Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Evan, like so many small southwestern Minnesota towns, is fading into the prairie March 19, 2018

Downtown Evan today anchored by a former bank building.


LIKE SO MANY OTHER SMALL TOWNS on the southwestern Minnesota prairie, Evan once boasted a long list of businesses—creamery, bank, two general stores, hardware store, lumberyard, blacksmith shop, stock dealer, garage, implement dealer, three elevators, restaurant, utility company, library and two churches.


Evan, incorporated in 1904, is named after Eva Hanson, married to Nels. He platted the railroad station known as Hanson Station several years earlier.


So claims the historical marker fronting the village hall in this Brown County community of around 80 residents.


Fading signage identifies this as the former lumberyard.


Today only remnants of those original businesses remain.


I believe the brick building may be the former creamery.


On a recent drive through Evan, I noted the decline.


This vintage sign hangs outside Tubby’s II Bar & Grill. A sign in the window noted the bar is closed for the winter.


Faded signs.



Boarded windows.


This vintage hay loader rested among other junk.


Clustered junk.



I’ve never seen anything like this graveyard of campers and trailers.


Abandoned campers and trailers and trucks. It made me sad, just sad, to see the abandonment.


The old grain elevators still stand on the edge of town along the highway.


But none of this surprises me. It’s our fault really. We are a much more mobile society, a society much different than back-in-the-day or even 20 years ago. At one time, places like Evan thrived as area farmers and locals kept their business local. Today regional shopping centers pull in customers from all those small towns.


The train still runs, not through Evan, but through neighboring Sleepy Eye.


The railroad left.


Without jobs, with our farmer fathers still farming, many from my generation of Baby Boomers left Minnesota’s small towns. We couldn’t bank on a future in our rural hometowns.



Attitudes changed. Kids from my generation left for college and bigger cities and better opportunities. There’s nothing wrong with that desire to see the world, to become something other than our parents. But in doing so we added to the demise of many a small town. I am hard-pressed to think of many classmates who stayed in my hometown of Vesta 45 minutes from Evan to the north and west. Vesta, too, is a shell of the community it was when I grew up there in the 1960s and 1970s.


Grain bins on opposite ends of town mark this as a farming community still today.



I don’t pretend to know the intricacies of Evan’s decline except an overall understanding of why once thriving towns now are mere ghosts of their pasts. Certainly Evan’s remote rural location factors into the mix. Located along Minnesota State Highway 68, Evan is easy to bypass on the shortcut route between Sleepy Eye and Morgan.


The only person or moving vehicle I saw in Evan during my short stop there.


Yet, Evan is home for some. I saw newer homes there. Not new as in recent, but newer than old. I saw a lovely church and that well-kept village hall. And grain bins. And the fading letters on the lumberyard, a visual reminder that at one time a demand for building supplies existed in a farming community that once prospered.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


20 Responses to “Evan, like so many small southwestern Minnesota towns, is fading into the prairie”

  1. Beth Ann Says:

    I am sure Evan has many stories to share and not all of them are sad like these pictures seem to indicate. I grew up in tiny towns and can’t imagine being able to stay in them and make a living very easily and I suspect that is a typical response to why folks move out. I still know some very successful farmers and know it can be done but not without a lot of work and sacrifice. The camper graveyard was intriguing. Lots of stories there.

  2. That is so sad! Happening in North Dakota too.

  3. Almost Iowa Says:

    The Freeborn County Historical Society created a display on the couty’s ghost towns. Almost Iowa is one such place (Moscow).

    My wife grew up in another, Newry.

    Just down the road is Corning, yet another.

    An interesting note: the farming interests in Freeborn County want to keep people out. There is tremendous pressure to build houses out in the country – but county rules require 40 acres to build (some exceptions are made). The thinking is that people who are not farmers are more likely to complain and block feedlots and other agricultural interests.

    Out west and in rural areas, far from population centers, it is a much different story.

    • Goodhue County (I think I’m remembering correctly) marks their ghost towns with roadside signs. Thanks for the info from your area.

      Your “an interesting note” is certainly relevant. I am aware, although not specifically of efforts in Freeborn County.

  4. Valerie Says:

    I like the idea of marking the ghost towns with signs. It is sad to see the towns decline. There are a lot of stories from these places.

  5. itmightbemike Says:

    This is such a great post! Growing up in Clarkfield (about 45 minutes NW of Vesta), I can relate to everything you mentioned, as well as many of the pictures! Very well put!

  6. Jackie Says:

    Always sad to see the decline of small towns, especially knowing at one time it was thriving and probably the “place to be” for those who lived near by.

    • Yes. It’s difficult for me to think, too, of what my hometown was when I grew up there. Now the school is gone as are the grocery store, the hardware stores, the barbershop, the blacksmith shop, the multiple service stations, the lumberyard, the feed mill, several bars, churches, the…

  7. It is happening all over … the boom times have gone along with the baby boomers. Parents wanted kids to do better than them – have a ‘better ‘ life so they encouraged them to leave instead of moving over so they could work alongside. It was a multi generational decision to let the old ways go.
    The junked trailers are pretty impressive/ mercy! America has a lot of poverty in rural areas – certainly in the Midwest

    • I agree with you on “a lot of poverty in rural areas.” I see it often, especially in these really small towns. Abandoned buildings. Junk. Run-down houses.

      My parents neither encouraged me to leave or to stay. I just knew no opportunities existed for me in my home area. One of my three brothers farmed for awhile. But he moved on to other things and the farm I grew up on is no longer in the family. That makes me sad. But it the reality of economics and the choices we each make. I applaud you for your hard work to sustain yourself in rural Illinois via your small farm, like the farms of our ancestors.

  8. Seth Says:

    Really cool article and story! I love driving through small towns in Minnesota and seeing what’s left from their glory days. There are so many hidden gems in these prairie towns left over from 100 years ago.

  9. I love smaller towns but hate to see the empty buildings and decay. Sad….

  10. Missy's Crafty Mess Says:

    Wow, Evan must have been a booming town at one point. It’s sad how the times have changed

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