Forestville developed as a pioneer town in the mid-1850s as the new Minnesota Territory was being settled. Located in Fillmore County in southeastern Minnesota, the area attracted farmers with its good cropland, plentiful timber and water power. At its peak, the town of Forestville boasted a grist mill, school, brickyard, two hotels, two saw mills a cabinet shop, a blacksmith shop, a general store and a post office.
At the center of the town was the imposing red-brick Meighen home and store. Founded by Felix Meighen and his childhood friend Robert Foster, the business flourished in the 1850s and '60s. The men were born in Greene County in southern Pennsylvania. They and their brothers sought to better their luck and earn their fortunes by leaving Pennsylvania and trying a variety of enterprises, including working as miners in Galena, Ill., gold-mining in California, hauling coal or - in Robert Foster's case - working as a clerk which led him to an apprenticeship on the Minnesota frontier. Soon Felix joined him and they established a general store. Eventually their brothers arrived and staked land claims, and the town began to grow.
The blossoming community was hard hit by the decision of the Southern Minnesota Railway to bypass Forestville in 1868. It had already suffered a blow when, despite heated political wranglings, the nearby town of Preston was named the county seat. Soon townspeople and businesses began to move to more prosperous communities, leaving a few dwindling enterprises behind. The town was transformed during the next two decades into a large, one-family-owned farming operation.
By the 1890s, Felix's son Thomas Meighen's general store was one of the few businesses remaining in town, and by 1899, he employed everyone who still lived there, paying workers in store credit and renting them houses that he owned.
Today, visitors are transported to a simpler time where costumed guides take them back i to 1899. When they step across the Carnegie steel bridge over the Root River, they are guided through interpretive stations that include the store, house, kitchen garden, granary, carriage barn, and barn and cornfield, where they meet a variety of characters from the town. In each area, the costumed interpreters talk about their characters' lives, drawing on hundreds of the site's original significant artifacts. Visitors are invited to ask questions and interact directly with the past. Outside, visitors can move at their own pace and get a hands-on approach to 19th-century crops and field work. A reconstructed barn completed in 2001 offers a museum shop and updated restrooms.