Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Poking around Jordan on a Saturday afternoon February 21, 2017

A scene in downtown Jordan on Saturday afternoon, an exceptionally warm February day in Minnesota.

A scene in downtown Jordan on Saturday afternoon, an exceptionally warm February day in Minnesota.

JORDAN, MINNESOTA is quintessential small town, the type of place where kids bike to the ballpark, propel skateboards down the middle of the street and walk the dog with friends.

A Chinese restaurant is housed in one of Jordan's many historic buildings.

Empire Wok, a Chinese restaurant is housed in one of Jordan’s many historic buildings.

It’s an historic town of aged buildings, a creekside restaurant dubbed The Feed Mill and a collection of gift, specialty and antique shops clustered within walking distance of each other.

Two guys rested on a bench Saturday afternoon in downtown Jordan.

Two guys rested on a bench Saturday afternoon in downtown Jordan.

Here curbside benches encourage sitting for a spell.

This sign drew me into a wonderful little shop.

This sign drew me into a wonderful little shop.

Inside The Jordan Junker I found this creatively repurposed school desk.

Inside The Jordan Junker I found this creatively repurposed school desk with a U.S. map top-side. It would make for a unique end table. And, yes, the desk opens to storage inside.

Creative signage lures shoppers.

Customer favorites at Pekarna Meats are smoked pork sausage, ring bologna and baby back ribs.

Customer favorites at Pekarna Meats, family-owned since 1893, are smoked pork sausage, ring bologna and baby back ribs.

And the meat market sees a steady stream of customers.

Numerous shops are located downtown.

Numerous shops are located downtown.

Saturday afternoon my husband and I popped into this 1854 Minnesota River Valley community to poke around a few downtown shops. I appreciate the slower pace of Jordan, the Mayberry feel of this place with railroad tracks slicing through the business district. Here shopkeepers chat it up with customers in a welcoming way that is neighbor-friendly.

Two historic log cabins are situated downtown where bikers and others stopped on Saturday afternoon.

Two historic log cabins are situated downtown where bikers and others stopped on Saturday afternoon.

The community has a good vibe. And although our stay was brief and we didn’t see everything Jordan offers, I got a good sense of this small town. Only months earlier I visited Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store located along U.S. Highway 169 on the outskirts of Jordan. That place buzzes with busyness and the rush of traffic on the four-lane, so different from the quiet of downtown.

I delight in exploring small Minnesota towns like Jordan. This merchandise was displayed outside The Vinery Floral Home & Garden.

I delight in exploring small Minnesota towns like Jordan. This merchandise was displayed outside The Vinery Floral Home & Garden.

I’ll return to Jordan, next time better prepared with an itinerary. Seven years have passed since my last stop in the heart of the community. I won’t let that much time lapse before my next visit.

Another eye-catching sign outside a local garage.

Another eye-catching sign outside a local garage.

TELL ME: Do you have a favorite small town? I’d like to hear.

FYI: Check back tomorrow for a close-up of a Jordan antique shop.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

One sweet antique shop in Mankato, on the way to Hiniker (not Golden) Pond January 16, 2014

Love these letters showcased at Pond Road Antiques.

Love these letters showcased at Pond Road Antiques.

I DON’T RECALL exactly when I began to appreciate antique stores. It certainly was not in my 20s or 30s, nor probably even in my early 40s.

But now, closer to age 60 than to 50, I’ve developed a fondness for these shops that hold memories of my past. Nostalgia sells.

Not all antiques shops are created equal, though. Too much old stuff stuffed inside a dark, cramped and musty building overwhelms me. Artfully arranged merchandise in sufficient light draws me for a closer look.

Inside Pond Road Antiques.

Inside Pond Road Antiques.

Pond Road Antiques, just off Highway 169 at 111 Butterworth Street in Mankato, ranks as one of the most visually appealing antique shops I’ve shopped. While the exterior, a fancied-up new pole shed style building, doesn’t fit the merchandise inside, don’t judge a book by its cover. Inside you will find 38 dealers showcasing their wares in a visually pleasing way. Think designer display.

Here are a few photos of the merchandise (I failed to photograph the exterior) shot this past summer after a stop at nearby Hiniker Pond Park, where my poem, “The Thrill of Vertical,” is currently posted as part of the Mankato Poetry Walk and Ride. (Click here to learn about that poetry project.)

"The Thrill of Vertical," located next to Hiniker Pond.

My poem, “The Thrill of Vertical,” located next to Hiniker Pond.

I’d suggest a jaunt to Mankato to check out that poetry, scattered throughout Mankato and North Mankato, and to peruse the appropriately-named Pond Road Antiques.

My husband, Randy, and I were thrilled to find this vintage straw cowboy hate. We reminisced for awhile about watching Westerns on TV and getting new cowboy hats each summer.

My husband, Randy, and I were thrilled to find this vintage straw cowboy hat. We reminisced for awhile about watching Westerns on TV and getting new cowboy hats each summer while growing up.

With a soon-to-be son-in-law with the last name of Schmidt, I find myself drawn to Schmidt beer collectibles.

With my eldest now married to a Schmidt, I find myself drawn to Schmidt beer stuff.

I nearly flipped when I saw this toy accordion, just like one I had as a child. I loved my accordion and it is the only musical instrument I've ever played.

I nearly flipped when I saw this toy accordion, just like one I had as a child. I loved my accordion. It is the only musical instrument I ever had the opportunity to play. I should have bought this although, if I recall correctly, the price was higher than I wanted to pay. But how I would love that toy accordion…

Unusual for sure and, well, I've always thought grasshoppers were interesting insects to watch.

Unusual for sure and, well, I’ve always thought grasshoppers are interesting insects to watch. Grasshoppers were everywhere on my native prairie when I was growing up. I love how items like this are being repurposed as art.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE antique shop?

FYI: Pond Road Antiques is open from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday – Saturday and from noon – 5 p.m. Sundays.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Shopping for antiques in St. Peter is like way cool March 14, 2013

IF YOU HAD PREDICTED 40 years ago that I would be poking around antique stores someday, celebrating the past, remembering the days of my youth, I would have rolled my eyes.

The mere suggestion of such behavior would rate as totally uncool.

But long ago I discovered that antiquing is, indeed, cool, if not downright groovy. Just to be clear, I categorize 1970s merchandise as collectibles, not antiques.

Patrick's on 3rd anchors the corner on the left with Diamonds in the RUST on the right. Diamonds sells merchandise from antiques to present. Love that name.

Patrick’s on 3rd (bar and restaurant) anchors the corner on the left with Diamonds in the RUST on the right. Diamonds sells merchandise from antiques to present. Love that name.

That said, when I entered the charming Diamonds in the RUST shop along Park Row Street three doors down from Patrick’s on 3rd, which I’m told makes the best burgers in St. Peter, I automatically fell in love with the place.

Diamonds in the RUST, looking toward the front of the store.

Diamonds in the RUST, looking toward the front of the store.

See how the sunlight streams through those windows and onto the floor and merchandise.

Love how the sunlight streams through those windows and onto the floor and merchandise.

Light flooding through a street-side bank of tall windows, patches of sunlight slipping across the wood floor, artfully arranged merchandise and then, that most fabulous find of all, a Joseph’s coat of many colors sweater, defined this as one happin’ place.

Seventies coming of age child that I am, my eyes connected with that multi-colored sweater like a hippie drawn to a peace symbol.

The sweater similar to one I wore in the 70s.

The sweater similar to one I wore in the 70s.

“I had a sweater just like that,” I shared with the shopkeeper, although, on closer inspection, I discovered this to be a Tommy Hilfiger replica and not exactly like the sweater I paired with my hip huggers. Oh, well, I thought, and then wondered aloud if my mom, the keeper of everything, had saved that groovy sweater from my teen years. It’s possible; I recently retrieved lime green cuffed, flared pants, with about a size 18-inch waist (was I really that tiny once?), from her basement.

Ah, how antiquing prompts memories…

I own a vintage Chinese checkers board similar to these, found at a garage sale 30 years ago.

I own a vintage Chinese checkers board similar to these, one I found at a garage sale 30 years ago.

Then I spotted two Chinese checkers boards flaunting their psychedelic hues. I always connect Chinese checkers with my farmer dad, gone 10 years now. He never had time for board games. But pull out the metal Chinese checkers game and he was right there with the rest of us gathered around the Formica kitchen table, his clumsy fingers guiding marbles into place.

I would never buy a dead (or live) pheasant, but someone might.

I would never buy a dead (or live) pheasant, but someone might.

More memories of my dad surfaced when I sighted a taxidermy pheasant perched on a slip of wood set upon that beautiful wood floor. I am not a hunter. But, as a child, I would occasionally accompany Dad on his way to the slough—a grassy waterhole long ago drained and converted to farmland—to hunt for pheasants. It wasn’t the actual act of walking the land, searching for pheasants, that appealed to me. Rather, it was the rare opportunity to be with Dad when he was not in the barn or field that drew me to the hunt. I did not understand that then. But I do now.

Pheasant glasses like this are coveted by some members of my extended family.

Pheasant glasses like this are coveted by some members of my extended family.

I didn’t purchase any of those memory items at Diamonds in the RUST, only snapped photos, including one of a set of pheasant glasses that would interest my middle brother or niece’s husband.

A snippet of downtown St. Peter, along Highway 169.

A snippet of downtown St. Peter, along busy U.S. Highway 169.

Down the block and around the corner, walking St. Peter’s main drag, I slipped into a memory lane high when my husband discovered copies of Tiger Beat magazine in another antique store. Oh, my heart. The Beatles. The Monkees.

My beloved Tiger Beat magazine.

My beloved Tiger Beat magazine.

Cousin Joyce, who was two months younger than me, but way more worldly because she had two older sisters and therefore knew about stuff like boys, green eye shadow, David Cassidy and fishnet stockings long before me, introduced me to Tiger Beat. Back in the days when relatives still “visited” each other, Joyce and I would stretch out on her bed stomach side down, knees crooked, feet rocking, paging through the pages of Tiger Beat. And for a few hours I felt like I was hip and, mostly, totally, in love.

BONUS PHOTOS:

Another 70s find in an antique store that was closing for good on the day we shopped there.

A 70s bridal gown found in an antique store that was closing for good on the day I shopped there.

Love that cobalt blue in glassware showcased at Diamonds in the RUST.

Love that cobalt blue in glassware showcased at Diamonds in the RUST.

The whimsical design of these elephant glasses (shot glasses/juice glasses?) caught my fancy at Diamonds in the RUST.

The whimsical design of these elephant glasses (shot glasses/juice glasses?) caught my fancy at Diamonds in the RUST.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part I: Touring historic downtown Montgomery, Minnesota, not Alabama March 4, 2013

A snippet overview of First Street in downtown Montgomery.

A snippet overview of First Street in downtown Montgomery late on a Sunday afternoon.

EARLY ON A SUNDAY AFTERNOON in the dead of a Minnesota winter, downtown Montgomery, except for vehicles clustered around Hilltop Hall for a theatrical performance and around locals bars, is mostly quiet.

A mural on the

A mural depicts downtown. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

The occasional pick-up truck cruises First Street, the main north-south route through the heart of this Le Sueur County farming community of nearly 3,000 noted for its strong Czech heritage.

Although this self-proclaimed “Kolacky Capital of the World” lies only about 25 miles northwest of my Faribault home, I’ve never really explored the town except to attend three plays at Hilltop Hall and to write a magazine feature story about Franke’s Bakery. The 99-year-old bakery specializes in kolacky, a folded Czech pastry filled with poppy seeds or fruit.

Franke's Bakery. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Franke’s Bakery. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

On this Sunday afternoon the bakery is closed. And so are most other businesses. Without distracting vehicles, I can fully appreciate the historic architectural qualities of this downtown. From the aged brick buildings to the vintage signage to the woodframe storefronts that always remind me of something out of a Western, I am smitten with these buildings, this business district.

I must, I tell myself, return to Montgomery when these businesses are open. I can only imagine what discoveries await me.

I love antique shops and thrift stores, so you can bet Sweet Repeats Resale Shop is on my list of places to check out.

I love antique shops and thrift stores, so you can bet Sweet Repeats Resale Shop is on my list of places to check out.

Look, another antique shop, La Nette's Antiques'n Lace.

Look, another antique shop, La Nette’s Antiques’n Lace.

Lots of super cool vintage signage in Montgomery.

Lots of super cool vintage signage in Montgomery.

Because my eldest daughter is in love with a Schmidt boy (nothing to do with the beer), I had to photograph this sign. The striped building is the local meat market.

Because my eldest daughter is in love with a Schmidt boy (nothing to do with the beer), I had to photograph this sign. The striped building is the local meat market.

On the National Register of Historic Places, the historic Westerman Lumber Company office and house is home to Pizzeria 201. The restaurant makes homemade pizzas, a wide selection of Italian foods and more.

On the National Register of Historic Places, the historic Westerman Lumber Company office and house is home to Pizzeria 201. The restaurant makes homemade pizzas, a wide selection of Italian foods and more. I’ve heard rave reviews about the food.

So small town: burgers and a meat raffle promoted on a whiteboard in a restaurant window.

So small town: burgers and a meat raffle promoted on a whiteboard in a restaurant window.

I don't expect I'll get inside this vintage 1800s house tucked between businesses on First Street, but I could try. That's the office of the local newspaper, The Montgomery Messenger, on the left.

I don’t expect I’ll get inside this vintage 1800s house tucked between businesses on First Street, but I could try. That’s the office of the local newspaper, The Montgomery Messenger, on the left.

I absolutely love these small towns that have kept their historic buildings.

I absolutely love these small towns that have kept their historic buildings like this one dated 1896.

TOMORROW, IN THIS FIVE-PART SERIES from Montgomery, I take you to Hilltop Hall, which I’ve visited thrice. After that, we’ll go inside Franke’s Bakery, with photos from my 2010 visit there; I don’t expect much has changed. Next, I’ll show you how this community honors its veterans in a unique way. And then, to end my five-part series on Montgomery, I’ll show you several bonus photos from the town.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Lovin’ Hastings’ historic downtown October 30, 2012

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Just a sampling of the historic buildings in downtown Hastings, Minnesota.

WHY I’VE NEVER VISITED historic Hastings, a Mississippi River town an hour from my Faribault home, prior to a few weeks ago remains a mystery to me.

Jammed with building after building after building hearkening from yesteryear, Hastings’ downtown holds precisely the type of architecture and vintage imprint that I find especially appealing.

Looking up at Second Childhood Toys.

I could just stand there and gawk at the upper floors of these mostly brick buildings—at the arched windows, the detailed trim, the dates that define a building’s birth—for a good spell.

Stroll the sidewalks of downtown Hastings at a leisurely pace and step inside the many charming shops.

But the sidewalk level, too, offers an equal amount of charm with a multitude of antique and gift shops, a sweet spot to sample ice cream or candy, and more.

Relaxing on an early autumn afternoon in downtown Hastings, when the weather was still warm.

It’s the kind of Main Street where folks lollygag, where locals relax on a bench and sip coffee, where a dog lazes in the middle of the sidewalk and no one minds skirting around the canine, where trolls lurk near the bridge.

In Oliver’s Grove 1819, a downtown park, I found this mural of trolls and the old spiral bridge which once crossed over the Mississippi from Hastings to Wisconsin. Hastings was originally called Oliver’s Grove after Lt. William G. Oliver who arrived here in 1819.

This describes the Hastings I found on a Saturday afternoon in early autumn. Hastings, with its historic district, reminds me of Faribault’s downtown. Except Faribault seems to be mostly undiscovered.

Mailboxes and an historic marker on a door in the business district.

These circus glasses caught my eye inside an antique shop, Second Street Antiques and Collectibles, I believe. It was difficult for me to resist purchasing these as I collect vintage glassware.

Inside the same antique shop, looking across the street at a row of historic buildings.

Just in time for Halloween…a vintage clown costume in the same antique mall.

A vintage turkey decoration for the table, a few booths over from that Halloween costume.

One more seasonal find, a casserole in autumn hues.

So many antique shops to visit and not enough time to see them all.

Walking the dog in historic downtown Hastings on a warm and sunny Saturday earlier in autumn.

PLEASE CHECK BACK for more posts from historic Hastings.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Antiquing with my husband in Kenyon and Lake City July 17, 2012

A sweet little gallery and antique shop, The Kenyon Gallery in Kenyon.

I AM ONE OF THOSE ANTIQUE SHOPPERS, emphasis on the word those.

Allow me to explain. I enjoy browsing through antique stores, but I seldom buy. Why? I am cheap and prefer to find my collectibles and antiques at thrift stores and rummage sales.

Perhaps that word cheap isn’t quite right. Let’s change that to budget conscious. Yes, that’s better.

It’s not that I haven’t ever made an antique store purchase. I have. Just not that often. I am sorry, antique dealers. I do appreciate you and all the effort you put into finding, displaying and selling your merchandise.

Loved this unassuming casual country style table setting inside The Kenyon Gallery.

I’ve always wondered, though, how can you bear to part with your treasures? If I had to give up one of my two dozen or so vintage tablecloths, I would struggle. Oh, yes, I’ve done that, loaning several to my eldest daughter. The emphasis here would be on the word loan.

Recently my husband and I took a day trip to Lake City, which is on Lake Pepin (aka a wide spot in the Mississippi River). But before we reached that southeastern Minnesota town, we stopped in Kenyon at The Kenyon Gallery, a shop that markets a mixture of merchandise including $5 frames, framed prints, antiques and collectibles.

Here are three particularly interesting items I eyed up with my camera until my husband said, “We’ve gotta keep moving along here.” He was right and out the door we went, still aiming for Lake City.

The design on these chair backs intrigues me; I’ve never seen anything like these chairs. Readers, do you know anything about these chairs or their value?

I call it art although both pieces really have to do with something involving the making of furniture. I think.

I grew up on a dairy farm. What can I say?

Before we got there, though, we had to stop in Bellechester and check out a cornfield.

And then we were back on the road to Lake City. The husband might have repeated, “We’ve gotta keep moving along here.”

The Lake Pepin Pearl Button Co, a must-stop antique store in Lake City.

If you’re into antiquing, you’ll like the shopping in this riverside town. The Lake Pepin Pearl Button Co., located in a former button factory and dry goods store and with around 40 antique dealers, will easily occupy you for hours, if your spouse is patient. Not that I window-shopped for hours. But I could have.

A nickel for your fortune and a nickel for the foodshelf at the Button Co.

Pop art style graphics and my childhood fondness for 7-UP made this sign a tempting purchase at the Button Co.

So onward we traipsed in the heat and humidity.

A 1957 pen and ink drawing print by M.M. Swanston.

In the basement of Mississippi Mercantile (don’t you love the names of these antique stores?), I spotted this unusual portrait of Abraham Lincoln.

On to the Antique Shopper, I found plenty of appealing merchandise on the main level and in the basement of this multi-dealer venue.

My mom used snack sets to serve company when I was growing up, the reason I am typically drawn to these fancy dishes.

I had a tough time passing up these vintage bowls in the Antique Shopper. I have this thing for bowls, as my husband and kids will tell you. And these are beauties, unlike any I’ve seen.

Simply a graceful display highlighted by that Greta Garble photo.

Just as we were heading for the door, my spouse spotted an antique Grain Belt beer cooler under a table and paused to admire it.

My husband lingered at this Grain Belt cooler in Antique Shopper.

The oppressively hot, humid and smothering weather coupled with a strong desire to swig a cold one compelled both of us to just stand there for a few seconds and stare.

But then I snapped out of my heat-induced stupor. “We’ve gotta be moving along,” I muttered and out the door we went.

CLICK HERE TO LINK to a previous post about Lake City, specifically its pearl button-making history.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling