Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Signs say a lot about small towns like Pine Island November 30, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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Photographed in the window of a downtown Pine Island business, a locally-focused message. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

SIGNS, WHETHER PROFESSIONALLY-CREATED, handcrafted or handwritten, provide insights into a community beyond simply identifying information.

Like many small towns, Pine Island has a hardware store. I’ve always liked the iconic Hardware Hank signage. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I find myself drawn to signs, especially when exploring small towns. Three months ago my attention focused on signage in downtown Pine Island. This community of nearly 3,900 some 15 miles north of Rochester in Goodhue County provides plenty of signs to catch my interest.

A snapshot of historic architecture in downtown Pine Island. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Likewise, I am drawn to the town’s historic architecture.

This banner hangs in the heart of Pine Island, where the Douglas State Trail runs through. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

This was not my first visit to Pine Island. I’ve dined here, picnicked at Trailhead Park, followed the Douglas State Trail a short distance, popped into an antique shop and more. I wonder how often motorists traveling along busy US Highway 52, if they have no connection to the community, pull off the four-lane to explore. Pine Island, along the Zumbro River, is worth a stop, a walk, a close-up look, as are most small towns.

My favorite signage find in Pine Island. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2022)

As historical accounts go, the Dakota sheltered here in tipis during the winter months, thick pine boughs protecting their temporary homes from the wind and snow. A stand of pines once stood here, like an island in the prairie. The town’s name comes from the Native word wazuweeta, translated to “Isle of Pines.”

Such a welcoming message on the window at Miss Angie’s Place. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

My brief walk through the heart of Pine Island revealed none of that Indigenous history. However, I spotted community pride, diversity, entrepreneurship, compassion and more in signs. Signage says a lot about what people value, about a business community, about communicating in a succinct and eye-catching way.

Entepreneurs posted their services in a business window in Pine Island. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
The smiley face drawn on this “Closed” sign shows a positive and appreciative spirit. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Some of my favorite finds are handwritten or homemade notes posted in shop windows. I appreciate these messages in our fast-paced, technology-based world. A dash of writing, perhaps added art, combine to create meaningful, connective communication that feels decidedly personal.

Words and art make it clear this is a restaurant that serves tacos and more, perhaps with some heat. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
I especially like the graphics on this sandwich board with the “O” doubling as a head.
The comb and scissors back up the words for this Pine Island hair salon. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

My interest in signs traces to my love of words and of associated graphics. Both matter to me. I even make product decisions sometimes based solely on either. In Pine Island I noted the art on Taqueria Let’s Go Tacos signs and how that connects with the restaurant’s heritage and food. The same goes for The Little Hair Salon with comb and scissors graphics on signage.

Letters mark the location of the IOOF. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

In another location, I needed to sleuth online to decipher the meaning of I.O.O.F. and three other faded letters, FLT, linked in a link on a dirty window pane. The letters stand for Independent Order of Odd Fellows and their mission of Friendship, Love and Truth.

Potted mums and a sign draw customers to the lower level Henry’s Hair Designers. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

These are the things I discover in small towns, those places often passed by as people hurry from one destination to the next. Each community is unique. I discover individuality in words and art bannered upon buildings, taped on doors and windows, printed on sandwich boards…

In this touching scene near Pine Island’s Hardware Hank, the bold yellow sign to the left summarizes the subject of this post. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2022)

I glimpse a town’s personality through signage as I explore places like Pine Island.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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10 Responses to “Signs say a lot about small towns like Pine Island”

  1. beth Says:

    I love small towns, and especially love how this town has blended it’s historical past, with the present – probably what helps to keep it alive

  2. I especially like the Hardware Hank sign. Thanks for the tour, Audrey. It looks like a lovely town.

  3. Bernadette Hondl Thomasy Says:

    Your comment about names influencing product choices hit home. I remember being especially taken with the Ford Aerostar name when buying that vehicle two decades ago. Aerostar had an adventurous ring to it. Also paint color names resonate. Recently I chose Olympus White, the palest blue for a guest room. The color seems like a lovely sky just before twilight. Fun post!

  4. What a fun post about things that quite often go unnoticed. But not to a photographer like you –perfect little town with perfect signage.

  5. That was a lovely tour of Pine Island. Thanks Audrey!


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