City With a Smile…The Story of Freeport
Freeport is a small town in Central Stearns County in Oak Township with a population of 632. Freeport's water tower with a smiley face greets travelers along I-94 daily. Freeport wasn't always called Freeport. When the community initially settled in the late 1890s the settlement was called Oak Station. The name changed due to confusion over a town to the west along the same railroad line because Osakis sounded too similar. Freeport, Minnesota is named after Freeport, Illinois. There is also a Freeport, Wisconsin too.
To help tell the story of Freeport I was joined by Freeport Mayor Mike Eveslage and longtime resident Betty Atkinson. Atkinson indicated that the majority of the early settlers of Freeport were German Catholics. She believes the first building built in Freeport was the train station. Freeport has had a post office since 1881 and the community has been incorporated since 1892.
Freeport has two buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. Those two are The Church of Sacred Heart and Swany White Flour Mills. The Church of Sacred Heart was built in 1905 and the Swany White Flour Mills were built in 1898. Atkinson says the first store and hotel were owned by German immigrant John Hoeschen. She says people tend to stay in the community and "if you like it in Freeport, you stay there".
Mike Eveslage grew up in Freeport, moved away and he and his wife moved back there and are raising their family in Freeport. He says he enjoys small town living, the safety, sense of community and pace. Eveslage indicates Freeport is growing with a vibrant downtown that includes a bank, Charlie's Cafe, City Hall, Hennen Flooring, Oak Station Coffee & Cone, gas stations, bars, a lumberyard, 2 churches and more. He says they are also seeing more housing going in south of Interstate 94. Also on the south side of town they have a community center, that recently celebrated 30 years and in 2005 they built a new ballpark for the Freeport Black Sox Amateur baseball team. Atkinson calls the Community Center a "god send". She says it has been used for many community events including weddings, funerals and the Fire Department's annual event.
Freeport has a private school in the community called Sacred Heart Catholic School which is through the 6th grade. Freeport is in the Melrose Public School District. Atkinson and Eveslage both indicate Freeport has ties to both Melrose and Albany. Atkinson wrote a book about her time growing up in Freeport called "It Was More Than Sweep the Floor". She said she grew up in the horse and buggy era and she thought it was important to document this so it wouldn't be lost forever.
Mike Eveslage gives thanks to those that came before him and have had a hand in keeping the town of Freeport alive and thriving. He feels it is important to continue to help grow and maintain the city that so many have valued over the years.
If you'd like to listen to my conversations with Betty Atkinson and Mike Eveslage they are available below.
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