Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Zip code 56046 July 26, 2011

THE NEXT TIME YOU’RE traveling Interstate 35 south of Owatonna, instead of whipping by the Hope exit at 70 mph, pull off the freeway and check out this unincorporated community of 120 residents, probably best-known outside of Steele County for Hope Creamery butter.

Unless my husband and I missed the signage, we never saw a sign marking the creamery and simply guessed that the butter-making operation is housed in an old brick creamery on the edge of town next to a farm.

But we discovered several other places of interest after parking our car along the one main road that cuts through Hope. Yes, you need to park your vehicle, get out and walk, rather than simply driving through town thinking, “There’s nothing here.”

You would be wrong, oh, so wrong.

First point of interest: 56046. That would be the Hope Post Office. With a street front facade resembling the general stores of yesteryear or perhaps a building from a western movie set, this old-style structure charms.

The Hope Post Office sits along Main Street. The elevator complex in the background is just across the train tracks.

Take in the details: the red and blue bench, the double front doors, the rock out front, the welcoming porch...

Even the lettering on the front window has old-style charm.

Maybe it doesn’t take much to impress me, but I appreciate buildings with character. I quickly determined that the post office serves as Hope’s community hub. I pulled open the screen door and stepped inside a closet of an entry, the door to the post office to my left, the door to a gift shop to my right. Smack in front of me, I found business cards and signs, church festival notices and other information tacked onto a bulletin board. A clutch of rubber-banded newspapers lay on the floor in front of the post office door.

The community bulletin board inside the post office entry.

A clutch of bundled newspapers outside the locked interior post office door.

From inside the post office entry, a view across the street of the bank and an antique store.

Since I was there on a Sunday afternoon, I had to settle for standing outside, peering through the large, cracked and taped front windows to view the customer service area that is smaller than most bathrooms. But it serves the purpose and I’m sure Hope folks are happy to still have their post office.

I always figure once a community loses its school, its post office and its bank, well then, you may as well close up the town. So far, Hope has only lost its school.

Today the U.S. Postal Service releases a list of 3,600-plus post offices under consideration for possible closure in a cost-cutting effort. I hope Hope is not among them.

Post office hours are listed on a cracked and taped front window.

CHECK BACK FOR MORE posts out of Hope and other area communities I recently visited while on a Sunday afternoon drive. It’s my philosophy that most of us are missing out on the treasures of small-town U.S.A. because we fail to get off the freeways, park our vehicles on Main Street and explore. Either that or we’re “too busy” to slow down and notice the details worth noticing in our small towns.

If anyone knows about the history of the Hope Post Office, submit a comment. I would like to learn more about this building.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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15 Responses to “Zip code 56046”

  1. PJ Says:

    I’ve always thought that a town seems to change once it loses its own public library too.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I suppose that’s true also, if the town ever had a public library. My hometown of Vesta in southwestern Minnesota, for example, never had a library. Thankfully some small towns are now served by bookmobiles.

      Your comment made me think even more about business losses that really impact small towns. Closuree of a grocery store would also rank high.

      • PJ Says:

        My little town in Wisconsin lost its public library when I was 16 (I was one of the last student sub librarians!–and that was my future profession!). It died a little more when it lost a restaurant. They haven’t had a consistent cafe since…just taverns who happen to serve food as an afterthought.

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        I agree that closing of a cafe is another loss deeply impacting small towns. When the restaurant in my hometown closed, the community banded together and invested in a community-owned cafe. I don’t know if that’s the answer either as they’ve been unable to keep consistent managers running the place.

        It’s really a struggle in this economy for small town businesses. Add in the big box retailers and our mobile society and, well, you get the picture.

  2. Amy Says:

    Oh, that’s a perfect fit for my Post Office Project series. I need to get down there. It is sad, little towns losing their post offices. My parents’ town (pop. 197) is losing theirs, and they’re really bummed.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Refresh my memory, Amy. Are you working on a book, or?

      Where is the post office located that your parents are losing? I understand the need to save money, but older folks, especially, in these small towns need their post offices.

  3. Amy Says:

    No, it’s just an occasional photo series on my blog. When I was out traveling last summer, I took photos of lots of charming post offices. My parents live in Tenstrike. The problem is there are several small towns with post offices nearby, so it does make business sense to consolidate.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thanks, Amy. I think post offices would make a good subject for another Doug Ohman book. He’s done the series on Minnesota barns, churches, libraries, etc.

      By the way, I had to look up Tenstrike on a Minnesota road map because it’s a town I had not heard of. I see it’s northeast of Bemidji. I just learned something new today.

      Make sure you also visit the Mantorville Post Office sometime. It’s another one worth photographing.

  4. randy Says:

    The USPS may have to close that outlet for mail delivery. It is not very handicap accessible and the train doesn’t throw the mailbag off reliably anymore. However, I see they are protected from terrorist attack with the boulders out front!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Those are all excellent points. I thought the same thing when I saw the boulder out front. Didn’t think of the train angle, though. And you’re right on with the handicap accessible point. No way a wheelchair (maybe a walker) could squeeze into that post office. I’ll be checking online later today to see if the list of post offices for potential closing has been published.

  5. Josh Says:

    Thanks for writing about Hope Butter!! I have seen postcards from the 1930’s calling Steele County, “The Butter Capital of the World”. There are many more brick creamery buildings still standing in Steele County’s various townships. Hope butter is served with the great pancake breakfasts at the Eagles Club in Owatonna on random Sunday mornings. The pancakes are awesome!!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I’ve never tried Hope Creamery butter, but I’ve read rave reviews online from metro area cooks and bakers. There’s something about that butter. Someday I’d like to tour this butter-making facility.

      Thanks for the tip that more such old creamery buildings exist in Steele County. Sounds like another road trip.

      I have lots more stories and photos to share from Steele County, so be sure to check back. You’d be surprised what awaits discovery.

      • vicki Says:

        Thank you once again for your lovely stories about small town Minnesota. Very heart warming. I don’t get to check the website out often enough, but every single time I do, I LOVE what I see…

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        Thank you for your kind words, Vicki. I love sharing the stories of rural and small-town Minnesota. These are the stories closest to my heart, reflecting my farm upbringing. I promise to keep bringing you more images and stories that show the heart and soul of our small towns.


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