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