Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

I discover Plainview & then the curtain falls November 15, 2013

A snippet of Plainview's downtown.

A snippet of Plainview’s downtown.


It’s not like I live a great distance (60 miles) from Plainview, home of the Jon Hassler Theater and Rural America Arts Center. But I’d never been to this rural town 20 miles northeast of Rochester until recently. A wrong turn on a Sunday afternoon drive led my husband and me into this Wabasha County community of some 3,300.

In the heart of the community, the Jon Hassler Theater and Rural America Arts Center.

In the heart of the community, the Jon Hassler Theater and Rural America Arts Center.

And there we discovered the old farm implement dealership building turned arts center—complete with theater, art gallery, bookstore and writers’ retreat center.

Dean Harrington showed me copies of Green Blade, the annual literary journal produced by writers who gather here.

Dean Harrington showed me copies of Green Blade, the annual literary journal produced by writers who gather here.

We met Dean Harrington, local banker, arts center enthusiast and CEO of the Rural America Arts Partnership, who was manning the front desk during the afternoon production of Ole & Lena’s 50th Wedding Anniversary & Vow Renewal. I swear Harrington could have been noted Minnesota author and former Plainview resident Jon Hassler’s twin right down to his sweater vest.

As close as I got to the theater.

As close as I got to the theater.

I wished right then and there that I was seated in the theater, belly laughing at/with Ole and Lena. But it was near intermission, much too late to join the audience.

Words & Afterwords Book Store sells ne

Words & Afterwords Book Store features more than 4,000 used and selected new titles.

Instead, I settled for poking about the gallery and bookshop and snapping a few photos and thinking, how grand to have a place like this in Plainview that embraces the arts. A return trip for a more in-depth look at this community and theater is definitely needed. Maybe next time with play tickets in hand.


I’ve had the above ACT I in my draft posts for a few weeks. I never expected to be penning an ACT II. But in a story reported Thursday on Minnesota Public Radio (quoting the Rochester Post-Bulletin), I learned that the Jon Hassler Theater is closing at the end of 2014. I didn’t see that coming. Dean Harrington offered no hint of the theater’s tenuous situation when we spoke briefly a few weeks ago.

But apparently the audience just isn’t there to continue supporting a theater in Plainview. Plans are to keep the self-supporting bookstore, the art gallery and the writer’s retreat open.

Just two days ago I received an email from the Jon Hassler Theater inviting me to a reading and Q & A by Northfield writer Scott Dominic Carpenter, author of Theory of Remainders and This Jealous Earth. Carpenter will be the Third Wednesdays guest reader at 7 p.m. on November 20.

And now this, this news about the theater’s closing comes. Before I’ve even seen the curtain rise in the Jon Hassler Theater, I’ve seen it fall. Anytime a rural community loses local access to the arts, it’s not good.

I’m fortunate to live in a community with a strong theater presence (Paradise Community Theatre and The Merlin Players) at the Paradise Center for the Arts in historic downtown Faribault. I don’t have to, and don’t want to, drive to the Cities to see great theater. Yet, I know many local residents who’ve never set foot inside the Paradise, but who regularly travel to the Cities for their arts fix. It’s this type of ambivalence and lack of local support, in my opinion, that lead to an outstate theater’s demise.

Apparently the audience numbers weren’t there in Plainview and now this small town is losing its theater.


Here are a few more photos of that inviting bookstore inside the Rural America Arts Center and of downtown Plainview.

Theater books for sale.

Theater books for sale.

A cozy bookstore nook.

A cozy bookstore nook.

Loved this bookstore signage by the coffee pot up front.

Loved this bookstore signage by the coffee pot up front.

Across the street from the arts center.

Across the street from the arts center.

Meaningful mural details.

Meaningful mural details.

The back of Auto Value, across the street also from the arts center.

The back of Auto Value. If you walk up the sidewalk, cross the street and go left, you will find the arts center.

A birth announcement in the front window of a downtown business, converted to black-and-white so it's readable.

A birth announcement in the front window of a downtown business, edited to photocopy black-and-white so it’s readable.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


32 Responses to “I discover Plainview & then the curtain falls”

  1. Beth Ann Says:

    Looks like a fun place and too bad it is going by the wayside. I especially liked the signage by the coffee pot—I would be right there pouring a cup!

  2. Jackie Says:

    We took my mom and dad to a play at this theater a few years ago, it was such a neat play house, small but cozy. We enjoyed the vintage farm equipment next to the Theater, mom and dad both sharing about the tractors, some of them were “just like” the ones my grandpa’s had. So sad to hear of the closing of John Hassler Theater, sad for Plainview as well!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Good to hear you’ve been to the Jon Hassler Theater. I wish I could have peeked inside the theater. But that wouldn’t go over too well during the middle of a performance.

      I did not notice any vintage farm equipment. Either I wasn’t paying attention or it wasn’t there.

      Sounds like you and your parents had a great time.

  3. Great Captures – I want to sit in that reading area:) Happy Weekend!

  4. hotlyspiced Says:

    What a shame. It’s so true that unless the local community supports these theatres, they’re forced to close down. I love a night out at a local theatre – it can be so much fun and you always run into people you know so it can be very social too. We went away to a little coastal town a few months ago and same thing, the gorgeous and very beautiful old theatre had just closed! Such a shame because the building was up for sale and it would be a crime to pull it down and have the town lose all the charm and character of the architecture xx

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Well said, Charlie.

      I so appreciate local access to theatre and other types of art. Growing up in a rural area as I did, without access to the arts, makes me truly appreciate what we have right here in our community.

  5. Thread crazy Says:

    I always enjoy your writings as you give us an insight into our small towns and their activities, that we would otherwise not know.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thank you. That’s precisely what I try to do. Our small towns are such treasures and they inspire me in my writing and photography.

  6. Marilyn Says:

    Technically I am supposed to be retired. I don’t know what that means as I’m busier now than ever! I just wish I had a spare afternoon to chill out in a bookroom like that. Locally we have a senior citizens theatre group – marvelous productions – which probably don’t depend heavily on public attendance. That’s another “I wanna” for me, to get involved in theatre. That is, if they had a part that fitted me and my bodily shape!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      A senior citizens theatre group sounds like a great idea. I’m sure a part could be found for you, no matter your body shape. It’s the talent that counts.

  7. vicki williamson Says:

    I went to a play there years ago and really enjoyed it. I’m sorry to hear it will be closing. Since Sept I have been going to the dentist and parking there on the mural corner! Coincidence!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      That’s a great mural, isn’t it, Vicki? Are there any other places in Plainview that I should see?

      • vicki williamson Says:

        There is a little house in town that is the birthplace of Watkins, yes, that Watkins! I saw an article about it once, but I’m not sure where it is, but someone knowledgeable will know. I will ask at the dentist tomorrow!!!

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        Alright, Vicki, I’ll await your report. I thought that Watkins honor went to Winona. It sounds, for sure, like I need to revisit Plainview and Theilman to see what I missed during our quick stops.

      • vicki williamson Says:

        The JR Watkins House is located one intersection past the mural, take a left, then down a couple blocks. There is a sign in the yard. The Historic info building is an old church to the south of that Auto parts store you picture across from the theater.

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        I remember the church. Thanks for the directions on the Watkins house.

      • vicki williamson Says:

        Oh, gees, I ended up back in Plainview again today and I had to look up the house and I did find it! A sign on the front porch said JR Watkins House, Open Sat. 1-4.

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        Excellent, Vicki. I hope you live close to Plainview given all your trips there. I can’t recall where you moved after the flood. Zumbro Falls sure looks different with all those homes gone. Not much left there.

      • vicki williamson Says:

        I now live 9 miles from my Grandson! From the valley in Hammond, we moved to the top of the big hill south of Cannon Falls! We’re just a couple miles off of 52, with no visable neighbors, it’s a nice location! I couldn’t bear to change dentists, so I drive a long ways! It gives me a chance to see my old stomping grounds again…

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        Your new home sounds like it’s in a lovely location, Vicki. I wish, though, that you would not have had to endure a flood to end up there.

      • vicki williamson Says:

        Yes, Audrey, I, too wish we wouldn’t have had to endure the flood. I still miss my house! I had put a lot of myself into it! Surprising how much my Grandson misses and remembers, too. Being closer to him has been a godsend to us helping us to get through it all.

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        It is good that you can see the blessing in the challenges.

  8. Haynes LeRoy Says:

    I was the interim minister at the Presbyterian church a couple years ago. Plainview has an amazing arts activities. The Presbyterian church does a musical every fall that includes people from the whole community. The curator of the Museum located in the old Methodist church writes a musical every year presented in the summer. His musicals a based on historical events in the town. His work is amazingly good. The songs and lyrics and dance are very good.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Good to hear from you, LeRoy. Has this musical been performed in the Jon Hassler Theater? Just on my short stop in Plainview, I was impressed by the arts offerings in such a small community.

  9. Our friend with the Merlin Players will be back there in February, I believe. I don’t remember what he said the play will be. Frog and Toad was so wonderful there when we saw it. How sad that the theater is closing in Plainview, but how awesome beyond belief to have – and keep – a writers retreat!!!!

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