A Trip to Key West–Minnesota

There wasn’t much left of Key West when we visited in 2002, just a ramshackle elevator with a faint “KEY WEST, MINN.” on one side.  

Key West had one house,  a kind of community hall, and that’s about all.

The area is as flat as my grandmother said it was. She said it was so flat that when she and her siblings were introduced at their new school back in 1903, the teacher told the class that the new Goff children had seen hills. Leora, the oldest Goff at 12, was puzzled that the Minnesota children, mostly Norwegian, acted jealous of this.

The huge Agassiz glacier is why that area of Minnesota is so flat.  Even the 1910 plat map of Polk County shows canals or ditches every mile or so.  The canals and rivers all run west, so water runs off into the Red River, then north all the way to Canada’s Hudson Bay.

The canals are still there–County Ditch 126 goes right through Key West–but the train tracks aren’t there anymore. Neither are the east-west line nor the branch that ran north and south from Key West.

MNCanal (2)

The Goff family moved there from Iowa by train. Sherd and his father took livestock up first. The day after they left Iowa, Laura–pregnant again–and her mother-in-law started out with the eight children. By the time they got to Grand Forks, North Dakota, to change trains, everyone but Laura had come down with colds.  

1897 Galbraith railway mail service map. Library of Congress

The Northern Pacific Railroad ran right through Key West and, by the time they were met there at the station–by a cutter loaded with comforters–a blizzard had come up. Leora said that arriving that way mixed up her sense of direction the whole time they lived in Minnesota.

MN2 (3)

MN1902 (2)
1902 plat map

That first September. Perry was born in Polk County, Minnesota.

1904 – Ruby, Perry, and Willis Goff

Besides raising grain and turkeys, Sherd Goff ran a threshing machine.  The school children who were wary of outsiders evidently learned it from their parents. Sometimes metal objects had been secreted in the pile of grain to be threshed, in hopes that the machine would break down.

Leora described their house as being a half mile north of Key West in a grove of trees, where Sunday School picnics were held.  

The grove is still there, but north of where I suspect the old one was, there was a new house with a dog and a swingset. No one came to the door when I knocked, hoping to learn where the old house had sat.

Google Earth shows that even the Key West elevator is gone now.

Sherd moved his family at least 13 times, seeking greener pastures. His wife was pregnant nearly every time time they moved, including to and from Minnesota. Goffs moved back to Iowa after only two years. 

Has hunting for old family homes taken you to surprising places?


  1. I am sure learning a lot about a part of our country I knew nothing about; like there was a KeyWest in Minnesota. If only the family at the newer house had answered the door…darn it!

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