Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Bricks, bins & bars in Elgin June 6, 2022

This unique, artsy “fence” is the first thing I noticed in downtown Elgin. Absolutely love the creative functionality of these repurposed doors. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

SMALL TOWNS, LIKE PEOPLE, have personalities. I’ve discovered that in my years of exploring rural regions. I can learn a lot about a place by simply walking through the heart of a community, even if I never enter a single business.

The door fence is to the right of this stately corner brick building with the lovely architectural details. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

On a recent day trip into Wabasha County in southeastern Minnesota, Randy and I stopped briefly in Elgin. Three words define my initial impression of the business district in this community of 1,090 just 20 minutes northeast of Rochester: bricks, bins and bars.

Beautiful brick buildings define downtown Elgin. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Bricks reference the row of aged brick buildings I spotted along one side of the street. One dates to 1899. I see so much potential in these historic structures if the “updates” on ground level were removed to reveal the original. I recognize, though, that takes money. But, as one who appreciates aged buildings with good, solid bones, I would love to see these buildings restored to their historic selves. What an asset that would be to Elgin.

Behind those brick buildings, bins rise. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Bins reference the mammoth grain bins back-dropping that row of brick buildings. This is most-assuredly a farming community, home to All-American Co-op. I especially appreciate the faded signage identifying the local ag business.

Identifying signage provides a vintage artsy backdrop. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

At one time, Elgin was also home to a creamery and milk service. The community honors its dairy heritage with Elgin Cheese Days, an annual small town festival slated this year for June 17-19. Events include a parade, carnival, tractor pull, burnouts, vendor and craft show, softball and volleyball tournaments, garage sales, music and the EMS Cheese Chase (walk/run). As these celebrations go, they are really reunions of those who once called this town home or still call this place home.

Bold signage for a place that welcomes everyone like family. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)
To the left, Out of Bounds Sports Bar, “where everyone knows your name.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)
O’Neill‘s Pizza Pub serves more than pizza. There’s Irish whiskey, too, and a game room with classic games. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

I expect lots of commiserating will occur at the local bars. That’s the third “b” I noticed during my walk along the main street. Bars abound here. The BlackTop Bar & Grill. The Out of Bounds Sports Bar. And O’Neill’s Pizza Pub.

The pub is open. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Although Randy and I didn’t patronize any of these places, I expect they are worth a stop for food and drink and conversation. As a group of cyclists told us, the bar they lunched at served up a mighty fine sandwich. We had packed a picnic lunch. Next time.

Banners feature students from the graduating class of 2022. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Yes, we’ll return to Elgin to explore a bit more. Perhaps drive 1.5 miles south of town to pick up some cheese at Prairie Hollow Farm.

I wonder about the current use and history of this small building by the bins, by the alley. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

I know we missed a lot during our quick stop…

TELL ME: If you’re familiar with Elgin, what should I see/do next time I’m in town? I’m looking for any insider tips, things I might bypass because I’m unaware. Why should someone visit Elgin?

Please check back for another post from this community. And then it’s on to neighboring Plainview.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


16 Responses to “Bricks, bins & bars in Elgin”

  1. Valerie Says:

    Can’t help you…I’ve never been to Elgin…but I think I’ve see signs for it in SE Minnesota.

  2. Washe Koda Says:

    I used to collect bricks from across America ❗️ (all the different brickworks) I am back to collecting Agates after 55 years…. the bricks were taking up to much space

  3. Beth Ann Says:

    Looks like a great place to explore and your title is perfect.

  4. Jill Dahl Says:

    The brick building with the door fence used to be the post office.

  5. Jennifer Woldum Says:

    Yep, that’s my hometown Audrey! When I was young, Elgin had a hardware store, post office, pharmacy, and even a doctor’s office. It also had a few diner-type restaurants and a grocery store. And Elgin Cheese Days was run by the Lion’s Club (of which my dad was an active member) and it was so fun, especially for us country kids. Now, I think a drive through town is probably sufficient 🙂

    • Jenny, Elgin past sounds a lot like my hometown with all the businesses it once had. That said, Elgin offers more than my hometown with all those restaurants/bars and a sprinkling of other businesses I saw downtown. Please check back later this week for one more post on Elgin.

  6. Lisa Petersson Says:

    Years ago my Grandparents did their shopping in Elgin. Beck Implement was the place my Grandfather and my Uncle purchased their farm equipment. Elgin was the happening place to be on the weekends. I suppose there are a million reasons why a small town shrinks. Today, Elgin is looking to renew itself. If you drive through, make time to stop at The Blacktop for a good meal and a chat with the locals. Like Pizza? O’Neills has the best for miles around! And the folks there are as friendly as they come. You might enjoy a high school football or baseball game and appreciate our pride in our young people. If you enjoy a tour on your motorcycle, come explore our area!!! My wife and I came to Elgin to reconnect with family roots. This is a place where you can be who you are. You can count on your neighbors. We certainly aren’t a trendy spot. We are here because it is quiet and that suits us.

    • Lisa, it sounds like you are living in the “right” place. Thank you for your additional suggestions regarding Elgin. I’m thankful your community is doing seemingly well and focused on renewal. I love your The Shop on Broadway in Plainview and hope you’ve read my post on that and other posts about that community. More stories and photos will be forthcoming next week.

      • Lisa Petersson Says:

        Thanks Audrey! I started with the post on The SHOP, and I have been reading many other articles. All fun! Looking forward to more.

      • You are welcome, Lisa. I have posts on the variety and floral shops in draft and one or two general posts thereafter. I really enjoyed my time in downtown Plainview. Everyone is so friendly and lots of cute and inviting shops, like yours.

  7. Susan Ready Says:

    I always enjoy your weekly adventures out and about in the area. You make everything look so picture perfect and inviting place to visit
    loved your wordage “bold signage”

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