An Ancestral Trip to Afton, Minnesota

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Stone Oak Farm, built by my great-grandfather.

Last weekend, I meandered to the charming river town of Afton, Minn. My reasons were double: to sell my books at a local fair and to visit the home my Scottish great-grandfather built when he immigrated there.

You may recall my trip to Scotland this summer and all the fun I had finding ancestral homes and castles. After I returned to the U.S., I realized there was at least one ancestral home here that I had never seen. I knew it was in Afton, so when an opportunity arose to sell my novels at Afton Art in the Park with another author, I jumped on it.

afton-trip-019I never met my great-grandfather. He was long gone from this Earth by the time I was born. I barely even remember his daughter, who was my grandmother. Even so, I feel a kinship for that side of the family and for that part of my genetic makeup.

Before I left on my trip, I contacted the home’s current owner. She was more than willing to meet with me, and was enthused about learning more family history about the man who built her home.

Afton is located in eastern Minnesota along the St. Croix River. The nearest town of note is Stillwater, a popular tourist destination. As I turned off the freeway and onto the country roads, the clean smell of the air was the first thing that struck me. It smelled . . . well, green.

afton-trip-008Nearing Afton, the rolling green hills and pastures reminded me of the land around Kelso, where my great-grandfather was from. Combine that with the river (which Kelso also has), and it makes perfect sense why he chose to settle in a place that must have reminded him of his homeland.

I found the house down a long driveway, set atop a small hill and surrounded by oak trees and cornfields. The house is built of locally quarried stone, with walls over two feet thick. The owner said it used to be called Echo Valley, but she renamed it Stone Oak Farm because she thought that fit better.

The original home, an imposing square two-story structure, is still intact. But subsequent owners have enhanced and modernized it by adding a garage, entry room, and a back addition that has a laundry room, office, bathroom, rec room and a massage room. The original ice house sits off to one side in the yard.

The deep window wells and original wooden floors speak of another era. The transom door provides an imposing entrance, that’s more just for show now since the owners use the door to the new entry room instead.

afton-trip-013I walked through the home with reverence, feeling the weight of history and time in the stones, the scuffed stairway, and the huge trees outside the windows. It was obvious the current owner loves the house and has treated it very well.

I asked her if there are any ghosts in the home. She described some mysterious pranks that involved clothes being strewn about, an exercise ball rolling down a hall and around a coffee table of its own accord, and a weeping bouquet of dried flowers. However, the owner thinks it’s one of her relatives haunting the place, not mine.

I left feeling like my family’s ancestral home was in good hands. After spending a night in the quaint and historical Afton House Inn, my book sale the next day went very well. I’m glad I made the trip! If you ever get the chance, you should check out Afton.

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