Historic U.S. 61: Old Highway 61 - Wyoming to the St. Louis County Line
Old Highway 61 - Wyoming to the St. Louis County Line
Located In: Carlton, Pine, and Chisago Counties.
Bypassed: Between ca. 1959 and 1974.
Length: 113.35 miles ( length before construction of I-35), plus 4.8 miles of temporary connections.
Type: Modernized highway.
Status: Almost entirely intact. Aprox. 2.5 miles disrupted or heavily reconfigured.
View Map Key Old Highway 61 is shown in light blue, I-35 in dark blue, and all temporary connections in orange.
U.S. 61's old pre-interstate alignment is almost totally intact, running from the town of Wyoming on the south, to I-35 at the St. Louis / Carlton County Line on the north. Navigating the old route is fairly easy, as long as you know where the road has been reconfigured to direct traffic towards the Interstate and other routes.
After World War 2, the highway in use by U.S. 61 between the Twin Cities and Duluth was still the original concrete road completed in the 1920's. Between 1946 and 1957, the Department of Highways undertook a major modernization project to bring the entire route up to current construction standards. For the most part, the 1920's alignment remained in use, except for at major curves where the road needed to be reconstructed. The road remained two-lanes nearly the entire length, except for east of Scanlon, where it was expanded into a four-lane divided highway to serve as the western gateway to Duluth.
- 1965 - Pine City to Sandstone (23.44 miles).
- 1967 - Sandstone to Moose Lake (24.08 miles); Carlton Co Rd 5 to Highway 210 near Carlton (3.9 miles).
- 1969 - Wyoming to Pine City (35.34 miles).
- 1970 - Moose Lake to Carlton Co Rd 5 (17.6 miles).
- 1974 - Highway 210 near Carlton to the Carlton / St. Louis County Line (11.15 miles).
Despite the modernization, U.S. 61 still passed directly through nearly every small town along the way. This changed with the construction of I-35, which began in about 1959 in the vicinity of Hinckley and Sandstone. Construction continued through the 1960's and 1970's. As sections of I-35 were completed, the Department of Highways reached agreements with Chisago, Pine, and Carlton Counties to turn back most of the old highway. Temporary connections were used to connect between U.S. 61 and the completed portions of I-35. In this way, U.S. 61 acted to fill any gaps in I-35 until it could be completed.
The one major hiccup in the turn-back process took place in late 1962 after the completion of the first portion of I-35 in the Hinckley/Sandstone area, then the longest open section of freeway in Minnesota. The highway department assumed they could just move U.S. 61 onto the freeway without consulting the local residents. This apparently created quite a stir in Hinckley, where the local business owners finally realized what the coming with the interstate would mean. Protests led to the temporary restoration of U.S. 61 to its former alignment through town, and also forced the highway department to start a more formal turn back process. - Sources: Hinckley News, December 27th, 1962; Minnesota Highway News.
The old highway is now occupied by a string of county roads, although a few sections have remained in the trunk highway system (a total of nearly 20 miles). The old route is currently marked as follows (from south to north):
From - To
|Jct. with U.S. 61 in Wyoming to the jct. with MN 361 in Rush City.||24.5|
|Jct. with CSAH 30 in Rush City to the jct. with Pine Co Rd 61 and MN 70 in Rock Creek.||7.2|
|Jct with MN 361 and MN 70 in Rock Creek to the jct. with MN 23 and I-35 at Sandstone.||27.1|
|Jct with I-35 and County Rd 61 at Sandstone to the jct. with MN 18.||4.5|
|Jct. with MN 23 to the jct. with Pine County Rd 61.||1.6|
|Jct. with MN 18 to the Carlton Co Line.||15.7|
|Pine Co Line to the jct. with MN 73 at Moose Lake.||2.5|
|Jct. with County Rd 61 to the jct. with MN 27 in Moose Lake.||0.8|
|Jct. with MN 73 to the jct. with County Rd 61 in Moose Lake.||0.5|
|Jct. with MN 27 at Moose Lake to the jct. with MN 210 west of Carlton.||20.3|
|Jct. with Co Rd 61 west of Carlton to the jct. with MN 45 in Carlton.||2.3|
|Jct. with MN 210 in Carlton to the jct. with I-35 and County Rd. 45 at Scanlon.||2.6|
|Jct. with MN 45 and I-35 to the jct. with County Rd 61 at Scanlon.||0.2|
|Jct. with County Rd 45 at Scanlon to the jct. with I-35 at the St. Louis County Line.||6.0|
There are several locations where the construction of I-35 and the roads connecting to it have destroyed or disrupted short sections of the old highway. In all of these cases the temporary connections once used by U.S. 61 to bypass the construction still exist, and can be used to continue driving the old route. In a couple of other instances, the road has been redeveloped at a later date (all of these locations are pointed out in more detail in the photo tour below).
The following pages consist of a guide to driving the closest possible route to U.S. 61's pre interstate alignment, divided into sections based on date of retirement (ordered from south to north).
|Part 1 - Wyoming to Pine City||1969||35.34|
|Part 2 - Pine City to Sandstone||1965||23.44|
|Part 3 - Sandstone to Moose Lake||1967||24.08|
|Part 4 - Moose Lake to Carlton County Road 5 (Otter Creek)||1970||17.6|
|Part 5 - Carlton County Road 5 to Highway 210||1967||3.9|
|Part 6 - Highway 210 to I-35 at the Carlton / St. Louis County Line||1974||11.15|