. The O’Hara school was given to the Fillmore County Ag Society on whose land it is located on the Fairgrounds in Preston. In 2009, the Preston Historical Society entered into a 25-year lease with the Ag Society to restore and operate the schoolhouse.
Cedar shakes were used to reroof the school. Also restored at the same time was the bell tower. The interior was painted for an Eagle Scout project with Preston Boy Scout Troup 67. The exterior painting was accomplished with paint donated by Preston Lumber Company and painting work done by the Sentence to Serve work crew. The replacement and restoration of the windows was financed by a grant from Tri-County Electric Operation Roundup and a grant from the Preston Area Community Foundation. The final touch for the restoration was the replacement of the worn steps financed by O’Hara School alumni and construction work donated by PHS member John Carlin.
Today it is opened to the public during the Fillmore County Fair in July of each year and serves as their display during the entire week. It is also used by the Society as their registration location for their Tractor Ride in September and is open other times by appointment.
A bit of history about the school comes from Gudrun Storhoff, in the Fillmore County History 1984, pg. 18.
The O’Hara School was one of the first organized in Amherst Township and operated continuously for over one hundred years, 1857 to 1961. The first school was a log cabin eighteen by twenty feet, built cooperatively by community pioneers. Owen O’Hara donated land for the school and thus it received its name. Lorraine Ward served as the first teacher.
Old school records contain a teacher’s contract dated March 17, 1898 issued to Miss Martha Zilch for the months of April and May at a salary of $23.00 per month. Said contract states that Miss Zilch shall use her best endeavors to preserve in good condition the schoolhouse and premises, apparatus, furniture, books and school records. Said school district agreed to keep the schoolhouse clean and it good repair and provide suitable and sufficient fuel. The contract is signed by S. J. McDowell—Clerk. Records show Ella Morgan and Clara Truman were also contracted to teach for two months in 1898. School Board members were Beryl Arnold, Norman Storhoff and Marion McDowell. They served together for over sixty cumulative years.
O’Hara School District voted to consolidate when the school census listed only two families, Norman Anderson and Peter Wangen, with children of school ages. Mrs. Mabel Kolstad of Fountain was the last teacher.