Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Inside the Old Stone Church, rural Kenyon, Minnesota June 27, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:35 PM
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“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.

Once a year a worship service is held at the Old Stone Church, built by Norwegian immigrants near Kenyon.

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.

During a service filled with music, the choir and congregation sing in Norwegian, "Ja, vi elsker." The wire rods you see anchored to the walls (running horizontally across the top of the photo) provide structural stability.

Rugged pews and rustic wood floors remind worshipers of bygone years. Copies of The Concordia Hymnal, piled on a pew, date to 1967. The hymn books are stashed in covered plastic containers after the service.

I lean forward and photograph the hands of an elderly woman in quiet meditation. This image, more than any photo I take, captures the essence of the Old Stone Church. For in these folded hands and in the back of the roughly-hewn pew, history and faithfulness meld, encompassing the importance of preserving historic churches.

Sitting near the back of the church, I study these words, thinking in German until I remember I am inside a Norwegian church. After the service, I talk with historian and preservationist Bob Dyrdahl. The scriptural quote comes from John 3:16, he tells me. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son..." Sure enough, upon closer examination I determine that Bob knows his Norwegian.

I run my fingers across the flowers on the pulpit and imagine the rough hands of a Norwegian immigrant shaping this wood into a beautiful work of art. In the background is the top of the altar, defined by tablets, signifying the 10 Commandments and centered by a cross and a painting of The Last Supper.

In the balcony, historian Bob Dyrdahl shows me this treasure, the dated (October 30, 1894) signature of A. P. Lindgren who painted stars upon the ceiling and edged it with this stenciled border. His work also graces other sections of the sanctuary, along the stairway, for example.

A rear view of the Old Stone Church, a simple structure with three shuttered windows on each side of the building.

A stone's throw from the Old Stone Church, a view of Monkey Valley.


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


15 Responses to “Inside the Old Stone Church, rural Kenyon, Minnesota”

  1. Fascinating story and great pictures of detail. I love the carved wood.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thank you, Gordon. I’m all about noticing detail when I visit old churches and the Old Stone Church has much to appreciate in the details.

  2. prafeston Says:

    Great shot of the hands and pew. Really captures alot!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thanks for visiting Minnesota Prairie Roots and for sharing in my love of old churches.

      That hand shot was a photo op I couldn’t miss, even if it meant a rather curious look from the worshiper sitting next to me in the pew. The lighting was ideal and the hands the perfect example of faithful contemplation.

  3. sartenada Says:

    You are right with the Norwegian text You translated. Allthough I can speak Swedish, the Norwegian is very close to it.

  4. Donna Lyon Says:

    We lived near Kenyon but I never saw this church! If you want to see a beautiful OLD church, with steeple. Visit the Baptist Church in West Concord. The congregation built a new church out on the highway somewhere. I went to Sunday school in the old church, 1945 – 1952….

  5. Anne Rita Lillebø Says:

    fascinating – I’m a Dyrdal from Norway, I would love to visit this Church which my distant relatives helped to build. Lovely photos.
    Anne Rita Lillebø

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Anne, thanks for checking out Minnesota Prairie Roots via Norway.

      The Old Stone Church is beautiful in its simplicity and I’m sure you would appreciate this house of worship given your personal connection.

  6. Mel Says:

    My grandfather, Martin Hall was a pastor there.I have pictures from my Aunt of confirmation classes from the old stone church at Asplund 1928-1946, missing 1932, 1934, 1938. Do you want them?

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thanks for the offer of the photos. The church may want them. What a treasure. But you will need to contact the church as I am not associated with the church in any way, only a blogger who visited it.

  7. DAN Peterson Says:

    Hello Audrey.

    I received this from a fellow in our Civil War Roundtable. Loved the explanations and comments. Fun to read your writings.


  8. Bernhard Bjornsen Says:

    My great great grandfather helped organize this church. Been there a few years ago to the service.

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