Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Faribault Woolen Mill celebrates 150th anniversary August 13, 2015

This sign marks The Faribault Woolen Mill, which sits along the banks of the Cannon River in Faribault, Minnesota.

This sign marks the Faribault Woolen Mill, which sits along the banks of the Cannon River in Faribault, Minnesota.

STASHED IN MY BEDROOM CLOSET are two blankets from the Faribault Woolen Mill—one a baby blanket in muted pink and aqua, the other a full-sized pink blanket. Both were gifts from a neighbor who once worked in the mill’s retail store.

A label on a Faribault Woolen Mill blanket I own.

A label on a Faribault Woolen Mill blanket I own.

I expect in many homes throughout my community, locally-loomed blankets, throws, scarves and more cover beds, warm laps and wrap around necks on the coldest of Minnesota winter days and nights.

Crisp white cubbies, ever so perfect for showing off blankets/throws.

Crisp white cubbies, ever so perfect for showing off blankets/throws at the Faribault Woolen Mill retail store. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2012.

While the temperature isn’t exactly wool-worthy here in southern Minnesota in mid-August, autumn is tinging our days with cool nights and the subtlest of color changes in foliage. We realize that summer is waning and, once again, we’ll soon pull out the wool and the flannel.

An historic photo from the mill, among those showcased in a mini wall of Woolen Mill history.

An historic photo from the mill is among those showcased in a mini wall of Woolen Mill history inside the retail store. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

This Saturday the Faribault Woolen Mill is pulling out its collection of locally-loomed products to sell in the 150th Marketplace, all in celebration of the mill’s 150th anniversary. Among Marketplace merchandise are the mill’s new 2015 line and special anniversary items, including a limited edition reissue of the 1949 plaid stadium blanket, Faribo Pak-A-Robe. The blanket comes in a carrying case that converts to a seat pad.

The mill's products are labeled as "Loomed in the Land of Lakes" by "Purveyors of Comfort and Quality." Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

The mill’s products are labeled as “Loomed in the Land of Lakes” by “Purveyors of Comfort and Quality.” Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

I’ve been to enough Woolen Mill sales to know the outdoor Marketplace will be crowded with those who appreciate the mill’s authentic products. Made in America and craftsmanship appeal to folks. And that’s a good thing for the mill, founded in 1865. One hundred fifty years. That says something about tenacity. This business, which provided blankets for American troops during both World Wars, supplied blankets to airlines in the early 1970s, and, from the late 60s to early 90s, produced more than half of the blankets made each year in the U.S., has survived the ebbs and flows of the economy.

The Faribault Woolen Mill sits on the bank of the Cannon River.

The Faribault Woolen Mill sits on the bank of the Cannon River.

Yet, despite world-wide business success, the Faribault Woolen Mill almost didn’t make it to its sesquicentennial. The mill was shuttered in 2009 due to financial problems. Two years later Minnesota businessmen and cousins, Chuck and Paul Mooty, purchased the mill, revived it and the rest is history.

Sandbags protect the Faribault Woolen Mill from the rising Cannon River.

Sandbags protect the Faribault Woolen Mill from the rising Cannon River in June 2014. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

The mill was also threatened twice in recent years by flooding of the Cannon River.

Faint Faribault Woolen Mill lettering remains on the old section of the mill complex.

Faint Faribault Woolen Mill lettering remains on the old section of the mill complex.

For my community, the mill is an important tourism draw and an equally important part of Faribault’s history. The mill, the oldest manufacturing entity in Minnesota, is on the National Register of Historic Places. But it’s likely not the aged building as much as the fine craftsmanship of mill products that brings shoppers here looking for quality and American authenticity.

This sign outside the mill advertises Saturday's 150th anniversary festivities.

This sign outside the mill advertises Saturday’s 150th anniversary bash.

Saturday’s celebration will provide a great opportunity for all of Faribault to showcase itself, starting with food vendors at the mill’s outdoor anniversary celebration along the banks of the Cannon River. I’m happy to see a line-up of locals—The Cheese Cave, Uncle B’s Last Chance BBQ Shack, Bashers Bar & Grill/J & J Bowling Center, Lyons Meats and F-Town Brewing. Several other vendors from the Twin Cities metro will be there, too, with brats, cheesecake, coffee and ice cream.

Leaving the show and driving southbound on Central Avenue through historic downtown Faribault.

A section of Faribault’s historic downtown, along Central Avenue. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.

I hope visitors will also follow Second Avenue from the mill to Fourth Street and then to Central Avenue to check out our historic downtown and all the local shops. (Click here for a list of downtown shops and their locations.) Located near downtown at 739 Willow Street, Annie Belle Creations crafts Faribault Woolen Mill blankets into capes, coats and other clothing. Owner Lu Ann Heyer started in 1989 as a designer of stuffed animals for the Faribault Woolen Mill.

Pasture land near the park for these grazing sheep. Note their wool clinging to the fence.

Sheep graze near Blue Mounds State Park in southwestern Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo used for illustration purposes only.

Back at the mill and Father Slevin Park, there’ll be plenty to do. “The Running of the Sheep,” an event which is exactly as its name suggests, happens at 1 p.m. Other attractions include a petting zoo, games, raffles and more. Between 3 p.m. – 6 p.m. the folk/roots/indie rock group The Pines will perform as will Abracadabra,  a group of musicians who have traveled with the likes of Bob Dylan and The Beach Boys.

Perusing merchandise at the recently reopened Faribault Woolen Mill retail store.

A view inside the Faribault Woolen Mill retail store shortly after it opened under new ownership in 2012. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Visitors are encouraged to bring blankets to spread on the lawn while enjoying festivities. I expect Faribault Woolen Mill blankets, in particular, would be appreciated. You can even share your Faribault Woolen Mill blanket stories online at Memory Mill.

A mural, one of several in the downtown area, promotes historic Faribault.

A mural, one of several in the downtown area, promotes Faribault’s downtown as a National Register Historic District. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

If you’ve never been to Faribault, come early, before the mill party, to poke around town. We’re just a short drive down Interstate 35 from the Twin Cities. Then at noon, join the mill as its celebration begins and continues for six hours.

A view of the Faribault Woolen Mill from Father Slevin Park across the Cannon River.

A view of the Faribault Woolen Mill from Father Slevin Park across the Cannon River.

FYI: The Faribault Woolen Mill is located at 1500 Northwest Second Avenue, near the Rice County Fairgrounds and the Rice County Historical Society Museum. The mill’s retail store will be closed on Friday and Saturday, with merchandise sold in the special anniversary Marketplace on Saturday.

Faribault Woolen Mill blankets/throws are artfully hung on a simple pipe.

Faribault Woolen Mill blankets/throws are artfully hung on a simple pipe in the retail store. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

Small group tours of the mill are offered at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Thursdays. Note that these fill quickly and that you should schedule in advance.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling