Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Part I: Touring historic downtown Montgomery, Minnesota, not Alabama March 4, 2013

A snippet overview of First Street in downtown Montgomery.

A snippet overview of First Street in downtown Montgomery late on a Sunday afternoon.

EARLY ON A SUNDAY AFTERNOON in the dead of a Minnesota winter, downtown Montgomery, except for vehicles clustered around Hilltop Hall for a theatrical performance and around locals bars, is mostly quiet.

A mural on the

A mural depicts downtown. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

The occasional pick-up truck cruises First Street, the main north-south route through the heart of this Le Sueur County farming community of nearly 3,000 noted for its strong Czech heritage.

Although this self-proclaimed “Kolacky Capital of the World” lies only about 25 miles northwest of my Faribault home, I’ve never really explored the town except to attend three plays at Hilltop Hall and to write a magazine feature story about Franke’s Bakery. The 99-year-old bakery specializes in kolacky, a folded Czech pastry filled with poppy seeds or fruit.

Franke's Bakery. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Franke’s Bakery. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

On this Sunday afternoon the bakery is closed. And so are most other businesses. Without distracting vehicles, I can fully appreciate the historic architectural qualities of this downtown. From the aged brick buildings to the vintage signage to the woodframe storefronts that always remind me of something out of a Western, I am smitten with these buildings, this business district.

I must, I tell myself, return to Montgomery when these businesses are open. I can only imagine what discoveries await me.

I love antique shops and thrift stores, so you can bet Sweet Repeats Resale Shop is on my list of places to check out.

I love antique shops and thrift stores, so you can bet Sweet Repeats Resale Shop is on my list of places to check out.

Look, another antique shop, La Nette's Antiques'n Lace.

Look, another antique shop, La Nette’s Antiques’n Lace.

Lots of super cool vintage signage in Montgomery.

Lots of super cool vintage signage in Montgomery.

Because my eldest daughter is in love with a Schmidt boy (nothing to do with the beer), I had to photograph this sign. The striped building is the local meat market.

Because my eldest daughter is in love with a Schmidt boy (nothing to do with the beer), I had to photograph this sign. The striped building is the local meat market.

On the National Register of Historic Places, the historic Westerman Lumber Company office and house is home to Pizzeria 201. The restaurant makes homemade pizzas, a wide selection of Italian foods and more.

On the National Register of Historic Places, the historic Westerman Lumber Company office and house is home to Pizzeria 201. The restaurant makes homemade pizzas, a wide selection of Italian foods and more. I’ve heard rave reviews about the food.

So small town: burgers and a meat raffle promoted on a whiteboard in a restaurant window.

So small town: burgers and a meat raffle promoted on a whiteboard in a restaurant window.

I don't expect I'll get inside this vintage 1800s house tucked between businesses on First Street, but I could try. That's the office of the local newspaper, The Montgomery Messenger, on the left.

I don’t expect I’ll get inside this vintage 1800s house tucked between businesses on First Street, but I could try. That’s the office of the local newspaper, The Montgomery Messenger, on the left.

I absolutely love these small towns that have kept their historic buildings.

I absolutely love these small towns that have kept their historic buildings like this one dated 1896.

TOMORROW, IN THIS FIVE-PART SERIES from Montgomery, I take you to Hilltop Hall, which I’ve visited thrice. After that, we’ll go inside Franke’s Bakery, with photos from my 2010 visit there; I don’t expect much has changed. Next, I’ll show you how this community honors its veterans in a unique way. And then, to end my five-part series on Montgomery, I’ll show you several bonus photos from the town.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling