Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Hot Sam’s Part II: Like an I Spy book August 16, 2016

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One of several beach themed scenes at Hot Sam's.

One of several beach/water-themed scenes at Hot Sam’s.

IT’S EASY TO BECOME distracted by the showy scenes that target your attention at Hot Sam’s Antiques, a multi-faceted attraction in rural Lakeville. There’s so much to take in, to enjoy, to photograph in this wooded site next to a pond.

Grandma in her rocking chair was just sitting there on the ground under the trees.

Grandma in her rocking chair is just sitting there on the ground under the trees.

I’ve learned during two visits here to slow down and look, really look. Hot Sam’s is like stepping into the pages of an I Spy book. Turn the pages (walk) too fast and you’ll miss an object, a find, a work of art, a whatever. To see everything that defines this place which defies defining, you need to focus.

The road into Hot Sam's is lined with treasurers.

The road into Hot Sam’s is lined with treasures.

Art on the fence lining the driveway.

Art on the fence lining the driveway.

More miscellaneous treasures on the fence.

More miscellaneous treasures on the fence.

That visual concentration starts at the gate with a hodgepodge collection of objects decorating a fence alongside the gravel driveway.

There's parking up by the log cabin/antique & collectibles shop.

There’s parking up by the log cabin/antique & collectibles shop. Explore inside and out.

The hard to miss Hardware Hank.

The hard to miss ginormous Hardware Hank.

Don't miss the crashed plane on the other side of the pond.

Don’t miss the crashed plane on the other side of the pond.

Park your vehicle and explore with the eye of a treasure hunter and a riddle solver. Only then, with an I Spy attitude, can you truly appreciate everything that is Hot Sam’s.

BONUS PHOTOS:

One of my favorite works of art at Hot Sam's.

One of my favorite works of art at Hot Sam’s.

No lamb and lion...

An odd pairing of sculptures.

For the Popeye fans.

For the Popeye fans.

An adorable woodcarving for sale.

An adorable woodcarving for sale.

Details matters, like the suitcases atop the cab.

Details matters, like the suitcases atop the taxi cab.

Just hanging out...

Just hanging out…

Heed the signs and don't explore the restricted area.

Heed the sign and don’t explore the restricted area.

FYI: Click here to read my first in this two-part series about Hot Sam’s Antiques.

Note that you must check in with Kathy or Jake before taking photos as a photo fee applies.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Hot Sam’s Part I: Art, antiques & oddities in rural Lakeville August 15, 2016

A vintage van becomes a work of art at Hot Sam's.

A vintage van becomes a canvas for art at Hot Sam’s.

HOT SAM’S ANTIQUES, rural Lakeville, defies a singular definition. It’s unlike any place I’ve ever toured.

You'll see lots of vintage vehicles scattered throughout the property.

Vintage vehicles are scattered throughout the property.

There are weird and quirky surprises seemingly everywhere.

Weird and quirky surprises are seemingly propped everywhere.

Behind the sunflower and the fanciful treehouse are a log cabin and other buildings housing antiques for sale.

Atop the hill, behind the sunflower and the fanciful treehouse, are a log cabin and other buildings housing antiques and collectibles for sale.

It’s part photo park, theme park, artist’s haven, junkyard, antique shop. It is undeniably unique. And how you perceive this place depends on your individual preferences. If you like the odd, unusual and quirky, you’ll appreciate Hot Sam’s.

Posted at the entry to Hot Sam's located along Pillsbury Avenue just off Interstate 35, Lakeville exit.

Posted at the entry to Hot Sam’s located along Pillsbury Avenue just off Interstate 35, Lakeville exit.

The lovely and friendly Kathy poses for a quick portrait with the on-site pooch.

The lovely and friendly Kathy poses for a quick portrait with the resident pooch.

The Avon Freeway is new since my last visit to Hot Sam's several years ago. Avon collectible vehicles line this log along the driveway.

Avon collectible vehicles line a log along the driveway. A hodgepodge of items decorate the fence.

I first visited this attraction just off Interstate 35 south of the Twin Cities several years ago, returning on a drizzly Saturday afternoon in early June. Things had changed a bit. I couldn’t simply pull out my camera and start photographing the vignettes created by owner Jake Hood and his artist friend Barry. I had to check in with Kathy Sakry, Jake’s partner. With a bit of prompting, she remembered me and then waived the usual photographer’s fee, a necessity, Kathy says, to cover expenses.

The narrow gravel road into Hot Sam's leads to a quirky world of art and finds.

The narrow gravel road into Hot Sam’s leads to a quirky world of art and finds.

Geese wander the shore of the on-site pond.

Geese wander the shore of the on-site pond.

Looking toward a section of the beach, the setting for many water-themed vignettes.

Looking toward a section of the beach and the pond, the setting for many water-themed vignettes.

With Kathy’s OK, I threaded, camera in hand, down the puddled gravel driveway toward the sandy beach. I kept a watchful eye on the overcast threatening sky.

Sand is hauled in to help stage the beach scenes like this cabanna, added since my last visit.

Sand is hauled in to stage the beach scenes like this recently-added cabana.

An inviting tropical scene...

An inviting tropical scene…

Jake visits with a guest.

Jake visits with a guest.

The beach-side cabana, turtle-topped sand dune and dune buggy scene is Jake’s latest project. Thatch materials came from a now-closed business at the Mall of America. No surprise. Jake hints at connections to junkyards/scrappers/other sources from Minnesota to the coasts. You clearly need those ties to create an attraction like Hot Sam’s.

My husband obliges my request to sit for a photo.

My husband obliges my request to sit for a photo.

Butt bar stools, for example, come from some place in Vegas. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. There’s a certain mystique that envelopes Hot Sam’s, although if you had the time, Jake would likely share detailed stories.

This guitar sculpture and other sculptures are perched atop a hill along Interstate 35 south of Lakeville.

This guitar sculpture and other sculptures are perched atop a hill along Interstate 35 south of Lakeville.

Jake and I talk before he takes me and my husband into a hidden paradise.

Jake and I talk before he takes my husband and me into a hidden paradise.

Entering Hot Sam's tropical paradise. This is the only view you'll get of this place tucked into the woods. Maybe Jake will show you if you ask. But then again maybe he won't.

Entering Hot Sam’s tropical paradise. This is the only peek you’ll get of this place from me. Maybe Jake will take you there. But then again maybe not.

As it was, he invited my husband and me to board his golf cart for a short drive into a hidden section of the property. I hung on as Jake twisted the cart through the woods, down a hill, around a curve and into a recreated island-themed paradise. This party spot is most often frequented by musicians drawn to Hot Sam’s by an over-sized guitar sculpture visible from Interstate 35, Jake tells me.

If you've seen this shark and other hillside sculptures from Interstate 35 south of the Lakeville exit, then you've seen Hot Sam's art.

If you’ve seen this shark and other hillside sculptures from Interstate 35 south of the Lakeville exit, then you’ve found Hot Sam’s. Take the Lakeville exit and go east a short distance before turning south onto Kenrick Avenue.

For years, sculptures have been positioned roadside atop Hot Sam’s hill. For years, I’d seen the art and never bothered to exit the Interstate. I expect many other motorists have done the same.

A scene outside a building filled with antiques and collectibles.

The front porch of a building filled with antiques and collectibles.

That’s the thing. We drive by, just drive by. And then one day, if we have the time and/or inclination, we stop. And then we discover a place that defies easy definition, a place that showcases creativity, a place that everyone should tour. At least once. Or twice. When we’re always in a hurry, we miss the Hot Sam’s of the world. And that is our loss.

You never know what awaits you if you only take the time to stop at a place like Hot Sam's.

You never know what awaits you if you only take the time to stop at a place like Hot Sam’s.

TELL ME: Have you ever toured Hot Sam’s? Or have you visited a place just as interesting and unique? I’d love to hear. Check back tomorrow for one final photo look at this south of the metro area attraction.

FYI: To get to Hot Sam’s Antiques from Interstate 35, take exit 81 near Lakeville and go east on Dakota County Road 70 about half a mile to the stoplight. Then turn south onto Kenrick Avenue/County Road 46. Continue approximately 1 1/2 miles on Kenrick, which turns into Pillsbury Avenue. Hot Sam’s is located on the west side of the road at 22820 Pillsbury Avenue South, Lakeville. You’ll see a sign.

Open from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. weekdays (except closed on Thursday) and Saturday and from noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday. I recommend calling in advance to confirm hours.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Road trip stories: Impressions of Barcelona, New York, not Spain August 12, 2016

Barcelona is located along Lake Erie just off Interstate 90 near the New York/Pennsylvania border.

Barcelona is located along Lake Erie just off Interstate 90 near the New York/Pennsylvania border.

MY FIRST IMPRESSION OF BARCELONA, a hamlet located within the town of Westfield, New York, was not a good one.

I had to pee. Bad. The van also needed gas. So it was a good time to pull off Interstate 90 in the southwestern corner of New York. I practically flew out the van at the Citgo station, only to stop abruptly at the front door. A sign banned anyone but customers from the restrooms. My facial muscles involuntarily scowled. Welcome to Barcelona.

When my travel weary mind finally clicked that, yes, I was a paying customer, I walked inside. I didn’t know I was being watched. But the clerk advised that, yes, she had seen my reaction. And, yes, I could use the bathroom.

Cones blocking a freshly-poured concrete sidewalk blocked me from getting too close to the Portland Harbor Lighthouse and keeper's house.

Cones rimming sidewalk construction blocked me from getting too close to the 40-foot high Portland Harbor Lighthouse and keeper’s house.

Once I got over that, I noticed the beautiful old lighthouse across the street. (I’m speculating that many lighthouse lovers travel here and then need to use the service station restrooms.) Being a landlocked southern Minnesotan, I find lighthouses a bit of a novelty. However, there would be no getting inside this 1829 lighthouse constructed of native fieldstone. Decommissioned in 1860, the Portland Harbor lighthouse and accompanying keeper’s house became private property.

I moved closer to the lighthouse keeper's house, until I realized this was private property.

Another angle, from the side, of the lighthouse keeper’s house.

Upon researching this National Register of Historic Places landmark later, I learned that the lighthouse was the first public building in the U.S. illuminated by natural gas.

Boats parked near the lake.

Boats parked near the lake.

I wasn’t about to leave Barcelona, though, without at least seeing Lake Erie. If it was Lake Erie. At that point, well into our second day of a long road trip from Minnesota to Massachusetts, I wasn’t even sure what state we were in. And my Great Lakes geography is lacking. I know the locations of Lake Superior and Lake Michigan. The other Greats, not so much.

It was a lovely day to be on the beach of Lake Erie.

It was a lovely day to be on the beach of Lake Erie.

Just blocks from the gas station, my husband and I found a public access to Lake Erie. I am always impressed by the immensity of the Great Lakes, how sky and water blend into an infinity of blue, how distinct horizontal lines divide land and water and sky, how such a vast body of water can appear calm one day, threatening the next.

My husband obliged my request for a photo of me on the shores of Lake Erie.

My husband obliged my request for a photo of me on the shores of Lake Erie.

I scooped my hand into the cold water, plucked silken smooth stones from the beach, posed for a photo to prove I’d been here, in Barcelona.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Winona, Part III: A bank that impresses January 8, 2016

The exterior front of the Winona National Bank, originally Winona Savings Bank, presents a visual of strength and stability in design and materials.

The exterior front of Winona National Bank, originally Winona Savings Bank, presents a visual of strength and stability in design and materials.

EVERYTHING ABOUT THE CONSTRUCTION of Winona National Bank invokes trust, strength and power.

Each granite column soars 37 feet, weighs 32 tons and is constructed from a single piece of North Carolina granite.

Each column measures 37 feet high, weighs 32 tons and is constructed from a single piece of North Carolina granite.

Granite entry columns.

Green marble from Greece and white marble from Italy.

Green marble from Greece and white marble from Italy are featured inside the bank, here in the lobby and teller area.

Marble everywhere.

The mammoth steel vault door gives an impression of safety and security. It was built by Diebold Safe and Lock Company of Canton, Ohio.

The mammoth steel vault door gives an impression of safety and security. It was built by Diebold Safe and Lock Company of Canton, Ohio.

A 22 ½ ton vault door 22 inches thick.

Architect George Maher designed the metal work like these iron window gates.

Architect George Maher designed the metal work like these iron window gates which give a visual impression of security.

Iron window gates.

The lion,

The lion, another symbol of strength and power.

Lion heads are also carved in stone.

Lion heads are also carved in stone.

To the right in this display of taxidermied animals is a lion.

The taxidermy display includes a lion, center.

And then, the king of the jungle—the lion—standing atop signage, sculpted and encased in glass. A symbol of strength for a bank that stands as a powerful visual presence in the heart of this Mississippi River town.

The bank was quiet on the morning I visited.

The bank was quiet on the morning I visited. Beautiful marble. Note the word “TRUST” on the wall to the left.

On the Friday in September when I toured this 1916 Egyptian Revival style building with Prairie School influences, the bank seemed more museum than business. The atmosphere was quiet, almost shrine-like with few customers. (The bank also has two branch offices.) I felt a sense of reverent awe in the midst of such opulence, such an overwhelming display of wealth.

The largest of the Tiffany stained glass windows in the bank looms above the entry. Architect George Maher's Prairie School influences are seen in a design that includes a lotus pattern.

The largest of the Tiffany stained glass windows in the bank looms above the entry. Architect George Maher’s Prairie School influences are seen in a design that includes a lotus pattern.

Looking up toward the second floor and the area open to the lower level, the white marble from Italy conveys strength.

Looking up toward the second floor and the area open to the lower level, the white marble from Italy conveys strength. Note the art deco style lights.

Mahogany railings wrap the white marble staircase.

Mahogany railings wrap the white marble staircase.

It is difficult for me to comprehend anyone having this much money—to erect this massive building with Tiffany stained glass windows, white marble imported from Italy and mahogany railings. Chicago architect George Maher, a contemporary of Frank Lloyd Wright, designed the building.

Plans for the tile are on display.

Plans for the tile are on display.

The bank formed in 1874 as Winona Savings Bank, later merging with Winona National Bank. J.R. Watkins, founder of The J.R. Watkins Medical Company, still a stalwart business today simply known as J.R. Watkins, is also linked to the bank. In the early 1900s, J.R. acquired Winona Savings Bank as a banking concern connected to Watkins products.

The impressive boardroom.

The impressive boardroom.

When J.R. died in 1911, his son-in-law, Ernest L. King, Sr., then the vice president of Watkins, assumed the bank presidency. Eventually his son, Ernest L. King, Jr., would serve on the board of directors.

A Prairie School inspired chair in the boardroom, next to the gun collection.

A Prairie School inspired chair in the boardroom, next to the gun collection.

So there’s a lot of local business history in this formidable bank building listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Watkins connection is highlighted in upper level displays. Inside the boardroom, designed in Prairie School style, sleek chairs pull up to hefty, gleaming tables next to a gun collection. Just down the hallway, trophy animals shot by Grace Watkins King (J.R.’s only child) and her husband, Ernest L. King, Sr., are showcased.

A trophy from Africa.

A lion trophy from Africa.

I couldn’t help but think of Cecil the lion (killed in Zimbabwe) as I photographed the lion mount inside the bank. I understand, though, that it was a different mindset when this lion and other wildlife were shot in Africa. Yet, in a building of such grand splendor, this taxidermy collection left me feeling uncomfortable and sad.

From an upper floor looking down to the lobby.

From an upper floor looking down to the lobby.

That aside, I delighted in the opportunity to tour this remarkable Minnesota treasure.

BONUS PHOTOS:

Even underfoot impresses.

Even underfoot impresses.

Likewise above...Tiffany stained glass.

Likewise above…definitely Prairie School influence.

Another view of the lobby from above.

Another view of the lobby from above.

FYI: Free self-guided tours of the bank are available during regular business hours from 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The bank is located at 204 Main Street in downtown Winona. Check back next week as I continue with my series from Winona.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Winona, Part II: A Prairie School Style office building at J.R. Watkins Co. January 7, 2016

The JR Watkins complex of buildings is on the National Register of Historic Places as noted by this marker.

The J.R. Watkins complex of buildings is on the National Register of Historic Places as noted by this marker.

AH, TO WORK in such a splendid place of marble and gold and Tiffany stained glass windows.

Greenery outside the Watkins' office building.

Greenery outside the Watkins’ office building.

That’s the setting for employees at J.R. Watkins, a Winona company that sells health remedies, baking products and much more; it’s especially known for its vanilla. Office workers labor inside a monumental building designed by noted Prairie School style architect George W. Maher of Chicago.

Chiseled above the main entry into the administrative building.

Chiseled above an entry into the administrative building.

The sprawling building features a 70-foot high rotunda dome coated with 24-carat gold leaf.

The sprawling building features a 70-foot high rotunda dome coated with 24-carat gold leaf.

On a September visit to this Mississippi River community, I toured the 1912 office building which anchors a corner on the edge of downtown. It’s an unexpected gem, this stone structure that resembles a government building or art museum rather than the headquarters of a business.

Even the door handles are exquisite.

Even the door handles are exquisite.

My husband and I couldn’t just walk inside. Rather, we phoned for access and then signed in.

Inside, looking toward the front doors.

Inside, looking toward the front doors and the Tiffany stained glass window featuring a rendition of Sugar Loaf.

The Sugar Loaf window up close.

The Sugar Loaf window up close.

Looking toward a mini-museum display of Watkins items, including the Watkins wagon.

Looking toward a mini-museum display of Watkins items, including a Watkins wagon.

The building features 224 stained glass skylights.

The building features 224 stained glass skylights.

Skylights up close.

Skylights up close.

And, as you would expect, the space we were allowed to explore was limited to the main lobby area. Still, this was enough to impress as I gazed upon marble walls, the stained glass skylights (of which there are 224) and the custom-made Tiffany stained glass window (there are three) featuring Winona’s noted bluff landmark, Sugar Loaf. Because the windows are covered on the exterior to protect them, they are not quite as impressive as they could be. Still, you can’t leave this building without thinking, wow.

FYI: Check back tomorrow for a post on the Winona National Bank building.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The magic of LARK Toys, a southeastern Minnesota toy store October 6, 2015

A handcrafted sign inside LARK Toys, Kellogg, Minnesota.

A handcrafted sign next to a window inside LARK Toys, Kellogg, Minnesota.

LARK TOYS IS MAGICAL.

All of the creatures on the LARK carousel are handcarved.

All of the creatures on the LARK carousel are hand-carved.

A cozy and creative corner int he bookstore.

A cozy and creative corner in the bookstore.

In the game room, you can try out games.

In the game room, you can try out games.

No other adjective quite as succinctly describes this sprawling toy store along Minnesota State Highway 61 on the outskirts of Kellogg. It’s a business that showcases old toys and new, handcrafted and mass-produced. Toss in a candy shop and a bookstore, hands-on opportunities for kids to try out toys and the focal point—a hand-carved carousel—and you have magic.

Playful puppets pop color into a section of the multi-room toy store.

Playful puppets pop color into a section of the multi-room toy store.

Our family visited LARK years ago, when the kids were still at home. But this time it was just my husband and me meandering through the maze of rooms amid lots of grandparents with grandchildren in tow. I made a mental note to some day, when I become a grandmother, revisit this place.

For $2, kids can ride this one-of-a-kind carousel.

For $2, kids can ride this one-of-a-kind carousel.

It's not just your usual horses on this merry-go-round.

It’s not just your usual horses on this merry-go-round.

This LARK employee dressed the part of a fun-loving carousel attendant.

This LARK employee dressed the part of a fun-loving carousel attendant as she watched the ride go round and round.

But this was now and I delighted in watching youngsters scramble onto their chosen animals—like a giraffe, dragon or pelican—as the colorful carousel curator readied the ride for a spin.

Jelly bean and other candy choices are plentiful.

Jelly bean and other candy choices are plentiful.

From there I ducked into the candy shop, perusing the vast collection of jelly beans in flavors like juicy pear, strawberry jam and tangerine.

When I was growing up, Felix the Cat with his magical bag of tricks was my favorite cartoon.

When I was growing up, Felix the Cat with his magical bag of tricks was my favorite cartoon.

Another vintage toy in Memory Lane.

Another vintage toy in Memory Lane.

My Scrabble memories stretch back nearly 50 years. This message on the Scrabble letter holder is like many positive quotes displayed throughout the store.

My Scrabble memories stretch back nearly 50 years. This message on the Scrabble letter holder is like many positive quotes displayed throughout the store. I love that detail about LARK Toys.

Then, along the hallway to the toy store, I paid homage to Felix the Cat, a favorite cartoon character from yesteryear displayed in the store’s Memory Lane section of vintage toys.

A connecting hallway serves as Memory Lane.

A connecting hallway serves as Memory Lane.

Passing a public police box (a TARDIS for those of you who know and understand the BBC sci-fi TV show Doctor Who), I entered the Main Toy Store. And, oh, how I wished I was the grandkid with Grandpa and Grandma carrying a credit card.

No one was at work in the toy shop when I snapped this quick photo through an open door.

No one was at work in the toy shop when I snapped this quick photo through an open door.

These muddy pigs are among the wooden pull toys handcrafted at LARK Toys.

These muddy pigs are among the wooden pull toys handcrafted at LARK Toys.

More animal pull toys handcrafted by LARK Toys artisans.

More animal pull toys handcrafted by LARK Toys artisans.

Without doubt, I would have begged for a wooden pull toy handcrafted at LARK Toys. As Randy and I admired pull toys like a fire truck, elephant, snail and even a mud-splashed pig, we remembered the wooden frog our eldest daughter hopped everywhere until the toy eventually wore out. It was not crafted at LARK. But it was similar to LARK toys. There’s something grassroots appealing about the simplicity of a wooden pull toy.

A troll (I think) on the carousel.

A troll (I think) on the carousel.

And there’s something about LARK Toys, too, that’s truly Minnesota magical.

BONUS PHOTOS:

Enter at your own risk, grandparents.

Enter at your own risk, grandparents.

Toy samples are set up for kids to play with within the toy store.

Toy samples are set up for kids to test.

Rows and rows of Schleich animals fill shelves.

Rows and rows of Schleich animals fill shelves.

LARK Toys offers a vast selection of marbles.

LARK Toys offers a vast selection of marbles.

Kids left their signatures in magnetic letters.

Kids left their signatures in magnetic letters.

Fun walking sticks.

Fun walking sticks.

Art on display.

Art on display.

Fun on a windowsill.

Religion on a windowsill.

Randy and I have a little fun with a funhouse style mirror.

Randy and I have a little fun with a funhouse style mirror.

There's fun outdoors, too, with mini golf and llamas to observe.

There’s more outdoors with mini golf and miniature llamas.

FYI: In December 2014, USA Today named LARK Toys among the top 10 best toy stores in the U.S. A year prior, viewers at WCCO TV voted LARK Toys the best toy store in Minnesota.

The toy store is located at 63604 170th Avenue outside Kellogg in southeastern Minnesota. Take County Road 18 to Lark Lane. You can see the dark brown sprawling building from U.S. Highway 61. (I think the structure should be painted in multiple eye-catching vibrant colors more suiting to a toy store.)

Hours vary according to seasons but are 9:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily from now through December. After that, limited winter hours kick in for two months. Click here for full store hours.

As part of the Wabasha-Kellogg area SeptOberfest celebrations continuing to the end of October, LARK Toys is hosting stories and songs for preschoolers and families in the bookstore from 10:15 a.m. – 11 a.m. on Friday, October 9. A musical march to the carousel follows with free rides.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

What I’ve learned about Forest City, Iowa May 28, 2015

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Downtown Forest City, Iowa.

Downtown Forest City, Iowa, on a recent dreary Saturday.

“YOU’RE REALLY NOT FROM HERE, are you?” Monte Topp surmised after telling me that Forest City is home to Winnebago Industries.

I could feel the lack of recognition flicker across my face, prompting that comment from Monte, who lives just to the east in Fertile, Iowa. “No, I’m from Minnesota,” I said. And I’m not a camper, I thought, but didn’t speak.

Still, I should have recognized Winnebago Industries as “the leading United States manufacturer of motorhomes and related products and services.” I’m certain the Winnebago Industries Visitors Center and Museum would have educated me, as would a tour of the manufacturing plant. But, since I wasn’t particularly interested, my husband and I didn’t stop while on a brief visit to Forest City.

Another interesting name. The Cow Palace is apparently a livestock auction house.

Another interesting name. Forest City Cow Palace is apparently a livestock auction house.

Monte might not be pleased with my lack of interest. But he laughed when I suggested his name, Monte Topp, sounded like that of a rock star.

My first glimpse of Heritage Park of North Iowa, driving into Forest City from the south.

My first glimpse of Heritage Park of North Iowa, driving into Forest City from the south.

He also mentioned that Forest City is home to a mega Winnebago campground. And besides Heritage Park of North Iowa where I met him, Monte suggested touring the Mansion Museum, which was closed when we were in town.

Waldorf College is located in Forest City with this building directly across the street from the Winnebago County Courthouse.

Waldorf College is located in Forest City with this building directly across the street from the Winnebago County Courthouse.

Later I learned from Minnesota Prairie Roots reader Erin, who attended Waldorf College in Forest City some 20 years ago, that Oak Knoll, the college president’s house once decorated in swanky 70s décor; The Lodge, a “hidden gem” hotel and restaurant where some of the rooms once served as horse stables; and Pilot Knob State Park, the second highest point in Iowa and with an historic stone tower, would also be interesting places to visit. (Thanks, Erin. I always appreciate reader tips.)

What a stunning building, left, in the heart of downtown Forest City. It appeared abandoned and in need of repair.

What a stunning building, left, in the heart of downtown Forest City. It appeared abandoned and in need of repair. Just consider the potential for this architectural beauty.

Yes, I should have done my homework in advance. But, as often happens with my regional travels, minimal planning is involved. It’s just drive and see what one discovers. And, no, I don’t have a smart phone or a laptop to instantly connect me to information while traveling.

BONUS PHOTOS:

This collection site for cans for Relay for Life and for toys for needy kids shows me this is a community that cares.

This collection site for cans for Relay for Life and for toys for needy kids shows me Forest City is a community that cares.

On the way out of town, I spotted this machine shed style building, home to Borderline Pizza and Taco Jerry's.

On the way out of town, I spotted this machine shed style building, home to Borderline Pizza & Video and Taco Jerry’s.

FYI: Click here, and then here and, finally, here to read my first three posts from Forest City, Iowa. Check back next week as I begin a series of posts on a recent visit to Clear Lake, Iowa, to the south and east of Forest City. I’ll also take you to Lake Mills in a future post.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling