THE THING ABOUT SMALL TOWNS is this. They’re not boring cookie cutter places with chain stores and look-alike subdivision houses occupying space in the middle of nowhere. I know, I know, you likely disagree about that “boring and middle of nowhere” if you live in a sizable city.
But these small towns possess individuality and character. And by small town, I mean a community of 5,000 or fewer residents. Just want to be clear on the definition.
Exploring small towns is something I enjoy, probably because I grew up on a dairy and crop farm near Vesta, current population around 330 or so, among the corn and soybean fields of southwestern Minnesota.
I’m intrigued by these communities which are most often ignored as simply, sigh, another place to slow us down as we rush from one destination to the next. I’m as guilty as the next traveler in feeling that way.
But sometimes I intentionally slow down. In recent years my husband and I have embraced Sunday afternoon drives, not unlike the Sunday drives of my youth. Dad would guide the family car along the washboard gravel roads of Redwood County, sometimes venturing into neighboring Yellow Medicine County, so we could look at the crops.
While Randy and I sometimes take gravel roads, our ultimate destination is typically Main Street. We meander to a nearby small town, park our vehicle, get out and walk. It is then that we discover the quirks, the character, the feeling of community and closeness which define a given town.
Our most recent Sunday jaunt took us to Waterville, only 15 miles from Faribault. I’ve been into this lakeside town of nearly 1,900 perhaps half a dozen times, just to drive through it, tour Ron’s Hardware (a story in itself, but it was closed the Sunday we were there), enjoy an ice cream treat and, many years ago, to grab a burger and beer at the Corner Bar.
Mostly, though, Waterville has been a town my family zips past along Minnesota Highway 60 en route west. By doing that, I’ve missed out, missed out on the defining details. And the easiest way to notice those details, when Main Street businesses are mostly closed on a Sunday, is to check out the signage.
Welcome to Waterville, Minnesota, Bullhead Capital of the World, where signs hint at this community’s individuality and character.
CHECK BACK FOR A FUTURE post featuring one of Waterville’s newest businesses.
© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling