Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

From Lonsdale: Reading, ‘Riting & ‘Rithmetic August 21, 2020

My first view of the 3-R Landmark School, Lonsdale, Minnesota.


MANY TIMES I’VE BEEN TO LONSDALE, a small, but growing, community in far northeastern Rice County only a 30-minute drive from the metro. I’ve even stopped to shop at antique and thrift shops there. And, decades ago, Randy and I attended a wedding at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church.



But during all those visits, I’d never seen the 3-R Landmark School, once home to Independent School District #76 Lonsdale Public School. Until recently.


A view from the back of the school shows the bell tower cupola, chimney (is there a fireplace inside?) and the top of the second story fire escape.


A side and back view of 3-R Landmark School.


The bottom of the fire escape, left.


As is our habit on random Sunday afternoon drives, Randy and I set out from Faribault to explore the countryside and small towns. This day our route led us to Lonsdale, and eventually a turn onto Third Avenue Southwest. And there, smack in the middle of a residential neighborhood, sits a stately two-story structure complete with bell tower cupola and bell in place.



You can only imagine my excitement at this discovery given my fondness for historic buildings. This 1908 school, designed and built by Patrick Sullivan and on the National Register of Historic Places, is a gem. From the exterior, the building with long, lean windows appears well cared for.



I peered through the windowed front door, not seeing much except the sign advertising OLD SCHOOL HOUSE TOURS (No Food or Drink Please!). I wished I could get inside. But this visit I had to settle for an exterior tour and only imagine the Reading,’Riting and ’Rithmetic that happened inside this center of education.


Once the center of education in Lonsdale.


From those three “Rs” comes the name, 3-R Landmark School. I like that creative tag tracing back to the basics of education—reading, writing and arithmetic.


Near the schoolhouse, a water source.


I found little information online about this school, which one source says was abandoned in 1946, the other 1948. The City of Lonsdale acquired the school property in 1963 after the Lonsdale school district consolidated to become Montgomery-Lonsdale Independent School District #394.


On the grounds are two vintage lamp posts.


Lamp post details.


Additional information reveals that a grassroots nonprofit formed in the late 1970s to restore the old schoolhouse. That group apparently dissolved in the mid 1980s following the school’s re dedication in 1986. Today this historic schoolhouse houses a museum and is open occasionally for community events.


Trees frame 3-R Landmark School, which sits on a one-acre grassy site. Plenty of outdoor play space for kids back in the day.


Perhaps once COVID-19 ends, the museum will reopen and I can walk through the front door into a classroom of yesteryear.


RELATED: The Steele County History Center in Owatonna is currently offering an exhibit, Country Schools: The Beating Heart of Rural Community. I toured that exhibit in June and will post on it at some point.

This Saturday, August 22, from 10 am – 2:30 pm, the Rice County Historical Society in Faribault is hosting Cruising Rice County History, a tour that will take participants on a self-drive to seven historic sites in the county. Cost is $20 per vehicle. Maps will be handed out at the historical society in Faribault on Saturday morning.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


6 Responses to “From Lonsdale: Reading, ‘Riting & ‘Rithmetic”

  1. Bernadette Thomasy Says:

    Yes, i can feel your excitement discovering this school treasure just a half hour away. I checked the link to the Steele County Historical Center’s exhibit on one-room schools and look forward to your post. Awhile back, the organizers solicited comments from students who had attended the country schools. I sent in a few remarks about my experience and my sister’s at District 58 during the 1950s. I would love to see the exhibit in person but that will not be possible. Thanks for being my Owatonna connection .

    • Bernadette, I am honored to be your Owatonna connection. I need to work on getting those Owatonna posts written and published given I visited in late June. So many photos and ideas…

      On a completely different subject, my copy of The Talking Stick, Volume 29, just arrived in my mail. Congratulations on winning honorable mention for your “Mother’s Mojo” creative nonfiction story. I enjoyed it and can relate in many ways, although my mom is still living (and on hospice). Your poem also resonates with me as my mom can no longer talk on the phone. I’m sorry for the loss of your mother.

      I join you as an honorable mention winner in creative nonfiction with my story, “Josephine Holding Deloris,” a story building on a small photo of my grandmother and her second daughter, who died at nine months.

      I’m delighted to be among the many talented writers, including you, published in The Talking Stick.

      • Bernadette Thomasy Says:

        That’s exciting news. My copy of The Talking Stick, Volume 29, has not reached me yet.
        Congratulations to you, as well. I look forward to seeing your creative nonfiction story on your grandmother. Your work has been consistently worthy in The Talking Stick.
        It was through your blog that I learned about the publication. It is gratifying to be part of such good writing company.

      • Minnesota has so many fine writers. Indeed an honor to be in their company, including you.

  2. Missy’s Crafty Mess Says:

    My grandmother went to a school with a fire escape like this. She told be stories about kids skipping school by hopping on the slide and leaving during the day.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.