Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Mazeppa, not just another small Minnesota town, Part II March 29, 2018

A scene in downtown Mazeppa, photographed in October 2016.


SMALL TOWNS CONTINUE to hold my interest.


The former creamery in Mazeppa houses the city maintenance garage and also serves as a backdrop for historical art.



Therein I often find unexpected delights, but also decline. Most of these communities are not the places they once were with thriving businesses lining Main Street. You know the story.


Out for a walk in downtown Mazeppa, October 2016.


Still, these towns are home to life-long residents or kids who stuck around or newbies—folks looking for a quiet and affordable place to live within driving distance of jobs outside city boundaries.



People make a town. And if they’re lucky, locals still have places to gather for fish fries and beer and BINGO and a meal out. Gathering spots—restaurants, bars, schools, churches and more—provide that sense of community essential to small towns.




WD’s, destroyed by fire, was a community gathering spot.


I saw those communal places when I visited Mazeppa in October 2016 (although one—WD’s Bar & Grill recently burned to the ground).





Patriotism often runs strong in small towns. The presence of the well-kept American Legion Post 588 in the heart of downtown Mazeppa confirms that.





Mazeppa is a visual delight for a photographer. Signs crafted by local sign painter Mike Meyer give this southeastern Minnesota riverside community a signature artsy look. This is a town I remember.


A unique business in Mazeppa. The shop was closed when I was in town. Andy Denny builds banjos here.


That’s the thing, too, about small towns. They need an identity to draw visitors. A unique business or three. A historical site. A theater or other arts venue. A natural attraction.


The Maple Street Bridge crosses the north branch of the Zumbro River a block off Mazeppa’s Main Street.


How often have you sidetracked off a main highway or interstate, or even a county road, to drive through a small town, maybe even stop? Not that often, I expect. But you’re missing something by not doing so. You’re missing out on people and places and experiences that are grassroots America. Interesting. Yes, even that quintessential word “charming.” Perhaps vibrant or thriving. Maybe not. But still at their root essence, authentic.



Propped by Mike Meyer’s sign shop.





When I was in town in October 2016, work was being done on the original 1909 bank building, now housing the Mazeppa Area Historical Society. The exterior covering of the beautiful brick building traces back to the 1970s when the former People’s State Bank was “updated.”


In 1912, an addition was made to the bank building to house the local newspaper.


Signage on the side of the historical society building.


TELL ME about a favorite small town and why you appreciate the community.


© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


20 Responses to “Mazeppa, not just another small Minnesota town, Part II”

  1. Beth Ann Says:

    Favorite small town is the very town I live in – Brevard. Love the community feel, the cute shops, the old time theater and the genuine Southern charm of the folks. I am enjoying it pre-tourist season because once that happens it becomes busy and not quite as charming to locals. 🙂

  2. Don Says:

    Well Audrey you know I really like small towns and will retire to one soon (I hope) but which one, that is the question. I like Mountain Lake mainly because it is small, my roots are there and it has all the things I relish. A sense of community, church activities, it’s close to larger metro areas when I need them etc. I have also found towns in northern Minnesota, Wisconsin and upper Michigan much to my liking too, Iron River Michigan comes to mind. You asked “How often have you sidetracked off a main highway or interstate, or even a county road, to drive through a small town, maybe even stop” answer, all the time! I do not take the interstate unless pressed for time preferring the rural roads and sights!

  3. Don Says:

    For the most part, no stoplights but I have found some towns that I like with just 1 or 2 lights! Faribault and the surrounding areas are also potentials. I recently found out that a good friend of mine has a son now living in Faribault, small world……..

  4. treadlemusic Says:

    Love that so many of these small towns have hung on to their original buildings, even though so many have replaced the large “picture window” fronts with tiny energy efficient windows with wood boards to fill in the rest of the space of the original window. Our little town failed (by conscious choice!!!!!!) to put in place any type of ordinance(s) that would protect that integrity, consequently the town’s appearance is a fragmented mix of (very little) old and (mostly) contemporary. Not very appealing to a tourist’s eye. Sad……………

  5. There are times lately that I think about moving to a small town…. I don’t know if I’d go crazy with the quiet, the peace, etc..

    • If you’ve always lived in a big city, you might find it difficult. You might miss the convenience of being near everything. It depends on your background, too, and what you define as a small town.

      I know I couldn’t live in a place like NYC. I visited once some 40 years ago and that was enough. I need my space. After a road trip to Boston two years ago for my son’s college graduation, I was so thankful to return to the openness of the Midwest.

      • Does your son live in Boston or has he returned to his roots?

      • He stayed and found a job in greater Boston. He shared this week that’s he’s changing his residency to Massachusetts, which means, nope, he’s not returning to his roots. Boston is a great fit for him given its strong tech base (his field). And he likes also that he can get around via mass transit. He’s happy there and that’s what’s most important, even beyond my wishing he would return to the Midwest.

  6. Dan Traun Says:

    I am partial to Red Wing. Hastings, MN has a wonderful downtown area; they have done a lot of work there. Estes Park, CO is another favorite as is Fredericksburg, TX. Maiden Rock, Stockholm, Pepin, Nelson, Alma and Trempealeau WI are wonderful little towns to visit too. I love small towns and their unique character. I love their bakeries, meat markets, cheese factories, pubs and restaurants.

    • With the exception of the Colorado and Texas towns, I’ve been to all those you list and would include them among favorites. I’m with you also on all the reasons for loving small towns. And, bonus, they offer wonderful photo opportunities.

  7. Missy's Crafty Mess Says:

    Great pictures! The photo of the bridge has a very calming effect and the green is very pleasant to look at after this never ending winter

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