Author and historian delves into history of Forest Lake

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When he was young, historian and author Justin Brink would make his dad, Kevin, drive him up and down the streets of Forest Lake in the family’s 1989 Chevy Celebrity on self-directed history tours.

“I had a dime-store camera, and I would take pictures of buildings and street intersections,” Brink said. “We even stopped traffic at a main intersection once — just so I could get the right shot. I was a strange kid.”

Brink recently published his first book, “Images of America: Forest Lake.” The 128-page book is packed with photos and stories curated by Brink, the president of the Forest Lake Historical Society.

One early settler featured in the book is Swiss immigrant Gotthard Rahm, who arrived in Forest Lake around 1875 and served as the town’s election clerk, treasurer and supervisor. He and his wife, Marie, had three children, and they lived on about 150 acres that abutted the northwest corner of First Lake and included the outlet of the Sunrise River. Sadly, the family’s time in Forest Lake was marked by tragedy.

Justin Brink, president of the Forest Lake Historical Society, recently wrote his first book. “Images of America: Forest Lake,” was released by Arcadia Publishing in September 2023. (Courtesy of Justin Brink)

“In 1879, Gotthard broke through the ice and lost his team of horses,” Brink writes in the book. “Several years later, his son survived a stabbing, and two other children nearly drowned in the lake. In 1896, son Adolph drowned in the Ohio River. Overwhelmed by grief, Gotthard died the following spring by suicide, stabbing himself multiple times in the chest.”

In November 1887, a skeleton — believed to have been a farmhand who had gone missing four months earlier — was discovered in a thicket on the Rahms’ farm, according to Brink. “He was subject to fits, and it is thought died while suffering from one of his attacks,” he said.

Brink also writes about the history of the Forest Lake State Bank, which was founded by Orlando and Wayne Struble in 1903. The street outside the bank was illuminated “by kerosene lamps that were lit nightly and extinguished each morning by the night marshall,” Brink writes.

One photo included in the book, courtesy of the Washington County Historical Society, shows bank customer Nellie Banta posing for a photograph before conducting business.

“At the center window is Orlando Struble, and the cashier at right is Harlan W. Swanson,” Brink writes. “A sign to the left of the window reads, ‘Honor thy Father and Mother, but not the stranger’s checks.’”

Brink shared several pages of his book on the “Old Forest Lake” Facebook page prior to publication. One post detailed the closing of Houle’s Feed Mill, a local landmark, and its subsequent purchase and restoration to become Spike’s and Houle’s Feed, Seed & Pet Supply.

Alexander Brand, fifth generation of the Houle family, and James Houle, third generation, walk to the warehouse at Houle’s Feed Mill in Forest Lake on Jan. 10, 2019. (Jean Pieri / Pioneer Press)

“Houle’s has been a staple of the community since the early 1900s,” Brink said. “When there was talk about it being acquired and demolished for a new hotel, there was a lot of uproar about that. That turned out not to be the case, thankfully, and that’s when Spike’s acquired it. The community has been very happy about the renovation just because so much history has been lost over the years that finally we have a building that is being saved.”

Living in a historic home

Brink, 42, was born in Chisago City and raised in Forest Lake. He graduated from Forest Lake Area High School in 1999. He is a registered nurse and works as an infection/safety coordinator at Summit Orthopedics.

He and his wife, Jennifer, and their four children live in a house that is featured in the book. It was the site of Forest Lake’s first hospital.

“Dr. George Ruggles opened his first clinic office in 1932 in downtown Forest Lake,” Brink writes in the book. “Drafted into service during World War II in 1942, he set his sights on bigger things when he returned home in 1945. The following year, he purchased an old farmhouse and turned it into Forest Lake’s first hospital. It opened in 1948 and continued to serve the community until its closing in 1962.”

Prior to becoming a hospital, the house at 107 South Shore Drive “was a dairy farm owned by a wealthy family from St. Paul,” Brink writes. “It was then sold in 1911 to Charles Beard, a real estate salesman. When he died in 1945, it gave Dr. Ruggles the opportunity to purchase the property in 1946.”

“Images of America: Forest Lake” includes images collected from the Forest Lake Historical Society, the Washington County Historical Society, and the community.

“Images of America: Forest Lake” was released by Arcadia Publishing in September. (Courtesy of Justin Brink)

The book “fills a need to show off Forest Lake’s deep history,” said Brent Peterson, executive director of the Washington County Historical Society. “It is full of never-before-seen photos and stories of old Forest Lake.”

Brink’s book is the second written about the history of Forest Lake. Historian Elsie Vogel wrote “Reflections of Forest Lake,” which was published in 1993 for the town’s centennial. The Forest Lake Historical Society plans to reprint the book in 2024, Brink said.

Brink did not have space to include many photos from the 1960s, 1970s or 1980s, he said, so he is already planning to write a second book. “People love the book, but there is a lot of interest in seeing photos from those decades,” he said.

Hopkins Schoolhouse

Brink, who serves on the city’s planning commission, also has been working to save the Hopkins Schoolhouse in Hugo. The one-room schoolhouse, built in 1928, sat empty for more than two decades. Brink and a group of volunteers have been working to raise money to restore the building.

Located off of 170th Street North and U.S. Highway 61, the schoolhouse served students in grades 1 through 8 until the mid-1940s and grades 1 through 6 until it closed in 1962. In 1965, Oneka Township purchased the property for $3,500 from the Forest Lake school district for use as a Town Hall. Seven years later, Oneka Township was incorporated into the Village of Hugo, and the city of Hugo was created.

The Hopkins Schoolhouse was briefly used as a youth center and a meeting place for the Hugo Boy Scouts, but has been vacant since the early 2000s.

“The roof was just completed, the chimney just repaired, and the soffit was repaired, so we are all set for the winter,” Brink said. “That was all phase 1.”

Members of the Hopkins Schoolhouse committee check out the interior of the building March 25, 2022, in Hugo. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

The group will be raising money this winter to pay for the second phase, which includes new siding.

The hoped-for completion date for the Hopkins Schoolhouse and Heritage Center is 2028, the centennial of the opening of the school, Brink said.

In the future, the building will be used in a number of ways, including as a rest area for users of the Hardwood Creek Regional Trail, as a site for historical displays and programming by the Forest Lake Historical Society and Hugo Historical Commission, and as an interactive learning center for area grade-school students, Brink said.

“It also will be a new meeting place for community members to gather,” he said. “We want to honor the heritage of Hugo, Forest Lake and the surrounding area by highlighting historic examples of citizens who made a difference in the community.”

‘Images of America: Forest Lake’ book launch

A book launch for “Images of America: Forest Lake” by Forest Lake historian and author Justin Brink will be at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 1, at the Washington County Heritage Center in Stillwater. The program is free to the public; no reservations are required. A Zoom link may be accessed at

For more information, contact Washington County Heritage Center Site Manager Emily Krawczewski at or 651-439-2298.

To purchase a copy of the book, go to

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