Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Step into yesteryear at the stark, yet welcoming, Ottawa Town Hall September 17, 2010

The Ottawa Town Hall was built in 1860 from local limestone.

I ABSOLUTELY COULD NOT believe my good fortune. After peering through a front window into the old town hall and wondering why the lights were on, I pulled (or pushed; I can’t recall which) on the front door. Much to my elation, the door gave way.

Let me preface this by saying that in the past when I have clicked door latches or turned knobs on historic buildings, mostly churches, I’ve met resistance, meaning I was locked out.

I tried the door latch and the door was, to my surprise, unlocked.

But, ah, to feel the door sway, allowing me entrance, gave me that momentary feeling of surprised satisfaction. And look, just look, at what awaited me inside the Ottawa Town Hall.

Inside, the stark room stretched out before me.

Simplistic beauty best describes the interior of this former general store constructed in 1860 from local limestone and today among six Ottawa buildings on the National Register of Historic Places.

To find this village platted in 1853 along the Minnesota River, follow winding Le Sueur County Road 23 northeast of St. Peter. And when you get there, after reading the historical marker and picking up a self-guided tour brochure from the town hall kiosk, try the door.

If you’re as fortunate as me, you’ll step into yesteryear, onto scuffed wood-plank floors, into a building that has been the Ottawa Town Hall since 1902.

If you’re like me, you’ll stand there for a moment or two or three taking in the atmosphere of this place. You can see history in the beadboard walls and ceiling, in the stage flanked by steps and adorned with a scenic canvas curtain reminiscent of melodrama days, in the lone American flag, in the curved-back wooden chairs stacked precisely along the wall.

The stage intrigues me. Who performed here? Do actors and actresses ever grace this stage today?

I tugged at the two side doors that would have given me access to the stage. But, alas, they were locked.

I stroked the stiff canvas of the stage curtian and admired the painted florals.

Ottawa Town Hall chairs

Even the stacked chairs seemed a sculpture of historic art.

If you like “fancy,” you won’t appreciate the starkness of a room awash in white under the blazing light of bare bulbs.

For me, though, there’s something about this town hall that soothes, comforts, makes me feel right at home, as if the door was meant to be left unlocked, the lights switched on in an inviting welcome.

Though rather plain, the town hall possesses a certain welcoming charm.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling