Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Discovering New Ulm’s Goosetown, across the tracks and down by the river August 2, 2012

DISCOVERING SOMETHING totally unexpected rates, for me, as the plum, the prize, the most interesting aspect of travel.

And you needn’t journey far to find these places. Last Saturday while driving to southwestern Minnesota, my husband and I stopped in New Ulm because I wanted to see the Defenders and German-Bohemian historical monuments. Well, we never did get to the Defenders marker.

The German-Bohemian sculpture and marker in German Park.

But we eventually got directions for and located the immigrant sculpture overlooking scenic German Park. As lovely and manicured as that park is, and I’ll share photos in a future post, it was not the highlight of our visit.

Rather, it was Goosetown which captured my fancy.

We drove across the railroad tracks and past the old Valley Grain Co. to reach Goosetown.

Goosetown is that side of New Ulm—across the tracks and down by the river—where mostly Catholic German-Bohemian immigrants began settling in the late 1800s. They were primarily farmers or retired farmers, of peasant stock. And they kept geese, which wandered and fed along the banks of the Minnesota River.

Goosetown residents worked at the local roller mills, including the Eagle Roller Mill. That mill and the New Ulm Roller Mill once made New Ulm the third largest milling center in Minnesota. The New Ulm flour millers had elevators in three states.

And so the name Goosetown became attached to southeastern New Ulm, specifically to South Front and South Valley streets. The immigrants who lived here labored in nearby roller mills and breweries and worked as carpenters, masons and cigar makers. Women supplemented the family income by making Klöppel lace and/or sewing feather-filled bedding. Families also gathered clam shells from the river for pearl buttons.

At first thought, it all seems rather romantic, this stretch of Gȁnseviertel next to the railroad tracks and river. But I expect life there was hard as families, many of them living in two-room houses, struggled to survive. I also expect, and New Ulmers can correct me if I’m wrong, that this area of town wasn’t always embraced by the community at large. You know that thing about “the other side of the tracks.” Every community seems to have that part of town perceived as less than positive whether due to poverty or people who are different from the majority. Riverside land (and Goosetown is no exception) was once the site of town dumps, which should tell you something, too.

Sisters Amber, 8, and Kiera, 4, pose with Gertie the Goose, a statue donated by Dr. Ann Vogel of New Ulm and located in Riverside Park.

I likely could have learned even more about the history of Goosetown had the Regional River History & Information Center, 101 South Front Street, Riverside Park, been open. The center is housed in the former Franklin School.

Kiera showed me another goose tucked into a flowerbed in front of the river center.

Today New Ulm embraces the heritage of Goosetown with a plaque and statue in Riverside Park. There’s also an occasional Goosetown reunion and Victor “Fezz” Fritsche, leader of the one-time Goosetown Band, was inducted into the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame in 1991.

The logo for the Goosetown Roller Derby Girls who have names like Deutschland Dolly and SoUr Kraut.

Most recently, in January, a flat track roller derby team, Goosetown Roller Girls, was founded.

Goosetown Storage, once the home of Minnesota Seed Company.

A side view of Goosetown Storage, with signage pointing to its original use as the location of Minnesota Seed Company. Anyone know the history of Minnesota Seed?

At least one building is labeled Goosetown Storage and the New Ulm Fire Department has a Goosetown Fire Station next to the train tracks.

Engine House No. 3, commonly known as the Goosetown Fire Station, was established in 1890. The newer station pictured here houses two pumpers. A 47-foot drill tower (not shown here) stands nearby.

Even so, I was unaware of this ethnic treasure until we happened upon Goosetown on Saturday. New Ulm is best known to the touring public as the site of a major battle during the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862; for the August Schell Brewing Co.; the Hermann the German Monument;  the childhood home of author and illustrator Wanda Gag; the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame;  the Glockenspiel; the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity; Way of the Cross stations; the home of Minnesota’s 14th governor, John Lind; and most certainly as a city that features all things German. You can see how historic Goosetown could get lost in that long list of New Ulm attractions.

If you’re like me and appreciate the lesser-known, less touristy aspects of a community, drive across the tracks and down by the river in Anytown. Perhaps you’ll discover a place like Goosetown, rich in heritage and sturdy brick buildings and stories stitched into the land, if only you knew those stories.

FYI: Please check back for more posts from New Ulm.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Goosetown Roller Girls image comes from the team’s website.


18 Responses to “Discovering New Ulm’s Goosetown, across the tracks and down by the river”

  1. hotlyspiced Says:

    What a great discovery. This town has so much there of interest and it would be wonderful to spend a day just wandering around. Those two little girls are very cute! xx

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      New Ulm rates as one of my favorite Minnesota cities. My husband and I really need to spend a full day there as I have not seen all the community has to offer. And, yes, those two sisters are darling and their grandmother was kind enough to allow me to photograph them.

    • Helen Engelking Says:

      I too was born and raised in New Ulm. It is a beautiful clean historic city. I love the stations of the cross and Schell’s Brewery, Hermann Heights and I am familiar with the old Goosetown, I had friends that lived there. Enjoy your posts.

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        You are right in stating that New Ulm is a beautiful, historic city. The Stations of the Cross are on my list of places to see. I really need to spend a full day exploring all the sites in New Ulm. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  2. treadlemusic Says:

    When heading out to the Black Hills, we take Hwy 14 and I so look forward to riding through that lovely town! Such a rich history, unknown to most (even locals, I’m sure). Love the hidden treasures you expose! Today, rain (thankfully!) is preventing DH and I from riding up to Rabbit’s Bakery for lunch, but tomorrow looks like a plan!!!!! All thanks to you, my Dear…..hugs, D

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      You are most welcome, Doreen. So then you drive through Walnut Grove, too? Another one of my favorite towns, located about 25 miles from my hometown of Vesta. I promise to continue sharing those hidden treasures.

      • treadlemusic Says:

        Yes, but, like so many others, we drive right through it without a stop! Someday………

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        Yes, we all need to learn to make time to slow down and stop. Yesterday my husband had one of those slow down, stop and discover days. More info forthcoming.

  3. Nicole Says:

    Thank you for writing such a neat entry about New Ulm! I grew up IN Goosetown. Literally two houses from the fire station and right up the hill from River Side Park, I spent many hours there as a kid! 😀 . Reading your blog was like taking a stroll through memory lane and I loved seeing it through someone else’s eyes. Although I will say I don’t remember ever being “on the oust” for being on the other side of the tracks. Thank you, especially for including the Goosetown Roller Girls. They are how I found your blog. I play and live in St. Cloud now and a member of GRG posted this entry to facebook. Thanks again Audrey, keep up the good work!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      You are welcome, Nicole. I have a few more pix to share from that area of New Ulm and need to get a post online with those. I love discovering places like Goosetown. So glad to hear that you were never considered to be from the other side of the tracks. I assumed that might be the case, as it is in many towns, and I’m glad I was wrong.

  4. How interesting to look through your post and see my cousin’s daughters pictured! Those two little girls are 5th generation Goosetown residents. My dad has fond memories of growing up in Goosetown.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Their grandma did not tell me the girls were fifth generation Goosetown residents. Thank you for pointing that out. That makes this photo essay even more endearing.

  5. John Schlumpbergr Says:

    I was in New Ulm yesterday. Born there in 1934. We lived on the correct side of
    the tracks but not by much – – I lived on German Street. Dad had a grocery store
    on Minnesota Street, grandpa had a cigar store a few doors down. And by the way,
    mother lived in Goose town before all.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I love New Ulm and am especially intrigued by Goosetown. I can only imagine the hardworking immigrants who lived there, their love of family, the customs, the languages spoken. Thanks for stopping by, John. I always enjoy hearing from readers.

  6. Goosetown Kid Says:

    Interesting post as I also grew up in Goosetown. I spent the first 18 years of life there and all those photos are of my old stomping grounds. My dad was captain of the Goosetown station and that grandma you met babysat me when I was a infant/toddler.

    Thanks for the post.

  7. Vi Says:

    ahh..such great memories of Ganstadt (Goosetown) where the captain of No. 3 Goosetown Fire Station and I raised our 4 children. I sent them out the door and across the street to Riverside Park! Now I live in Goosetown (fictionally) as being part of the Narren of New Ulm whose home is Ganstadt!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I love this, Vi. What a great place to raise a family. New Ulm has always been one of my favorite Minnesota communities, one my husband and I drive through every time we travel back to my hometown of Vesta.

      My mom is originally from the Courtland area and we used to have Bode family reunions at Hermann Heights Park.

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