Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Amboy: A thriving community in rural Minnesota February 5, 2014

Looking down Maine Street in Amboy, Minnesota.

Looking down Maine Street in Amboy, Minnesota.

FOLKS IN AMBOY understand the importance of building their community’s future, of distinguishing their town as a destination in rural Minnesota.

Merchandise displayed inside Oak Knoll Angoras' Acorn Studio. Lisa Lindberg, who owns The Amboy Cottage Cafe, owns this with her mother, Maria Lindberg.

Merchandise displayed inside Oak Knoll Angoras’ Acorn Studio. Lisa Lindberg, who owns The Amboy Cottage Cafe, owns this with her mother, Maria Lindberg. The studio sits just down the block from the cafe.

On a brief visit last July to Amboy, population 535 and located 20 miles south of Mankato, I discovered an inviting Maine (yes, that’s the correct spelling) Street defined by sturdy old brick buildings, quaint shops, a one-of-a-kind cafe, and a deep appreciation of history and the arts.

An artsy display inside Frame It Arts & Antiques, 112 East Maine Street.

An artsy display inside Frame It Arts & Antiques, 112 East Maine Street.

This is my kind of small town, one focused on showcasing local talent and history and all that makes Amboy a great community.

Signage on the fence at The Amboy Cottage Cafe lists downtown businesses.

Quaint signage on the fence at The Amboy Cottage Cafe directs visitors to downtown businesses.

Business owners and others clearly work hard to draw visitors off U.S. Highway 169 onto Maine Street. The Amboy Cottage Cafe initially drew my husband and me here for lunch while en route to Worthington in late July 2013.

Yarn for sale at Acorn  Studio.

Yarn for sale at Acorn Studio.

Afterward, we poked around in several downtown shops before heading out. We were short on time, or we would have explored more.

You'll find lots of businesses open in downtown Amboy.

You’ll find lots of businesses open in downtown Amboy.

Amboy deserves a second look, a few hours of time to check out the businesses and the rest of the town. In rural Minnesota, this community seems determined to survive and thrive, building on its strengths.

Amboy's Maine Street features mostly well-kept old brick buildings.

Amboy’s Maine Street features mostly well-kept old brick buildings.

The visually welcoming Sweet Cicely, a boutique offering fine gifts and natural health products.

The visually welcoming Sweet Cicely, a boutique offering fine gifts and natural health products.

Details like well-kept buildings without boarded up windows, pots overflowing with luscious flowers, welcome banners on Maine, a general overall tidy look and more visually impress.

Lisa Lindberg saved this old gas station from demolition, moved it onto a corner of Maine Street and restored it for use at The Amboy Cottage Cafe. The cafe features made-from-scratch food and draws diners from all over the region.

Lisa Lindberg saved this old gas station from demolition, moved it onto a corner of Maine Street and restored it for use as The Amboy Cottage Cafe. The cafe features made-from-scratch food and draws diners from all over the region.

And then there are the old buildings which have been saved, like The Amboy Cottage Cafe, once a gas station.

A group also saved the old elevator, now Grainspace LLC.

A group also saved the old elevator, now Grainspace LLC, located across the street from The Amboy Cottage Cafe.

Across the street, the old elevator, slated for demolition, was purchased by a group and is now being restored for use as an arts venue and community gathering spot.

This depot was moved into Amboy from Huntley and now serves as a welcome center for those attending the town's annual Arts 'n' More Festival.

This depot was moved into Amboy from Huntley and now serves as a welcome center for those attending the town’s annual Arts ‘n’ More Festival in September.

The Amboy Area Community Club is supporting restoration of an old depot relocated here from nearby Huntley.

An old country schoolhouse was moved into town, restored and is now an historical education center and site of special community events. The 1901 Dodd Ford Bridge, on the National Register of Historic Places, will be preserved. A historic home houses A Walk Back in Time bed and breakfast while another, Que Sera, serves as a retreat center.

Currently, a project is underway to convert the former Amboy Middle School into “The Junction,” a multi-purpose community building. (Click here to learn about that.)

Work in progress last July at this beautiful old creamery just off Maine Street.

Work in progress last July at this beautiful old (former) creamery just off Maine Street.

Although I didn’t check out all of these places, I saw enough to appreciate Amboy and the gumption of the folks who live here. They seem a determined bunch—determined to keep their community thriving in a time when all too many small towns are dying.

FYI: Click here to read my previous post on The Amboy Cottage Cafe. Please check back for one more post with photos from Amboy.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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34 Responses to “Amboy: A thriving community in rural Minnesota”

  1. JIll Johnson Says:

    Love the story on historic Amboy—hope to visit this year!

  2. Looks like a great little town to visit.

  3. It is so nice to see communities thriving without the big box stores. It does take gumption, and determination to say no and stand for your communities values. I would love to visit Amboy, the pictures make it look so inviting.

  4. Beth Ann Says:

    Love the charm of this lovely little town which they obviously have cared enough about to preserve and maintain. It makes me sad to see towns that are ghost towns because no one had the vision to preserve or restore. This post definitely makes me want to visit and take a stroll—preferably in the spring or summer. 🙂

    • Yes, it’s great to see small towns like Amboy thriving. I especially love the “bones” of this community in those stately brick buildings downtown. The people of Amboy definitely possess vision and energy and should be proud of what they’ve accomplished.

  5. Jackie Says:

    I Love hearing about these little thriving towns in Minnesota. Amboy seems like a fun place to visit, I especially like how the towns people, bought and are restoring the elevator as an unique venue for the community. They really do love their town, don’t they 🙂

  6. I love seeing revitalization in small towns to attract the local community as well as tourists to the community:) Nothing better than exploring a quaint and charming small town – Great Captures! Happy Hump Day

  7. Thread crazy Says:

    My first question was “Where’s the snow”! Then realized you’d taken pictures earlier in year….yes, love the revitalization we see going on in small towns here also. Several “depots” have been moved and converted in welcome centers such as this one you show here, or into active service for trains in larger towns. I love to drive through our smaller towns and see what life was like in “:yesteryear”!

  8. Shelby Says:

    Thanks so much for your wonderful story about my lifelong hometown! I am proud and blessed to be an Amboy resident!

  9. Grant Farnsworth Says:

    My mom grew up on a farm just outside Amboy (which is still in our family) and I spent a lot of my childhood weekends in Amboy. As an adult it is now one of my favorite places to visit, and an excellent place to deer hunt. It makes me happy to see that Amboy is holding it’s own in an everchanging world

  10. I love the yarn and the duck decoys especially!

  11. mary and Raym Says:

    Best trait evident in Amboy is the people, the pride, and the good old fashioned caring and sharing. Perhaps Detroit would be better off without without all the me, myself, and I mentality which permeated the place for years.More, more, more until they had nada. Southern MN is an area we so badly need to preserve, its’ farms, animals, education opportunities, manufacturing, all add to its’ viability.

  12. Laurie Says:

    I grew up in Amboy & have to say that it was a fantastic experience. Everyone knew everyone else & took care/watched out for everyone else. You just don’t get that kind of love & community in larger towns. I miss it!!!

  13. Ranae Olson Says:

    How fun to see pictures of my hometown. Many wonderful memories.

  14. hotlyspiced Says:

    There are some beautiful buildings. I love the old depot and I’m so glad it’s been preserved and given a new lease of life rather than being pulled down. The cafe building is so gorgeous. I love the image of the yarn and I’d like a few of those ducks! xx

  15. Catherine kietzer Says:

    There are so many more businesses in Amboy than shown here. I have grown up in Amboy and live in the country outside of town. The heritage of our town is farming and many still farm. We also have 4 active churches in the town and a couple of churches in the country close by. It was a wonderful place to grow up and although changes have come to Amboy over the years, I can say most we’re positive and have sculpted us into a town we love, respect, and fight for! Don’t let the beautiful green fool you either, we get snow!! Thanks for the article.

    • Catherine, thanks for your thoughtful comment emphasizing that Amboy is rooted in agriculture. During my brief stop, I certainly did not see/photograph everything that encompasses your community. I am showing readers simply a snapshot of what Amboy offers and hope to return and view those places I missed.

      I, too, grew up in southern Minnesota, further to the west in rural Vesta, and definitely appreciate rural life and places. My rural upbringing shaped me into the person I’ve become and the writer and photographer that I am.

      And you’re right about the snow, which is why I made a point of emphasizing that these photos were taken in July.

  16. Perri Hite (Kammerlander) Says:

    I love the photos and story. Thank you for sharing my “home town” in such a beautiful and positive way. Seeing the pictures bring back so many memories of a great childhood in a safe and care community.

  17. Wila Says:

    I grew up at Bass Lake and
    Amboy was always a great shopping town. Now my sister and I love to go there for eats.


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