Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Appreciating historic downtown Owatonna March 2, 2022

National Farmer’s Bank of Owatonna rates as particularly important architecturally. Designed by Louis Sullivan in the Prairie Architecture School style, it features stained glass windows, gold leaf arches, nouveau baroque art designs and more. This “jewel box of the prairie” was built between 1906-1908. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

STRIPPING IMAGES OF COLOR lends an historic context to several aged buildings I recently photographed near Central Park in downtown Owatonna. It’s easier for me to see the past, to appreciate these long-standing structures through the lens of time when I view them in black-and-white.

Love this corner historic building which houses A Taste of the Big Apple, serving pizza, soup, sandwiches and more, including a Tater Tot Hot Dish special on March 3. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

First, I feel such gratitude that these buildings still stand. A time existed when the thought was that new is better. Out with the old, in with the new. I’m not of that camp and I’m thankful for the shift in attitudes.

Firemen’s Hall, constructed 1906-1907 for $19,643, sits just across the street from Central Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Twelve city blocks in Owatonna’s downtown define the community’s designation as a National Register Historic District. Three of the 75 “contributing buildings” within that district are on the National Register of Historic Places: the National Farmer’s Bank, the Steele County Courthouse and the Firemen’s Hall.

This home-grown bookstore anchors a downtown corner, directly across from Central Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

On a recent visit to Owatonna’s Central Park, I pivoted to observe those key historic buildings and others in a downtown of multiple core business streets.

A sign in Central Park provides information about the community stage. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

The park, with a replica of the 1899 community stage, serves as the “town square,” the physically identifiable point of focus and gatherings. Here folks gather for concerts, the farmers’ market and other events. Music and the undeniable human need to socialize connect the past to the present.

The replica community stage/bandshell. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

I feel inspired now, via my recent stop in Central Park, to return to downtown Owatonna and further explore its history and architecture. Sure I’ve been here before, but not in awhile and not with a focused purpose of intentional appreciation for and photographic documentation of this historic district.

Strip away the color and appreciate the stark beauty. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

I encourage each of you, wherever you live, to pause. Strip away the color to black-and-white. See the basics, uncolored by time or attitudes or that which detracts. Observe how the past and present connect. Value the “good” in your community. Appreciate the place you call home.

TELL ME: What do you appreciate about your community?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


10 Responses to “Appreciating historic downtown Owatonna”

  1. I think it is pretty cool that the community I live in use to be orange groves and the orange concentrate facility is now Coke (think that may be coming to an end – think the facility is sort of end of life). I love history and architecture and love when a building can be saved and repurposed (like a service station into a craft brewery). I like to think I was suppose to be born in the 1920’s/1930’s because I love art deco and the clothing back from that time. Happy Exploring – Happy Day – Enjoy 🙂

    • Thank you for sharing what you appreciate about your Florida community, Renee. Sometimes I feel the same, as if I was born in the wrong era. We appreciate many of the same things. And, yes, to a service station repurposed into a craft brewery!

  2. Colleen Gengler Says:

    It seems as if banks often impact the community architecturally. That is so true for Owatonna. In my community of Slayton, there is a coffee shop called the Left Bank. Of course at one time it was a bank and several other things in between then and now. We also have the historic Dinehart Holt House which is now part of the Murray County Historical Museum. There are more, but I also want to comment on the Little Professor Book Store building. When I was growing up, it was “Tot N’Teen.” Not sure if I have the spelling correct for the store featuring clothing for tots to teens. I bought some of my favorite high school clothing items there. I sewed most of my apparel at the time so it was a real treat to purchase “store bought.”

    • Colleen, I agree with you on your comment about banks. Am I correct in remembering that the Left Bank anchors a corner in downtown Slayton? I was there probably 10 years ago. What an interesting story about the bookstore building housing a clothing store at one time. Like you, I also sewed most of my own clothes and “store bought” (yes, I used those words) was a treat. But always chosen from the sales rack.


        Yes Audrey, the Left Bank is on the corner. It has been a coffee/lunch shop for over 20 years. I know what you mean about the sales rack. That’s where I still go.

      • Thank you, Colleen for that info on the Left Bank. Like you, I also still shop the sales rack, not that I even shop often.

  3. Larry Gavin Says:

    Really enjoy these focused posts and photos! Keep it up.

    • Thank you, Larry. I appreciate your encouragement and support of my writing and photography. Be sure to read tomorrow’s post, which will be pinpoint focused.

      BTW, I’m learning a lot about the outdoors, wildlife and nature from your stories in the Faribault Daily News.

  4. Valerie Says:

    It’s interesting to see the photos in black and white. A fun perspective.
    Owatonna is an interesting town.

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