Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Take time to stop and appreciate small towns August 11, 2011

In tiny Belview, you'll find the 1901 Odeon Hall. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this Queen Anne style building features a barrel-vault ceiling. Still in use today for wedding receptions and community events, etc., Odeon Hall once also featured vaudeville shows, motion pictures, concerts and more.

I WANT TO THROW a challenge out there. The next time you’re driving through/near small-town Minnesota, or small-town wherever, stop. Pull off the highway and drive along Main Street. Park your vehicle. Get out. Walk. Look. See.

Notice the buildings, the architecture, the signage, the history. Consider what centers the town: the café, the post office, the grain elevator, the churches, the school—if there is a school.

Families, retirees and even single people choose to live, to work, to worship together, to celebrate, to mourn, to live their lives here. This is their home, not just some town in the middle of nowhere that you must pass through to get from destination A to destination B.

I have, in recent years, begun to appreciate the small towns and rural areas of Minnesota more than ever. I grew up on a dairy and crop farm in southwestern Minnesota, which is about as rural as you can get. But I haven’t always valued that upbringing like I should.

As I’ve gotten into the art of photography, I’ve begun to view these towns with a fresh perspective. I notice what, in the past, I’ve overlooked or taken for granted because of my rural roots.

Let me show you some photos I took recently in and near Belview, a community of 375 located four miles north of State Highway 19 in northwestern Redwood County. Belview lies about 10 miles from my hometown of Vesta, another one of those small towns that motorists zip by without a second thought. I bet you didn’t know that Vesta is the home of the nation’s first electric cooperative. I thought so.

That’s the thing about small towns. If you stop and walk and look and see, and I emphasize the word, see, you will discover more than just a place to drive through when getting from point A to point B. You will discover the heart and soul of community.

Move in close to view the details, like the front of Odeon Hall. I attended a cousin's wedding dance here decades ago. Imagine the celebrations inside this historic building.

Most small towns, like Belview, are fortunate to still have a place where you can get your hair cut and styled. I appreciate the simple lines of this brick building located along Main Street.

I discovered this poster in the window of a Main Street building advertising a local band, HickTown Mafia. The band plays "country with a kick, rock with an attitude," according to the group's website.

I found this abandoned former gas station (I think) on a downtown corner. This charming building practically shouts for someone to reopen it as a bakery, coffee shop, antique store or some other such venue. Perhaps the two local wineries/vineyards and other area vendors could market their products here.

The Parkview Home, a Belview nursing home, was once home to my maternal grandfather and to other extended aging family members. I've been here often to visit relatives and, during high school, to sing Christmas carols with the Luther League. The building was damaged in a July 1 tornado (note the blue tarp on the roof) and residents have been temporarily displaced.

Northwest of Belview, you'll find picturesque Rock Dell Lutheran Church. My Uncle Merlin and Aunt Iylene Kletscher were married here in November 1964, the last time I was inside the church.

A side view of Rock Dell.

Near Rock Dell you'll find Swedes Forest Township Hall in the middle of corn and soybean fields.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Belview, click here and here. Also read my previous post about Rainbow Antiques, Crafts and Junque in Belview by clicking here.

TAKE MY CHALLENGE and report back to me on the treasures you discover in a small town or rural area.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling