Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Owatonna’s Central Park on a winter Saturday with summer flashbacks March 1, 2022

A scene from the Owatonna Farmers Market in June 2014. The historic building anchoring a corner across the street is the National Farmer’s Bank of Owatonna. Architect Louis Sullivan designed the 1906-1908 building in the Prairie School Architecture style. The bank is considered “a Jewel Box of the Prairie.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo June 2014)

THE LAST TIME I STOPPED at Owatonna’s Central Park, this southern Minnesota city’s community gathering spot pulsed with activity. The park hosts a busy Owatonna Farmers Market from May through October.

A scene from Owatonna’s Central Park on February 19. (Minnesota Prairie Roots photo February 2022)

But on this cold Saturday in late February when I stopped by, only a few people used the park. A couple walked their dogs. And two women crossed to the center fountain, purses angled across downy winter coats, stocking caps clamped on and shopping bags looped over three gloved hands, take-out coffee clutched in the fourth.

A crane tops the 1909 fountain, refurbished in 2021. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)
Imagine this fountain in the warmer months. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)
Love the graceful curve of the fountain top crane. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo February 2022)

As the women paused near the centerpiece fountain placed here in 1909, I studied the scene before me, camera ready. Only moments earlier, I finished my packed lunch inside the cozy warmth of the van. Randy and I had planned to eat at nearby Rice Lake State Park. But that all changed when hiking trails proved too icy for safe walking. So here we were in Owatonna, shifting our plans.

This replica of the 1899 community stage centers the park. It was built in 2004, on Owatonna’s 150th anniversary. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

I was determined that the cold weather would not keep me from photographing the park. Dressed in a warm hand-me-down parka from my son layered over tee and flannel shirts, long johns under jeans, practical winter boots, hand-knit cap and mitten/gloves, I felt prepared. The combo mitten/gloves were a gift from Randy years ago. They work great for winter photography. I flip back the fleece ends to reveal open fingertips. That allows me to manipulate my camera without exposing my entire hand.

An artsy planter sits on fountain’s edge awaiting spring planting. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Even with all of that, I soon found myself hurrying my creative pace. My fingertips were freezing.

Trees and lights against a bold blue sky by the stage/bandshell. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

But I was determined to document the setting on an afternoon that looked deceptively warm. Bold blue skies. Sunshine. Artsy fountain. Stout community stage. Historic buildings bordering the park. Remnants of snow sculptures.

This snow castle still stands, albeit weathered after a month. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)
Beautiful colored ice fills a window of the snow castle. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)
The back side of the castle features a slide. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

I regretted that we missed Owatonna’s Bold & Cold Winter Festival at the end of January. Then those sculptures would have been newly-built, pristine. But now I could only imagine kids slipping down the slide at the deteriorating snow castle.

Plants for sale at the 2014 Owatonna Farmers Market. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

I also imagined how, in a few months, this scene will change. How leaves will unfurl on the birch trees. How the fountain will spill water. How Farmers Market vendors will set up shop. How music will create a joyful rhythm that welcomes spring, then summer. And warmth.

A snapshot scene from the 2014 Owatonna Farmers Market, which covers one-block square Central Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo June 2014)

This I contemplate as I snap frames, fingertips freezing, hurting now in the cold of winter. Back in the van, I hold my fingers close to the blower, seeking heat while the sun shines bright, bold over Central Park.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

12 Responses to “Owatonna’s Central Park on a winter Saturday with summer flashbacks”

  1. beth Says:

    what a beautiful park, and oh, that taste of summer –

  2. Valerie Says:

    The town square looks like a nice place to go in the summer… 😉

  3. Jackie Hemmer Says:

    I love the photo of the colored ice. Winter festivals are so fun to me as long as it’s not bitter cold. I will have to keep in mind this one in Owatonna. This weekend Rochester has it’s “Social Lights” festival downtown, we are hoping to get down to see the ice sculptures. By the way Rick and I were in Owatonna yesterday we hiked at Kaplan Woods Park, it was a lovely day and the snow packed trails were nice…and secured for walking.

  4. t is good to remember the warmth of the sun and warmer days, isn’t it? I love your interspersed pictures of cold and warmth. It will come soon I hope.

  5. Bernadette Hondl Thomasy Says:

    Our mother loved the summer concerts in Owatonna’s Central Park. She would arrive early and try to get a parking spot where she could enjoy the music from her van. Mom loved music, especially live music. Thanks for the memories.


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