Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Sunday afternoon drive snapshot: Discovering Theilman & its historic opera house November 17, 2013

WHEN SUNDAY AFTERNOON DRIVES with my husband lead us to undiscovered hamlets and historic treasures, I am especially pleased.

Recently, heading east of Zumbro Falls along Minnesota Highway 60, we turned onto Wabasha County Road 4 aiming south for Theilman. Neither of us had ever heard of Theilman, an unincorporated West Albany Township community. Precisely the type of place we prefer.

Driving into Theilman, we met a lot of trucks pulling horse trailers.

Entering Theilman, located between Lake City and Plainview.

Driving into this settlement, we were impressed. Often times we find such tucked away spots to be unkempt with run-down properties, junk vehicles and a seemingly carefree abandon lifestyle. But not, for the most part, in Theilman.

Well kept homes and a small playground/park border one side of the main drag, where I spotted this mass of signage on the corner by St. Joseph's Catholic  Church.

Well-kept homes and a small playground/park border one side of the main drag, where I spotted this mass of signage on the corner by St. Joseph’s Catholic Church.

Overall, folks here seem to care about this place with well-kept homes, two churches (although both are closed and one appears to be a private residence) and, the most fabulous discovery of all, a restored opera house.

Another truck and horse trailer pass by the old Catholic church.

Passing by the old Catholic church.

As we stopped to investigate, a steady stream of pick-up trucks pulling horse trailers passed through Theilman, exiting the nearby Zumbro Bottoms Horse Campground.

Strong, study and beautiful St. Jospeh's Catholic Church.

Strong, study and beautiful St. Joseph’s Church.

The restored Theilman Opera House.

The restored Theilman Opera House.

I was disappointed, but not surprised, to find the doors to the century old Theilman Opera House and the next door 1903 St. Joseph’s Catholic Church locked. I resorted to peering in an opera house side window, where I spotted a bar area and an apparent kitchen.

Theilman, Opera House close-up

As Randy and I studied the opera hall exterior, he speculated on its use, perhaps as a former livery stable. He noted reinforcing beams on the building’s front. He has a good eye and sense of history. I later learned he was right about the building. The lower level once held horses while folks danced upstairs or were entertained by traveling medicine shows.

According to the Theilman Opera House Facebook page, the building was pretty much falling apart when locals recently stepped up to save it. Today, with those reinforced walls, a new roof, new flooring, electrical work and other improvements, the 100-year-old opera hall is available for event rental.

Fabulous. I love when a community rallies to save an historic landmark.

Now, what about the next door Catholic church? What does the future hold for that building?

BONUS PHOTOS:

We walked the cemetery behind he wood-frame church and found numerous Theilman family graves, including this one. It drew my attention for the words, "lovely consort."

We walked the cemetery behind he wood-frame church and found numerous Theilmann family graves, including this one. It drew my attention for the words, “lovely consort.” And I also noticed that the Theilmann on the marker is spelled with two “n’s” unlike the single “n” in the town’s name.

Theilman's two churches. I believe the wood one is now a private residence as no sign marked it as a sanctuary.

Theilman’s two churches. I believe the wood one is now a private residence as no sign marked it as a sanctuary and it appears to be a home.

St. Joseph's Church, still an active Catholic parish.

St. Joseph’s Church, a closed parish of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Winona, according to info I found online.

Another interesting old building in Theilman. Would love to know its history.

Another interesting old building in Theilman. I would love to know its history.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling