Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

We didn’t find gold in Oronoco, but… April 8, 2015

ORONOCO. I delight in the way those “o”s roll off the tongue. Smooth. Repetitious. Like a steady drum beat.

But I’d never been to Oronoco, only seen the exit signs to this community off U.S. Highway 52 five miles north of Rochester. Time to change that, to visit this place named after the Orinoco River in South America. (And, yes, the spelling of Orinoco is correct.)

The old schoolhouse.

The old schoolhouse.

On a recent Saturday, my husband and I wound our way into this small town, home of Oronoco Gold Rush Days, an antique show and market held on the third weekend in August since 1972. That’s a long-standing event, its name tracing to the apparent discovery of gold here in the late 1850s and the establishment of the Oronoco Mining Company. That mining venture didn’t last long as the raging Zumbro River washed away the gold mining operation. Apparently little gold was found.

A boarded up building dated 1912.

A boarded up building dated 1912.

Historic buildings define the heart of this quaint river community. We did a quick drive through downtown and stopped only to browse two highway side antique shops as the day shifted toward evening.

The 1912 building up close.

The 1912 building up close.

Oronoco seems worth a return trip to poke around more, to see what we missed.

First Presbyterian Church, constructed in 1871, sits atop a hill.

First Presbyterian Church (today Presbyterian Church of Oronoco), constructed in 1871, sits atop a hill.

A front view of that beautiful old church.

A front view of that beautiful old church.

The community center.

The community center.

The downtown VFW sits atop a hill, too.

The downtown VFW sits atop a hill, too.

Sometimes a building's side view is as interesting as its front view.

Sometimes a building’s side view is as interesting as its front view.

FYI: To learn more about Oronoco area history, click here. For more info on Presbyterian Church of Oronoco, click here. To read my previous post about Antiques Oronoco, click here.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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16 Responses to “We didn’t find gold in Oronoco, but…”

  1. Almost Iowa Says:

    Oronoco versus Orinoco? You have to wonder whether the Midwestern accent was responsible for flattening out those vowels.

  2. Dan Traun Says:

    I get your Zumbro River reference now 🙂 You could spend a few different seasons exploring all of the communities along its path to the Mississippi River.

  3. treadlemusic Says:

    Never been to their celebration! I think we live in an area defined by beautifully “threaded” communities that are nestled into these gorgeous hills and river valleys. As we have traveled recently to Texas, we have come to realize that such settlements do NOT exist everywhere. That’s why, when we are asked if we are taking our motorcycles to our “Winter Texan” home, we answer in the negative. Oh yes, there are roads there, to be sure, but their function is more to merely allow access to much separated population centers rather than pleasant countryside meanderings dotted with quaint clusters of history. We are truly blessed, here in the Midwest/Coulee Region!!!

  4. Aaron Says:

    I like to snoop around old abandon places when I can get away with it 🙂

  5. What you said about the way the “o”s roll off the tongue when saying this name is also true about my husband’s hometown of Oconomowoc. 🙂

  6. Jackie Says:

    Rick and i drove right by many of these buildings Friday night as we headed to dinner at Fisherman’s Inn for our anniversary. I’ve always loved that old white church and how it sits up on that small hill. It looks as though someone lives in the old school house, such a big building for a residence.


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