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?


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


35 Responses to “Sunday afternoon drive snapshot: Discovering Theilman & its historic opera house”

  1. Marilyn Says:

    Those split-face blocks on the opera house are begging to be touched, visually so fetching! I wonder if the last building could have been a fire house in a previous life? The bricks under the picture window look different from the rest of the building.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I didn’t even notice that difference in bricks, Marilyn. Good eye. Theilman has some delightful old buildings, for sure.

  2. Beth Ann Says:

    Very nice little town and the buildings are fabulous!!! I would definitely have been peering in windows right along with you!!!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Oh, I know you would have been, Beth Ann. I always try the doors first and then resort to window peering.

  3. Thread crazy Says:

    Lovely old town – looks like those still living there are doing their best to keep it’s history alive. It’s always interesting to walk through the old cemetaries and think about the individuals buried there.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I was quite impressed with Theilman and the care given the community. I find cemeteries of be of interest from historic, artistic and personal perspectives. As you say, always interesting.

  4. hotlyspiced Says:

    It’s sad to see beautiful churches like these become closed. They were built for people and where have the people gone? We have churches here that when they close down, they are sometimes bought by private individuals who convert them to homes and some have been done extremely well, with great respect for the architecture and structure. These two churches are beautiful and like the opera building, should be preserved – they give the town soul! xx

  5. vicki williamson Says:

    It is a lovely little town. My husband’s grandparents are buried there, so we stop there once in a while. You missed the general store type place there called Roy’s that my husband talks about!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I thought we saw the entire town. Where is Roy’s located? I can’t believe we could have missed anything in Thielman. Return trip in order. Please give me specifics on Roy’s.

  6. “Lovely consort” – I love that!!!

  7. Jackie Says:

    Looks like a lovely town, I don’t believe I’ve been to this one, although I’ve had many a road trip over this way. It is kind of sad about the locked churches theses days but you cant blame them, especially with computer and sound equipment of most modern day churches. My dad’s old church down near Harmony leaves a back door open…we always go in and look around, It’s fun to see old photos of my Dad’s confirmation class and my Grandma in the “ladies circle”. I also liked the old grave stone “lovely consort” 🙂

  8. Jackie Says:

    I also just noticed that the spelling of Theilman doesnt follow the, “i before e except after c rule” Ha

  9. What a Beautiful Town – Loving Your Captures:) Happy Monday!

  10. ryanware Says:

    I’m needing a photo drive badly. One of these days the sun will be out and I’ll have time.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      You totally get it, Ryan. We should form the Sunday Afternoon Drive Club, or something like that. Jackie from “Who Will Make Me Laugh” would also be a charter member. Of that I’m sure. I know exactly how you feel. And now that the weather is turning so darned cold, I know I won’t be getting my on-the-road photo fix as often as I’d like.

  11. Margaret Ekdahl Says:

    I would like to see an original,picture of the opera house to see how you went in the main doors.

  12. marie Says:

    As a resident of Theilman I would like to correct you on one thing. Only one of our churches are closed the little white one has service every other Sunday the big church closed a couple of years ago. It does open its doors once in a blue moon for a wedding or a funeral. The last picture that you posted of the red building use to be a post office ( before I was born I’m 21) then when I was younger a private studio for a musician. If you would to look on the side of that building you would find names carved in the brick going back 3 or so generations of kids that grew up here. Roy’s is a tavern down the road from the old post office. also if you walk up the hill by the red church its cemetery is on top of the hill.

  13. David Danckwart Says:

    I am a volunteer with the Wabasha County Historical Society, the county in which Theilman is a town.

    My parents were married on January 29, 1946 and had their wedding dance at the Theilman Opera House. At that time there were steps to the front of the building. My mom, age 86, has told me that the steps were quite steep and came straight down from the building toward the street. She also said that her sister, Jenny fell once while trying to come down the steps.

    On the night of my parent’s wedding there was a severe snow storm. Many did not get home that evening and stayed with people in Theilman in their homes.

    The Wabasha County Historical Society hosted a movie at the Theilman Opera House during the summer of 2014. The movie “Tumbleweeds” starred William S. Hart, a famous 1920’s silent screen actor who had spent time in the Zumbro Falls area (also in Wabasha County) as a child.

    Additionally, the other “interesting old building” pictured was at first a bank in Theilman. The bank, however, closed in about 1933 during the “bank holiday” of the depression. After that it became the Theilman Post Office which was in operation until about 1980.

    Lastly, not sure if you have a photo or not of the building next door the the bank/post office building. It now looks rather in need of repair, however, it was the Hampe General Store at one time. John Hampe is a member of the Wabasha County Historical Society. His father, grandfather, and great-grandfather had all owned and operated the store for generations. The store had been in their family since 1878.

  14. Theilmann Says:

    my name is Dr. Bernd Theilmann from Germany. I once visited Theilman when I was on Business trip in US.
    I think Theilman was founded thru one of my relatives.

  15. Marie Says:

    The last picture is of the old post office then turned into a music studio for awhile but now sits empty it is owned by a local.

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