Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Flood clean-up help needed in Faribault and surrounding area September 30, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 2:26 PM
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Floodwaters flooded this rural home (left) at the intersection of Minnesota Highway 3 and Rice County Road 29 north of Faribault. This photo was taken late last Saturday morning from CR 29 by the Straight River bridge.

IF YOU’RE WILLING AND ABLE, you can assist residents of Faribault and the surrounding area with clean-up following last week’s devastating floods.

That’s according to a Code Red recorded telephone message I just received from Rice County Sheriff Richard Cook. After I got over the initial scare of hearing the words “Rice County Sheriff’s Department,” I listened, and then listened again to the request.

Here’s the deal: If you can volunteer with flood clean-up, report to the volunteer coordination center at the Rice County Fairgrounds 4-H building in Faribault. Or, you may register to volunteer by calling (507) 332-6234.

Those in need of clean-up assistance may also call (507) 332-6234.

Click here for flood information updates from Rice County.

If you can assist, please do. Organize your friends, your co-workers, fellow church members, neighbors, whomever, and help with the clean-up.

Rice County Road 29 northeast of Faribault was closed last week due to flooding in the area along the Straight River. The road and adjoining Highway 3 were reopened by Sunday.

The rushing Straight River touched the underside of the Rice County 29 bridge.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Celebrating history and heritage at Christdala Church

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:45 AM
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Christdala's 1880 altar and pulpit join at the front of the Swedish Lutheran church.

THEY COULD NOT HAVE KNOWN, but a hymn they/someone chose for the annual church celebration happened to be my favorite.

Beautiful Savior, King of creation,

Son of God and Son of Man!

Truly I’d love thee, truly I’d serve thee,

Light of my soul, my joy, my crown.

And so I sang, in verse two of fair meadows. Verse three, of bright the sparkling stars on high. And the final verse—glory and honor, praise, adoration.

Only occasionally did I glimpse at the service program, at the words I’d memorized in childhood, sung decades later at my wedding. Beautiful Savior.

Everything about Sunday afternoon at Christdala Evangelical Swedish Lutheran Church in rural Millersburg was beautiful. Sunshine. The pure, clear voice of the soloist singing of saints gathering at the beautiful river. The wisps of steam rising from a percolating coffee pot that I glimpsed through a church window while sitting in a front pew. Art on the lawn by my friend Rhody Yule.

On this September day, descendants of the Gustafsons and other Swedish immigrants who founded this church in 1877 gathered to celebrate their heritage and the 1878 Gothic Revival style wood-frame church that has been preserved.

Voices raised together in song, accompanied by the 1886 pump organ, the church’s second organ. Heads tilted to hear the pastor speak: “Jesus is all about setting us free. Today you are set free.”

The clunk of wood as worshipers settled into pews. Bread dipped into wine. Bowed heads and box elder bugs.

And outside, on the lawn, ham sandwiches and lefse and cake in a lunch spread out on tables, in an open stretch of grass between gravestones.

Hugs exchanged. Here, atop a hill, they gathered—friends and family—to worship, to honor the Swedish immigrants who established this congregation, Christdala, Christ’s Valley.

Communion ware at Christdala and a memorial inscription on the altar cross.

Christdala's baptismal font

Numbers on the hymn board mark the celebration date, September 26, 2010.

Hymn board numbers are worn from years of use, reflecting the long history of this church.

Restoration and preservation of Christdala was detailed, right down to matching the replacement carpet, left in photo, to the original framed carpet sample at the right.

Reminders of the Swedish heritage rest atop a cupboard in a corner of the sanctuary.

All of the windows in Christdala are tipped in blue and yellow, the colors of the Swedish flag. This shows the front door opening south to an archway that frames the valley below.

Inside the entry of Christdala, fresh fall flowers sit next to a print of Christ, the Good Shepherd.

The front doors of Christdala open to reveal a painting of the church hanging inside the entry.

Christdala Swedish Lutheran Church sits atop a hill along Rice County Road 1 west of Millersburg.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


An attack in Argentina and how I’m dealing with the crime in Minnesota September 29, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:50 AM
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WHEN THE PHONE RANG early Tuesday afternoon and I picked up to a dial tone, I didn’t think much of it. Just another telemarketer, I figured. But then, the phone sounded again and my 20-something daughter was on the line, speaking to me from Argentina.

“It’s good to hear from you,” I say, surprised really that she is calling given we spoke only several days earlier.

“Well, uh, Mom, I was robbed last night,” she tells me.

I am shocked, momentarily speechless, until I spit out the dreaded words, “Are you OK?”

She is. But her purse and all of its contents are gone—her debit and credit cards, and other important identification, her cell phone and camera. She is stranded, without money, or access to money, with only her passport, in northern Argentina, hours and hours away from her temporary home in Buenos Aires and 6,000 miles from her Minnesota home.

I am thankful, first, that she has not been physically hurt. She sounds fine; she’s had more time than me to digest what’s happened.

Then I ask for details because I need to know how this happened. My daughter shares how she and her friend Ivanna were walking through a “nice neighborhood” toward downtown around 8:30 p.m. Monday when a man came out of nowhere from behind them. He grabbed for my daughter’s purse and as she fought off her attacker, Ivanna screamed for help. Eventually the man got the purse as my daughter fell to the ground. Her assailant, in his mid 30s, sprinted away, hopping onto the back of a motorcycle driven by his accomplice.

Then my second-born tells me she saw no gun, no knife, and I am relieved, yet scared all over again thinking about the possibilities.

All I want is to see my daughter, to hug her, to feel her hair brushing against my cheek, to tell her I love her, to keep her safe.

But for now I can only listen and offer words and lay out a plan to deal with the aftermath of this crime. She and Ivanna immediately went to the local police station. My daughter tells me they waited for an interminable time to speak to the single employee who was working. Several other employees there were simply joking around, she says, and offered no assistance.

Vicariously I am already angry with the police system in this large northern Argentine city. I wonder what today will bring when the two must return to the police station to work on a composite sketch of their attacker.

Back here in Minnesota, I have already spent hours on the phone contacting companies and agencies about the stolen cards. Everyone I’ve talked to has been kind and understanding when I explain what has happened. That reduces the stress level some. Yet, all the phone calls, all the directives to do this and that are wearing on me. During several conversations my voice cracks and I struggle to keep from totally breaking down.

I know this could happen to anyone, anywhere. My oldest daughter, who lives in Minneapolis, tells me this, that this crime could happen on the streets of Minneapolis. She is right. Yet, when an assault like this occurs in a foreign country, 6,000 miles from Minnesota, the whole situation becomes more complicated by distance and communication issues.

I have no doubt that my daughter will recover. She is a strong woman.

As for me, I am counting the days now—23 of them—until she arrives at The Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. I cannot wait to have my daughter back, safe in my arms, far from the men who would rob her, and me, of our security.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Praise for a 92-year-old artist September 28, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 10:17 AM
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The historic Christdala Evangelical Swedish Lutheran Church.

INSIDE THE SMALL country church, I place my hand atop his, the coolness of his skin seeping into the warmth of my fingers. I feel the slight tremble of his hand, a hand that for some seven decades lifted brush to canvas and metal and wood as he painted.

He is cold, even though dressed in layers. I am warm in my short-sleeved shirt. We wait—me in the stiff-backed pew and him in a folding chair.

In just a few minutes, I will introduce my 92-year-old artist friend to a sanctuary full of worshipers, briefing them on his life as a painter. But how do you condense seven decades of painting into 180 seconds? I do, because I don’t enjoy public speaking and I have time constraints.

He is Rhody Yule, a former sign painter by day. And by night he painted to express himself in hundreds of portraits, landscapes, still-lifes and religious scenes created through the decades.

On this Sunday afternoon we have come by invitation of the Christdala Church Preservation and Cemetery Association of rural Millersburg to showcase nine of Rhody’s religious paintings, including one of Christdala Evangelical Swedish Lutheran Church which he painted in 1969.

This is his debut public art showing and I am thrilled at the opportunity for Rhody, first the subject of a magazine feature article I wrote and now, I am honored to say, my friend.

A humble man of faith, who on more than one occasion has claimed that his paintings “ain’t nothin’” or “aren’t much,” deserves this public display of his art.

So on this perfect Sunday afternoon in September, when the sun filters through leaves tipped in red and golden hues, my husband and I have come to this hilltop site to set his paintings upon easels against the backdrop of the 1878 wood frame church. A woman in reverent prayer. Judas betraying Jesus. The Last Supper.

The simple lines of the church provide an ideal backdrop for Rhody's paintings.

Rhody's depiction of Judas betraying Jesus is among the paintings displayed.

"Our Glorious Savior," "The Empty Tomb" and "The Last Supper" on exhibit.

Jesus appears to, and blesses, doubting Thomas in Rhody's painting.

Rhody calls his painting of the suffering Christ, "Misery."

Here in the churchyard, on a strip of grass between the church and the gravestones of Swedish immigrants, those who have come for Christdala’s annual worship service/open house peruse the nine religious paintings, chat with Rhody, chat with me. They share their admiration for his art.

I am smiling. This is as it should be. Praise for the artist, the slight wisp of a man who, since age 16, has quietly sketched and drawn and painted for the joy of creating.

Artist Rhody Yule sits next to some of his paintings displayed at Christdala.

As the afternoon gathering draws to a close, Rhody gives his Christdala painting to the preservation society. I am unaware that he planned to do this. “It belongs here,” he tells me later. That is so Rhody, to quietly, without a big to-do, present his Christdala painting to those who will most appreciate it.

Rhody's 1969 painting of Christdala church.

THANK YOU to B. Wayne Quist for inviting Rhody and me to participate in Christdala’s annual open house. I am especially grateful for this opportunity to display Rhody’s art for the first time ever. He has also been accepted for a solo art show January 14 – February 26, 2011, in the Carlander Gallery at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault.

PLEASE CHECK BACK for posts about historic Christdala, which closed in 1966.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Faribault flooding, more photos September 27, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:48 AM
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This image, taken Saturday afternoon, shows flooded Second Avenue N.W. looking toward Faribault Foods' offices and canning company on the left, and the former Faribo Woolen Mill and Alexander North Park on the right.

FOR ANYONE WHO’S TIRING of my flood photos, I offer no apologies. Right now we Faribault residents are a bit obsessed with the natural disaster that has struck our town.

As I’ve toured the flooded areas during the past several days, I’ve discovered a sense of community that I’ve never felt in my 28 years here. As we gather along the banks of swollen rivers, peer over bridges, stand beside flooded roads, we understand that we are not only witnessing history, but we are a part of history.

That bonds us. We exchange stories—of raw sewage in basements, of failed sump pumps, of  “I’ve never seen the river this high.” While our stories may differ in detail, the setting, here, in our Midwestern community along the Cannon and Straight rivers, is the common thread that weaves together our experiences.

We can’t stop taking photos, which, pieced together, become a patchwork quilt of memories, of history, of stories.

This shot taken from North Alexander Park frames the former Faribo Woolen Mill along the banks of the flooded Cannon River. The two dams here are no longer visible, river water touches the bottoms of the two bridges and some park land is under water.

The flooded Cannon River by the former Faribo Woolen Mill on the right and Faribault Foods canning company on the left along Second Avenue N.W.. The Woolen Mill dam is no longer visible.

This picnic shelter in Father Slevin Park, on a wedge of land between two branches/two dams of the Cannon River by the former Faribo Woolen Mill was covered with river water.

Cannon River waters edged onto park land near the entrance to North Alexander Park.

Water from the swollen Cannon River covers the roadway into North Alexander Park.

The Cannon River skims both bridges along Second Avenue N.W. To the right is Faribault Foods canning plant.

The bike trail to the left (not pictured) near Second Avenue N.W. is flooded.

I shot this scene along Second Avenue N.W. by the Rice County Historical society. Homeowners through-out Faribault have been pumping water, or raw sewage, from basements.


ALL OF THESE FLOOD PHOTOS were taken Saturday afternoon, September 25, 2010, from North Alexander Park and along Second Avenue N.W. by the Rice County Historical Society.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A birthday treasure September 26, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 10:42 AM
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TODAY IS MY BIRTHDAY. I need to think for a minute exactly how old I am. Take 2010 minus 1956 and you get 54. Yeah, that would be right.

Funny how the years pass and you lose count after 40, or 50. Where did time go?

I bet my mom wonders that, too, today. How could her second-born of six already be “that old?” Yeah, how?

Birthdays back when I was growing up aren’t like birthday celebrations today. Years ago, we gathered with extended family—grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins—a whole houseful crammed into a farmhouse. Pans of bars. Red Jell-O. Summer sausage sandwiches. Homemade dill pickles. Coffee brewing in the kitchen. Bottled pop and Schell’s beer.

And when we left for home around midnight, we wished the birthday girl, or boy, “many more birthdays!” Tradition. Sweet words, sweet wishes.

Because my birthday fell the day after my parents’ wedding anniversary, I seldom “had company” on my birthday. The relatives would come the night before to celebrate the anniversary, then forget all about my special day.

But my mom made my birthday memorable by baking an animal-shaped cake, chosen from a slim book of cake designs. There was no present from my parents—they didn’t have the money for a gift—and I didn’t really know I should expect one. My animal-shaped cake was enough, although my godmother always sewed an outfit for me. She knew I needed new clothes more than anything.

One year my Aunt Rachel gave me a greeting card with an adjustable green-stone ring tucked into a treasure chest. An emerald in my eyes. I slipped the ring onto my skinny girl finger. I wore the ring every day, all the time, until one day I lost it.

Of all the birthday cards I’ve received in my life, I remember that one and how I cried when the mock emerald became buried treasure in our farmyard.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Flood art in Faribault September 25, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 10:10 PM
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IF BEAUTY CAN BE FOUND in floodwaters, then today I discovered it in these images I composed of Faribault Foods’ offices along Second Avenue N.W. across from the Rice County Historical Society.

Faribault's September 2010 flood will go down in the history books.

With “just right” lighting, with the building and landscape and sky reflecting upon the water in the flooded street, the scenes seem almost surreal. My unedited photos possess a serene quality that belies the angst the floodwaters have caused for residents and business owners and government officials.

A roadway arrow directs motorists from Second Avenue N.W. into North Alexander Park.

Just across the street, a resident pumped 3 ½ feet of raw sewage from his basement.

But you would never think that, viewing these images, this flood art.

The light and reflection create a surreal image of Faribault Foods.

This is my favorite image of the Faribault Foods' office. To me this appears more a painting than photo.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Angling in the rushing floodwaters of the Cannon River

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:46 PM
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Fishermen angled for fish in the swollen Cannon River at the King Mill Dam in Faribault Saturday afternoon.

BROTHERS DYLAN AND PARKER and their friend Doug are way braver than me.

No way would you catch me angling for fish along the churning Cannon River at the King Mill Dam in Faribault today. Watching the water tumble and swirl, hearing the rushing roar, made me nervous. But seeing the boys standing so close to the dangerous river, tossing their lines into the mayhem as if they didn’t have a care in the world, caused me even more anxiety.

Only the top parts of a warning sign and of a sidewalk rail peeked above the high water at the dam site.

I was concerned, enough to ask if their moms had given them any special instructions before they left home.

“Watch the speed of the water,” said 14-year-old Dylan.

“Don’t try and fall in,” Doug, also 14, added. Only the 11-year-old didn’t have anything to say.

I suppose the boys thought they were cautious enough, and they really weren’t careless. But one slip on the steps where they fished, or one misstep from the bank, and they would be carried away by the swift-moving waters.

Part of the stairway and sidewalk were submerged in the Cannon River. The boys fished at the bottom of the stairs.

Parker climbed the stairs to the top of the dam with his catch, a sunfish.

I tried not to dampen their spirits; they seemed so content—three boys fishing away a Saturday afternoon, reeling in bass and perch and sunfish. But I wanted them to know, in a subtle way, that I cared about their safety.

A sign at the top of the dam walkway and stairs cautions anglers and others.

Doug crosses the bridge over the King Mill Dam as the river rages below.

The boys set their tacklebox at the top of the stairs, which runs from the top of the dam to the lower river bank.

I didn't worry quite so much when Dylan fished from the footbridge across the top of the King Mill Dam.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Visit Christdala Church for worship, art and a history tied to outlaws

Steps lead from Rice County Road 1 to Christdala Swedish Lutheran Church.

I DOUBT ANY OTHER MINNESOTA church can claim roots in a notorious attempted bank robbery. But Christdala Evangelical Swedish Lutheran Church of rural Millersburg can.

The long-dissolved congregation traces its origins back to the September 7, 1876, attempted robbery of the First National Bank in nearby Northfield. During that failed crime, Nicolaus Gustafson, a Swedish immigrant from Millersburg, was shot point blank in the head by outlaw Cole Younger. He died four days later and was buried in Northfield because the Millersburg Swedish community didn’t have a graveyard, or a church.

The evening of the bank robbery, the Swedish immigrants met to talk about constructing a church and soon thereafter built Christdala.

This Sunday, September 26, the Christdala Church Preservation and Cemetery Association will open the doors to this historic church which sits high atop a hill overlooking Circle Lake just west of Millersburg along Rice County Road 1. On this roadway that passes by the 1878 country church, the James-Younger Gang fled after the botched Northfield raid.

The doors to Christdala, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

I’ll be there Sunday for the 2 p.m. fall worship service led by the Rev. Ralph Baumgartner, pastor of Galilee Evangelical Lutheran Church in Roseville, who has family ties to Christdala. I’m anxious to get inside this sanctuary, which I’ve only viewed through the slats of Venetian blinds while photographing the locked building on a Sunday afternoon in July.

I've only peered through the blinds into the sanctuary.

This Sunday I’ll arrive well before worshipers and the curious and the families with a connection to Christdala. I’ll arrive with a van full of paintings by my 92-year-old artist friend, Rhody Yule of Faribault. Rhody, who has been creating art for 76 years, did an oil painting of the church in 1969. He’s showing that piece and eight other religious-themed works at Christdala’s open house.

He’ll talk a bit. I’ll talk a bit. But mostly, we welcome visitors to pause and study the paintings, to feel the emotions painted into the faces of the disciples, of Christ, of a woman in reverent prayer. Rhody paints with a heart of faith reflected in his art.

Christdala Swedish Lutheran Church painted in 1969 by Rhody Yule.

A snippet of Rhody Yule's painting, one of nine he will show at Christdala.

Christdala visitors can also pick up a copy of God’s Angry Man—The Incredible Journey of Private Joe Haan by B.Wayne Quist. The newly-released book tells the true, powerful life story of Haan (Quist’s uncle), who grew up in an Owatonna orphanage and who served in Patton’s Third Army during WW II. Quist, a member of the Christdala Preservation Association, will donate profits from Sunday’s book sales to Christdala.

Copies of the fall issue of Minnesota Moments magazine, featuring my photo essay on country churches, will also be on sale with a portion of the proceeds benefiting the church.

B. Wayne Quist will sell copies of his latest book, God's Angry Man.

Before and after the worship service, visitors can tour the 1881 Millersburg School, which the Christdala preservation group has refurbished and is transitioning into a community museum. Exhibits include church and school records, photos, military medals and records, Indian artifacts, an old doctor’s buggy and more. Faribault genealogist and preservation member John Dalby will be at the schoolhouse to answer questions.

The Millersburg School has been refurbished and will feature exhibits tied to local history.

Sunday promises to be an interesting day for those who gather at Christdala. It will be a day of history and of art, of worship, of thoughtful remembrances at gravesites, of families reuniting and of others simply coming together on this spot, this Christdala, this “Christ’s Valley,” here where the outlaws once escaped on their galloping horses.

A side view of the 1878 Christdala Swedish Lutheran Church.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Book cover image courtesy of B. Wayne Quist and schoolhouse image courtesy of John Dalby.


Faribault flooding update September 24, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:48 PM
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Under the viaduct, in an area that is typically dry land, the Straight River has spilled outside its banks.

THE ANGRY RIVER DRAWS me, as close as I dare walk to the raging waters. I cannot stay away. For the third time in 24 hours, I have moved in close, taken photos, captured in digital format this history, this flooding of Faribault that I am witnessing.

I am not alone. Residents, young and old, are drawn to the water. Dads bring their children, clasp their hands tightly, keeping them safe from the muddy, churning waters. An old man hobbles to the edge of the Straight River under the viaduct, lifts his cane and points. Others flip open their cell phones, snap images.

A man snaps a photo with his cell phone of the floodwaters under the viaduct.

The Straight River runs through TeePee Tonka Park, a low-lying area prone to flooding. Here water covers the WPA bridge leading into the park.

As the sun begins to slide in the sky, glaring across the water’s surface, I take photos. I climb the hill and stairs to the viaduct, intending to shoot a bird’s eye view of the flooded river far below. But, because I am afraid of heights, I cannot force myself to walk onto the bridge and I turn around.

A few blocks away, I slip past the barriers barricading Ravine Street near Faribault Dairy on the banks of the Straight River. I walk past the bright orange sign that warns DANGER RAW SEWAGE SPILL.

A warning sign on closed Ravine Street near Faribault Dairy.

A company employee outfitted in blue and wearing knee high waders guards the entry to the cheese plant. I figure he might give me some information. But he says only, “Everything’s secure and under control. That’s all I can tell you.” He suggests I check a Web site and then says I need to move back, on the other side of the sidewalk line that separates public property from private. My toes are only inches across the line, but he has his orders and I respect those.

An employee guards the entry to Faribault Dairy, which makes my favorite blue cheese, among other cheeses.

Near the wastewater treatment plant, I cannot believe how much the Straight River has risen in 24 hours. Water now skims the bottom of the bridge. The plant is nearly submerged.

Water has flooded into the wastewater treatment plant along the Straight River.

Water skims the bottom of the bridge across the Straight River on 14th St. N.E. by the wastewater treatment plant.

There I meet a young man who tells me that his sister was getting ready to move into the home she purchased about a year ago right next to the viaduct. She’s been redoing the house. But the Straight River overflowed, flooded the basement with three feet and seven inches of water, he says. With three sump pumps working, the water has now receded to 27 inches.

The basement of this house near the Straight River by the viaduct was flooded with 43 inches of water.

By the Faribo Woolen Mill, I duck under yellow police tape to view the flooding of the Cannon River. As I walk onto the Second Avenue N.W. bridge—the road is closed—I wonder for a moment if this bridge could be swept away like the one in Oronoco. The water is that fast, that scary.

Then, as I leave, a cop car arrives and I think that I’ve left just in time. I know I should not have crossed the yellow tape. But, like all the others who have come to see this moment in history, I cannot stay away.

The Cannon River has risen to bridge level on Second Avenue N.W. by the Woolen Mill Dam.

The Cannon River has risen perhaps 15 feet next to the former Faribo Woolen Mill building, which snuggles against the river by the dam.

Water covers portions of Second Avenue N.W. and land by Faribault Foods.

A scene on Second Avenue N.W. near Faribault Foods.

These photos were taken between 5:30 – 6:45 p.m. Friday evening.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling