TRAFFIC ZOOMS BY on U.S. Highway 52 around Pine Island, hurried motorists rushing to Rochester or St. Paul or places in between.
I’ve been one of those travelers all too many times while en route to and from Wisconsin. Never pulling off to explore Pine Island. But always wondering what this small town holds and thinking I really ought to stop at the highway side Pine Cheese Mart.
It’s too late now to visit the Cheese Mart. The long-time business folded last year after an exit into Pine Island was closed due to traffic safety issues. That closure made navigating to the Mart cumbersome, resulting in a business downturn. So I missed out on the cheese.
Early this spring, my husband and I took a day trip to Pine Island. We hopped in the van with our Minnesota atlas and road map and headed east, stopping first in West Concord.
I should have done my homework. After the fact, I learned that Pine Island was once considered “The Cheese Capital of the World” That would have been in the opening decades of the 20th Century when some 40 cheese factories existed in the area. In 1911, Pine Island cheesemakers crafted a 6,000-pound block of cheese for the Minnesota State Fair, earning that cheese capital title for the town.
Perhaps I missed it. But I didn’t notice anything visually significant tipping me off to Pine Island’s rich cheese history other than a mouse and a block of cheese painted onto a downtown mural and a lovely brick building labeled BUTTER-FACTORY.
I should have done my research. The old Butter Factory today houses bikes and bike helmets available to borrow at no cost from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. on weekends to cyclists using the nearly 13-mile Douglas State Trail from Pine Island to Rochester and Pine Island’s Paths to the Past trails: Historical Trivia Trail, Young People’s Path and Homes & Heritage Trail. Check ahead as this usage is seasonal.
So I missed a few things this visit. But I didn’t miss the remarkable historic architecture that defines the downtown business district:
And some of the beautiful old homes close to downtown:
I was disappointed, though, to find the one antique/furniture refinishing store, Green’s Stripping & Antiques, closed when I was there.
Likewise, I really wanted to get inside the Olde Pine Theater:
Maybe next time.
IF YOU KNOW Pine Island, what other things did I miss on my first visit to this Minnesota community of 3,300 residents?
How did Pine Island get its name? According to the Minnesota Historical Society “Minnesota Place Names,” an early settler named the town Pine Island in 1855 for the large, lone white pine on a small island in the Zumbro River. The island was once thick with pines and was once a winter shelter to the Dakota.
Check back to read about the Rainbow Cafe, where we ate lunch.
© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling