“DIRECTIONS: At the west end of the Boulevard of Roses, take Goodhue County 12 south for 1.3 miles and go west on Monkey Valley road for one mile.”
“Let’s go,” I tell my husband Saturday evening after reading an open invitation in the local newspaper to attend worship services at the Old Stone Church. Pair the adjectives “old” and “stone” with church and I already have one foot in the door. Add “Monkey Valley Road,” and you’ve really piqued my interest.
So Sunday morning Randy and I are on our way to Kenyon, where we turn right at the west end of the narrow boulevard lined with roses. We follow the published directions, turning right onto Monkey Valley Road, a gravel road that soon leads us to the Old Stone Church.
I am expecting a church defined, as most country churches are, by a steeple. But, instead, I see before me a simple limestone building that could pass for a schoolhouse. Yet, the plain exterior, minus a steeple, seems perfect for this spot embraced by trees and rolling valleys on two sides and by flat open farm fields on the opposite sides.
Welcome to Monkey Valley.
“How did this place get its name?” I ask a group of men clustered outside the Old Stone Church.
They offer two theories. The first story goes that monkeys escaped from a traveling circus and fled into the wooded valley. The second story goes that a threshing crew arrived here and pronounced: “We’re just going to the valley and monkey around.”
Randy and I buy the monkey story, which seems probable given traveling circuses once roamed the countryside.
“I have to go,” I say, abruptly ending this monkey business. I hear the strains of my favorite hymn, Beautiful Savior, drifting through the open doors and windows. I don’t want to miss this and I am anxious to get inside the small country church.
I’ll later learn that Norwegian immigrants built this structure, beginning in 1872, with limestone cut from a nearby quarry. A historical marker dates the building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, as 1875. And that steeple I wondered about—apparently the church founders discussed a steeple, but never had the money to erect one.
Eventually, those early members moved out of Monkey Valley and, in 1902, Hauge Lutheran congregation built a new church in Kenyon. For years the Old Stone Church stood abandoned. In 1947 restoration began, a process that continues today.
All of this written and memorized history interests me, but only to a point. I prefer, instead, to wander, to notice the details, to take in my surroundings, to appreciate for myself the beauty that this church holds.
THIS IS JUST A SAMPLING of the photos I shot at the Old Stone Church. Please check back for additional images to be posted this week on Minnesota Prairie Roots.
Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling