Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Let peace & love guide us August 26, 2020

 

It’s truly timely. The message posted in windows spanning the front of an historic building in Dundas.

 

 

VOTE FOR OUR PLANET EARTH

VOTE FOR OUR DEMOCRACY

VOTE DEAR ONES VOTE

 

 

And then in the windows to the right side of the front door:

LET THE SPIRIT OF PEACE

AND THE POWER OF EVERLASTING LOVE

BE YOUR GUIDE

—JOHN ROBERT LEWIS

 

 

And then above the door:

BLACK LIVES MATTER

I spotted these powerful words while in this small southeastern Minnesota community on Saturday for a history cruise. And I felt compelled to stop and photograph the scene, to share this with you before continuing on to the tour.

As someone who grew up after and near the end of turbulent times—the Civil Rights movement (with its racial injustices) and the Vietnam War and an increasing awareness of environmental issues—I get it. The teenage me embraced the peace symbol, wrapped my wrist in a POW bracelet, wore Earth shoes. That was decades ago. Yet, it seems sometimes that little has changed.

 

 

And so those words resonate with me in their familiarity. I appreciate the gentleness of the selected words, yet the power behind them. Urging people to vote by calling them “dear ones” feels intensely personal and loving. Now, more than ever, we must exercise our right to vote. Men and women have died for our freedom, ensuring our democracy and the right to vote. Others have marched for the right to vote, including long-time Georgia Congressman and Civil Rights leader John Lewis, who died in July from cancer.

The quote from Lewis that peace and love should prevail is something we can all aspire to in this deeply divided nation in need of healing. I appreciate the positive message. The words uplift, rather than press down. They enlighten rather than oppress. They encourage rather than attack.

 

 

And, yes, black lives do matter. As does every life. I recognize the frustration, the anger, the desire for change. I don’t condone the violence, the looting, the destruction, which detract from the cause. Let peace and everlasting love be our guide.

John Lewis marched for voting rights for blacks across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma in 1965 and suffered a skull fracture at the hands of police. He organized voter registration drives and participated in lunch counter sit-ins. And here we are, so many decades later, with root cause issues unresolved, people still struggling, hurting, protesting.

 

 

If only we remember how “dear” we are to one another, how the words we choose, the actions we take, matter, affect others. Let peace and the power of everlasting love be our guide.

 

 

FYI: The building where these messages are posted was built of locally-quarried limestone in 1866 as the Ault General Store and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is the only remaining structure from Dundas’ original commercial district, which ran along Second Street. When the railroad came to town, businesses moved to the west side of the Cannon River near the new train station. That included the Ault Store.

The local newspaper, the Dundas News, was housed here from 1876-1979 as was the town’s first library on the second floor. Today the old store is in a residential neighborhood and a residence. But it still retains that feel of community, of centering knowledge and of expressing opinion.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From milling flour to drinking whiskey in Rice County, history tour Part II August 25, 2020

At the ruins of an historic flour mill in Dundas, a kiosk provides historical info, including this map of flour mills in the area.

 

RICE COUNTY IS RICH IN HISTORY, especially in historic buildings. I value that about this region of Minnesota. I appreciate that many aged structures remain, well cared for and treasured. I appreciate, too, those who share their knowledge of the past.

I grew up 120 miles west of here, on the prairie. Given the difference in landscape and settlement time and other factors, the history of southwestern Minnesota differs considerably from southeastern Minnesota. I am still learning about Rice County, the place I’ve called home for 38 years.

 

Vintage vehicles were among those on the history cruise, here at Christdala Swedish Lutheran Church near Millersburg.

 

On Saturday I expanded my understanding of this area by attending the first ever “Cruising Rice County History” tour, an event that took attendees through the county to seven historic sites. In yesterday’s post, I covered three of those places—Prairieville Church, Nerstrand City Hall and Valley Grove Churches.

 

The Archibald Mill ruins are fenced to keep people from wandering onto the historic site.

 

Today we head west to the small town of Dundas, just outside of Northfield, and then even farther west to the even smaller settlement of Millersburg. Pre-tour, I was familiar with each point of interest on the cruise. But I still picked up tidbits of information either new to me or forgotten over the years.

 

A few walls remain of the once flourishing flour mill on the west side of the Cannon River in Dundas.

 

Kiosk info details flour milling history here.

 

Tour participants check in at the flour mill ruins, where they could learn more about Rice County flour mills from local historian Jeff Jarvis, Susan Garwood (director of the RCHS) or read printed info.

 

In Dundas, the ruins of a long-gone flour mill, destroyed by fire, focused the third stop. I learned of the mills the Archibald brothers, from Canada, built here around the 1860s along the banks of the Cannon River. Their flour was world-renowned and their flour patent eventually sold to what is now General Mills. It’s quite a history in a region once known for its flour mills. If only one remained…

 

The history cruise took us throughout rural Rice County. This farm field lies along Rice County Road 1 on the way to Millersburg from Dundas.

 

Before heading to the next stop, Randy and I picnicked at Memorial Park in Dundas. That left us a bit crunched for time as we aimed out of town along Rice County Road 1 past farm sites and farm fields to the Millersburg District #20 School House Museum. We’ve been here before, toured the museum.

 

The former Millersburg School now houses a museum operated by the Christdala Preservation & Cemetery Association. Exhibits include school and church items, tools and info related to the James-Younger bank robbery.

 

While we couldn’t go inside the schoolhouse, we could peek our heads in the door.

 

Appropriately, a bell sat on the check in station at the schoolhouse.

 

An historic marker outside the schoolhouse. You can also see the swings, remaining from the playground, to the right in this photo.

 

The back side of the historical marker outside the schoolhouse.

 

As the story goes, the Younger gang stopped for whiskey at the Millersburg store in September 1876 at the current location of Boonies.

 

But this visit I picked up some info not necessarily related to the 1881 school, but to the 1876 robbery of the First National Bank in nearby Northfield. Here, four members of the James-Younger Gang stopped for whiskey at the then Millersburg Store (today Boonies Bar & Grill across from the schoolhouse), stayed at the Cushman Hotel just down the road and the next day met up with fellow outlaws in Dundas.

 

Christdala’s defining steeple. The church is on the National Register of Historic Places. Randy and I recently picnicked on the front steps of Christdala.

 

I was delighted to find the doors open to Christdala Swedish Lutheran Church.

 

And on their way back from robbing the bank, the gang followed the same route, taking us to the next stop on our tour, Christdala Swedish Lutheran Church. I’ve also visited here many times, including just a few weeks ago. Swedish immigrants built this church in 1878 high atop a hill, spurred by the death of friend and neighbor Nicolaus Gustafson. He was an innocent bystander killed in a shoot out during the Northfield bank raid. Because the Swedish community had no cemetery, Gustafson was buried in Northfield.

 

Simple stained glass windows inside Christdala in colors of the Swedish flag.

 

Today you’ll find Gustafsons buried in the Christdala graveyard along with many others whose surnames end in “son.” This long-closed church was open during the history tour. Although I’ve previously been inside, I wasn’t about to miss another opportunity to step inside this small Swedish church, complete with Swedish flags and stained glass windows in the Swedish colors of blue and yellow.

 

One of the many displays inside the Rice County Historical Society Museum, this one honoring Native Americans who lived in the county.

 

The RCHS recently acquired metal art sculptures from Lockerby Sheet Metal, a long-time Faribault sheet metal fabrication company no longer in business. Those pieces are being restored. This knight currently stands in the museum entry.

 

On the historical society grounds are these two historic buildings: the Pleasant Valley School District #22 schoolhouse (educating children in Bridgewater Township in the late 1850s) and Holy Innocents Episcopal Church, built in Cannon City in 1869 and later moved here.

 

With time pressing to get back to (event sponsor) the Rice County Historical Society Museum in Faribault, Randy and I didn’t linger for long. We needed to turn in our poker run cards and look around the museum and grounds before everything ended. While Randy handed in our losing poker hand, I breezed through the museum exhibits and took a few photos inside and out.

 

Many of these historic places still exist thanks to preservation groups and history enthusiasts.

 

And I considered what a lovely day it had been. Out and about, enjoying and appreciating local history, thanks to the hard work and efforts of those who value Rice County history enough to preserve and share it.

 

Please check back for a follow-up post on an historic building I discovered in Dundas, and not on the tour, but with a powerful and timely message posted.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A Minnesota roadside sweet corn stand August 13, 2019

 

Along Minnesota State Highway 3 just south of Dundas.

 

ACROSS SOUTHERN MINNESOTA, signs pop promoting sweet corn. Fresh. From the field. Tasting of summer.

 

 

Some farmers sell at local farmers’ markets or to grocery stores. Others vend from pick-up trucks, beds heaped with piles of sweet corn.

 

Randy selects corn from the Highway 3 stand.

 

Others park a wagon roadside,

 

 

secure a payment box thereon and trust customers to pay on the honor system.

 

 

Shove bills into box, bag your corn and go.

 

 

I love those stands—the unmanned ones that show people still believe in the goodness of other people. Trust. Honesty. Goodness. Virtues seemingly lost on too many these days. But still present in rural Minnesota.

 

 

And I love stories, like the one posted at a sweet corn stand along Minnesota State Highway 3 between Dundas and Faribault.

 

These entrepreneurs are growing pumpkins and squash, too, in the field next to the sweet corn stand.

Stories that make customers want to buy, and then return.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Spring photos, spring thoughts May 20, 2019

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THE LEAFING OF SPRING.

 

 

That string of four words defines May in Minnesota. In the past several weeks, I’ve watched buds form on trees, then unfurl into a canopy of mostly green. But also other hues.

 

 

Until you’ve lived through a cold and snowy winter like we did, I doubt you can fully appreciate the magnificence of this season, of viewing these days like a child at play.

 

 

The green of spring appears brilliant. Intense. An incomparable green that locks my eyes onto a lush landscape.

 

 

I almost can’t stop looking, taking it all in. This spring. This denotes the season of hope and new life, of following roads that lead to the promise of better days ahead.

 

TELL ME:  What in nature signals spring for you?

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Everyday art May 17, 2019

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ART. It’s everywhere if we choose to see it. And I do, with my camera.

On a recent walk through a city park in Dundas, I paused on a pedestrian bridge spanning the Cannon River. There I turned my lens to swimming geese,

 

 

to the water

 

 

and then back to the side of the bridge and the textured growths thereon. Abstract art.

 

 

I challenge you to look and really see, to notice the details in your surroundings. To discover often unseen and unappreciated art.

 

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A trailside mystery in Dundas May 7, 2019

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The foreground tree to the right of the path marks the location of the mysterious discovery.

 

A WALK ALONG A RECREATIONAL trail in Dundas on Sunday afternoon yielded a magical discovery at the base of a tree.

 

 

I don’t generally glance downward when searching for photo ops. But this day I did and noticed a small toy white horse.

 

 

I don’t know the story of who placed the horse here or why. Sometimes mysteries are better left unsolved.

I reacted by embracing this enchanting discovery, of letting my imagination imagine, of accepting the joy this brought to me on a day when I needed joy.

 

TELL ME: If you have any ideas on this mystery, please share.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Beer, conversations & creativity on a winter day in Minnesota March 5, 2019

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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2018.

 

AS I SIPPED my double IPA at Chapel Brewing in Dundas on Sunday afternoon, I snuggled under a fleece throw inside the revamped long ago chapel. I couldn’t shake the brutal cold of the winter day, even inside this cozy, albeit not particularly warm, building. I removed my mittens, keeping my coat zipped over a flannel shirt and hooded sweatshirt.

I perched on a stool next to the wall, next to a window overlooking a snow-covered deck, snow layering locked down tables and chairs. I wondered how many months before the snow melts, before craft beer lovers will sit outdoors on the riverside deck. It’ll be awhile.

For now, they settled for glimpses of spring on a corner TV screen broadcasting a pre-season Twins game. I was in the minority with no interest in baseball. Only a lush flower commercial for Gertens drew my attention and a personal public service announcement of “Hey, look, spring.”

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2018.

 

They laughed. The mostly men dressed in mostly flannel shirts. Some, like me, kept their stocking caps clamped on their heads. I felt a sense of closeness in this gathering of strangers unknown to Randy and me. There’s something about the craziness of coming out on a bitterly cold March afternoon during a forever winter of too much cold and snow that builds community. We’re all in this together. We’re surviving. We’re trying to make the best of what this winter has handed us.

 

Inside Chapel Brewing. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2018.

 

And then in walked the two guys from Cannon Falls, one dressed in striped bib overalls. I flashed to my farmer dad, who would have celebrated his birthday on Monday. He’s been gone now for nearly 16 years. Dad always wore striped bibs. The stranger’s attire offered me no choice but to comment on his clothing. He’s a farmer, too. Prior to arriving at the brewery, he stopped near Medford to look at a digger dug from the snow by the seller. Now that’s gumption, braving bone-chilling cold to shop for a piece of farm equipment.

 

Kolsch beer served at Chapel Brewing. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2018.

 

The things you learn when you decide to strike up a conversation over a beer. I also learned the bibbed farmer appeared in a campaign commercial for a Minnesota politician. He showed me the clip on his phone.

When another beer drinker overhead me say I grew up in Redwood County near Vesta, he chimed in. He’s familiar with the area, having attended Southwest Minnesota State University in neighboring Marshall back in the 1970s. He knew Vesta then as “the cult town,” a term I’d never heard but which likely traces to a religious sect in my hometown. A Twin Cities area native, he didn’t fit into the ag-oriented college all those decades ago. I also learned he lost his wife a year ago and offered my sympathies.

It amazes me sometimes what I learn by observing, by starting conversations, by reaching out to people. I am, by nature, an introvert. I’d rather listen than talk about myself. But I am, by nature and by educational and professional backgrounds, curious. I notice details. I observe. And by observing and caring about others’ stories, I discover connections that spark my creativity. Even in the depth of a long Minnesota winter.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The weekend we’ve awaited in winter weary Minnesota April 23, 2018

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GOODBYE, WINTER, and welcome spring.

 

Buds are bursting in these trees along the Cannon River in Dundas.

 

This weekend brought spring to Minnesota, just a week after an historic blizzard. And the mood shifted dramatically to exuberance as Minnesotans soaked up the sunshine and warmth, me among them. I even sport a sunburned forehead.

 

“Thin ice” signs remained in place at Lake Kohlmier in Owatonna on Saturday. Edges of the lake were open, the middle still iced.

 

We haven’t had temps this warm—in the 60s—since October. That’s too many months.

 

In Nerstrand, a contrast of seasons in a melting snowman and yard art.

 

On Sunday afternoon Randy found enough snow for a snowball.

 

Randy and I took a drive in the Rice County countryside this weekend. Snow still remains in shadowed spots.

 

While winter still lingers in melting snowmen, patches of snow and ice on lakes, I see spring everywhere.

 

 

 

 

In budding trees and pussy willows and blooming crocuses. Even in mud baking dry in the afternoon sun.

 

Biking Sunday afternoon along a back gravel road in Rice County south of Northfield.

 

It was shirt sleeve warm weather in Minnesota on Sunday, this scene photographed in Faribault at the intersection of Minnesota State Highway 21 and Seventh Street.

 

People were out and about everywhere—biking, riding motorcycles, pushing strollers, pulling wagons, walking, running, drinking craft beers on brewery decks and patios…

 

A fitting sign outside Chapel Brewing in Dundas on Sunday.

 

There was this feeling of we’ve finally made it. If you’ve ever lived in a cold weather state, you understand that delight, that giddiness, that joy which marks the first really warm and sunny day of spring.

 

Randy pulled on his shades as we each enjoyed a glass of beer on the riverside deck of Chapel Brewing Sunday afternoon.

 

Smiles abound, jackets are shed, sunglasses pulled on, winter released. Even if snow still remains in shadowed patches, we understand that spring has arrived in Minnesota. Finally.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Where the faithful once gathered… February 26, 2018

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I’M GOING TO THE CHAPEL and I’m gonna…

 

 

have a beer

because Jesus isn’t there turning water into wine.

 

 

Rather Andrew Burns and crew are brewing and serving beer at Chapel Brewing in Dundas. Located along the banks of the scenic Cannon River in this small southeastern Minnesota town, the latest brewery in the area offers an intimate setting in a former chapel.

The name fits this historic building constructed in 1880 as a village hall and jail and two years later converted into a chapel. For 50 years, the faithful met here for Sunday School and related religious purposes. Eventually, the building use reverted back to that of a town hall and then to a photography studio for 30 years before transitioning into a taproom. Patrons sometimes reminisce about senior portraits taken here.

When I consider the history of beer making, I think how appropriate that craft beer lovers now drink beer in a former chapel. The church in general has a long history of beer making with monks brewing beer and even Martin Luther’s wife, Katie, opening a brewery.

 

 

I found Chapel Brewing to be an inviting place. It’s different from many other southeastern Minnesota breweries I’ve visited. For one, the space is small, really small. And loud with sound bouncing off the hard wood surfaces. That’s not an uncommon problem, though, in many breweries. I was thankful when some of the patrons left. But I like the warmth of wood and the overall homey, and less industrial, essence of the taproom. You really can feel the history in this sun-drenched building and imagine it as a chapel.

 

 

Chapel beer is also worthy of praise. I favor hoppier beers and chose the Chapel IPA. I liked it, and I don’t always say that about craft beers I try. Likewise, my husband, Randy, enjoyed his Kolsch, a German ale. I’d like to see Chapel Brewing have a little creative fun with its beer names, though.

 

 

Given my positive experience, I’ll return, but next time to drink a brew outside. Had the riverside deck been cleared of snow on the warm (by Minnesota standards), sunny Saturday afternoon I visited, I would have imbibed there. Just to say I drank beer outside the chapel in February.

 

FYI: Here are two tips should you visit Chapel Brewing: Parking is limited to just a few on-site spaces and to a several spots out front. You are encouraged to park in the municipal lot a short walk away across the river rather than along residential streets. If you park on the bridge, you could be ticketed. Also, bring your photo ID. You will be asked for that, no matter your age. And, yes, you will have to retrieve your ID from your vehicle if you don’t have it on you.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

February at the ballpark & I’m not talking spring training in Florida February 23, 2018

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ON A FEBRUARY AFTERNOON, sunshine heats the earth, slants shadows upon snow fallen fresh that morning. It is a rare day of respite from a too-cold winter in Minnesota and I am anxious to get outside.

 

 

So Randy and I hop in the Chevy and head toward Dundas, just south of Northfield. I want to walk in Memorial Park, home of the Dundas Dukes. Randy pulls the car into the riverside park, loops and stops on a snowy road next to a trail. We exit, tread with caution along a path, diverting off the icy route as needed to avoid slipping.

 

 

Passing the abandoned playground, I observe swings hung statue-still.

 

 

I note footprints through the snow leading to a Little Free Library. Used even in winter.

 

 

A short hike away, I step onto the foot bridge spanning the Cannon River.

 

 

I pause midway, focus on ruins of the Archibald Mill,

 

 

bridge shadows,

 

 

an open spot of water,

 

 

the river ribboning white between shoreline trees.

 

 

In the simplicity of this place, these scenes, I feel content. I am here with Randy, who appreciates the natural silence as much as me.

 

 

 

Overhead I watch a Delta airliner angling down toward the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. I wonder about those aboard. Would they rather be leaving than arriving?

 

 

Some 1,700 miles away in the warmth of Ft. Myers, the Minnesota Twins toss and catch balls, swing bats and practice in the sunshine of opening week of spring training. Here in Dundas, opening day is still months away. I imagine the bold orange seats and grandstands filled with spectators, the cracks of bats, the swish of baseballs when the Dukes meet the Hampton Cardinals here on April 29. I can almost hear the conversations and laughter that will soon fill this place.

 

 

I head back toward the car, tracking in the footsteps of those who, like me, dream. Of sunny summer days. Of baseball. Of walks in the park. And of rivers that run free of ice, free of snow, free of winter under a Minnesota sky.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling