Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Celebrating Faribault with Heritage Days June 17, 2021

A sweeping view of Faribault from City View Park shows the Shattuck-St. Mary’s campus. MN Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2020.

SUMMERTIME IN MINNESOTA means cramming a whole lot of fun into our days. Lake time and family time. Backyard BBQs. Weddings and grad parties and reunions. And community celebrations. With limited months of sunshine and warmth, we are drawn to such gatherings, especially those that happen outdoors.

This week my community celebrates Faribault Heritage Days. The event kicked off on Wednesday and continues through the weekend.

From a Mayor’s Reception to concerts, BINGO, car and magic shows, cardboard boat and soap box races, fishing and medallion hunt contests, city-wide garage and farmers’ market sales, and much more—including the Grand Parade at 6:15 pm Saturday—there’s lots to see and do. Click here for the complete listing of events.

While Heritage Days doesn’t have the same emotional connection for me as those who grew up here, it still means something. I view the event as a way to connect and grow a sense of community. And, after a year of separation and isolation and canceled community celebrations due to COVID-19, we’re ready for this.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Minnesota festivals weather the weather June 19, 2014

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JASON REHER, WHO VOLUNTEERS on the Faribault Heritage Days Committee, seemed a bit worried Wednesday evening. And rightly so.

Jason Reher addresses the crowd at Faribault Heritage Days opening ceremony Wednesday evening and then talked to me afterward about this concerns.

Jason Reher addresses the crowd at Faribault Heritage Days opening ceremony Wednesday evening and then talked to me afterward about his weather worries. Photo by Randy Helbling.

With more rain in the forecast and the City of Faribault in a declared State of Emergency due to flooding potential, he wondered whether festival events would need to be canceled or moved. Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton this afternoon declared a State of Emergency for 35 Minnesota counties including my county of Rice and neighboring Steele, Waseca and Le Sueur counties. This declaration makes state resources available to areas of the state in need of assistance and “engages state agencies in response efforts.”

Sandbags have been placed in the mill parking lot next to the Cannon River.

Sandbags are in place at the Faribault Woolen Mill which sits along the Cannon River. The dam here is no longer visible. This was shot Wednesday evening.

Already the riverside Faribault Woolen Mill canceled its Heritage Days tours because of the rising Cannon River and the need for sandbagging its property. And Saturday’s Kids’ Fishing Contest at the King Mill Dam has been postponed until July 12 due to dangerous high water. (Click here to read my earlier post about flood prep in Faribault. River levels have actually dropped some since Wednesday evening but started to rise again Thursday morning as steady rains resumed.)

I'd bet money on 7-year-old Curtis doing well in Saturday's competition.

A racer in the 2012 Faribault Heritage Days Soap Box Derby.

Saturday, Reher said, is the “make it or break it” day for the fest with a lengthy list of activities that range from tours to music to a soap box derby, fun run, garden tractor pull and more capped by the 6:30 p.m. parade. He was already tossing around the possibility of moving the parade route, which follows Second Avenue. A portion of that city street bridges the rising Cannon River.

Despite his concerns, Reher seemed hopeful at the Wednesday evening Heritage Days opening ceremony that the rain will stop and the sun will shine this weekend.

A view of the Minnesota River as seen from Riverfront Park, looking toward downtown Mankato.

A view of the Minnesota River as seen from Riverfront Park, looking toward downtown Mankato. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

Let’s hope, because this weekend is packed with area festivals and events, like my community’s Heritage Days, Straight River Days in neighboring Medford and the Arts by the River fest in Mankato’s Riverfront Park along the banks of the Minnesota River. Mankato has experienced lots of problems associated with mega rains, resulting in mud slides, closed roads and more. The downtown is protected by a flood wall.

In Medford, just to the south of Faribault, the City Council meets this evening for the purpose of declaring a State of Emergency in this Straight Riverside community. The volunteer fire department put out a call yesterday for locals to fill sandbags and build walls. As of now, this small town’s annual Straight River Days weekend celebration is still on with events subject to change due to the flooding river.

Locally, Faribault Area Hospice is celebrating 30 years of service with a free outdoor bluegrass concert by Monroe Crossing at River Bend Nature Center at 3 p.m. Sunday. Floodwaters and downed trees have closed numerous trails in the nature center. Should the venue and weather necessitate, the concert will be held at the American Legion. In past floods, the Legion has also been closed off because of flooding.

During a worship service filled with music, choir and congregational members sing in Norwegian, "Ja, vi elsker."

During a worship service filled with music, choir and congregational members sing in Norwegian, “Ja, vi elsker” at the Old Stone Church. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Nearby, but indoors not out, the Old Stone Church is holding its annual worship service in this historic Norwegian church 2.3 miles southwest of Kenyon along Monkey Valley road at 9:30 a.m. Sunday.

The Moland folks serve a generous amount of strawberries with two scoops of ice cream.

The Moland folks serve a generous amount of strawberries with two scoops of ice cream. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

And then from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. Sunday to the south also in rural Kenyon, Moland Lutheran Church celebrates its annual Strawberry Festival with a delicious meal of pulled pork sandwiches, potato salad, cake, locally-grown strawberries, ice cream and beverages. There’s a bake sale, too.

Whatever you do this weekend, don’t sit at home. Get out and enjoy. Rain or shine.

FYI: Click here for more information about Heritage Days.

Click here to read a past post about the Old Stone Church and the Moland Strawberry Festival.

Click here to learn about Arts by the River.

Me with my winning International Festival 2012 photo.

Me with my winning International Festival 2012 photo.

WEDNESDAY EVENING I WAS AMONG those honored at the Faribault Heritage Days opening ceremony in Central Park. By default (mine was the only entry), I earned first place in the “personal heritage” category of the event’s first-ever photo contest with an image from the 2012 International Festival Faribault.

My photograph shows children during a pinata breaking. It is one of my favorite photos from that international celebration for the perspective and the content. The image shows the many cultures of Faribault, particularly fitting for Heritage Days.

The only three entries, and thereby the winning entries, in the Faribault Heritage Days Photo Contest. The photo on the right of historic Johnston Hall was voted the community favorite during polling at the State Bank of Faribault.

The only three entries, and thereby the winning entries, in the Faribault Heritage Days Photo Contest. The photo on the right of historic Johnston Hall was voted the community favorite during polling at the State Bank of Faribault.

That photograph and the two other entries (in the landscape/wildlife/historic views portion of the competition) will be showcased at Central Park during Heritage Days and then at Paul Swenson Photography (327 Central Avenue North), contest sponsor.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Historic Faribault Woolen Mill opens retail store with an artsy vibe June 12, 2012

Perusing merchandise at the recently reopened Faribault Woolen Mill retail store.


Those words wash over me as I step into the Faribault Woolen Mill Company’s recently re-opened retail store.

I could have strolled into an art gallery for the artsy vibe of this place. It has that feel, that sense of style and creative energy, which tells you this is no cookie-cutter retail outlet but someplace special.

The retail store has a comfy, relaxed and trendy feel.

From the white-washed paneled walls to the utility spools brushed in crisp white paint to the shelves leveled upon a ladder to the uniform white cubbies, the décor here is bare bones basic. It’s perfect for showing off the woolen blankets hung and folded ever so precisely in this historic woolen mill along the banks of the Cannon River in Faribault.

Faribault Woolen Mill blankets/throws are artfully hung on a simple pipe.

Crisp white cubbies, ever so perfect for showing off blankets/throws.

Jean Moody is tending the store on this recent hot and humid Saturday afternoon in May when the thought of purchasing a wool blanket seems not even a remote possibility. My curiosity draws me inside the store, into this building where I’ve never set foot even though I’ve lived in Faribault for nearly 30 years.

A wall once located near bathrooms has been incorporated into the retail store, behind the check-out counter, to showcase a name etched in wood in 1931.

An American flag on a wall in a meeting room, visible through floor to ceiling glass in the retail store, emphasizes the Woolen Mill’s dedication to “American made” products.

On this afternoon, Jean welcomes me, obliging my request to photograph a meeting room and also a wall behind the retail counter. I have no idea she is the wife of Paul Mooty, who purchased the foreclosed mill and reopened it in 2011 with his cousin, Chuck Mooty, until she introduces herself later.

She’s friendly and engaging and genuinely interested in connecting with Faribault residents and grateful for the warm welcome given to her family.

An historic 1895 circa photo from the mill, among those featured in a mini wall of Woolen Mill history.

After the sudden closure of the mill in 2009, locals seem delighted with the Mooty cousins’ revival of the mill which dates back to 1865.

In its labeling, the mill promotes itself as “Purveyors of Comfort and Quality” with its products “Loomed in the Land of Lakes.”

The Faribault Woolen Mill’s mission, according to the company website is “to provide the finest quality goods made only by American craftsmen here in Faribault, Minnesota.”

Wool blankets with a definite Northwoods feel are sold in the retail store.

Fine examples of that craftsmanship are presented to the public in the woolen blankets and throws so artfully displayed in the store which, according to Jean, has a Ralph Lauren/Northwoods look.

I’d agree. Comfort. Simplicity.  Americana. All qualities in Ralph Lauren’s signature fashion style exist in this mill store which seems destined to once again become a must-see destination for visitors to Faribault, one of Minnesota’s oldest and most historic cities.

The historic Faribault Woolen Mill sits along the banks of the Cannon River.

FYI: The Faribault Woolen Mill retail store holds its grand opening from 4:30 p.m. – 7 p.m. on Thursday, June 14. A ribbon-cutting is scheduled in conjunction with the Faribault Heritage Days Mayor’s Reception.

Tours of the Woolen Mill, located on the banks of the Cannon River at 1500 Second Avenue Northwest near the Rice County Fairgrounds, will be offered as part of the Heritage Days celebration at 2 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 13, and again on Friday, June 15. Preregister by calling (507) 334-2064.

For more info about the Faribault Woolen Mill, click here to link to the company website.

A replica of an original sign is now in the Woolen Mill’s historic display area.

Even this Woolen Mill conference/meeting room possesses an inviting, rustic appeal.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Note: These photographs were shot one month ago.


Testing the track during a Soap Box Derby trial run in Faribault June 11, 2012

Bales are strategically placed on corners/curves to keep racers on the track.

CROUCHED NEAR THE FIRST CURVE behind a buffer of straw bales, I wondered if this was the smartest spot in which to photograph Soap Box Derby cars skimming down the hill. Probably not, I decided, and tucked myself next to a utility pole. If need be, I could duck behind the post should a car propel toward me.

Saturday morning marked a trial run for kids and adults entering the fourth annual Faribault Heritage Days Soap Box Derby competition set for 9:30 a.m. – 2 p.m. this Saturday, June 16. Some 50 racers are expected to wind down three city streets near Peace Lutheran Church as they vie for honors in adult and youth divisions.

Yes, even adults, like Mayor John Jasinski, folded themselves into soap box cars during the trial runs this past Saturday, checking out the new course. The race was moved this year to a faster route, says  Jason Reher, Faribault Heritage Days board member.

Racers, their assistants and race organizers gathered at the top of a hill along a southern Faribault street for trial runs.

Reher and others were supervising the Saturday solo runs that allowed racers to get a feel for the course before they race in heats during the actual competition. Some drivers proceeded with trepidation while others drove as if they were already in it to win it.

And, yes, on one occasion, as a car took the outside lane on the first curve, I worried that I might need to leap out of the way.

This was my first experience viewing soap box car runs. I expect the actual race will be much more exciting and photographic.

Looks count. An award will be given for the the Best Looking Car in the Faribault race on Saturday.

So when and where did this whole gravity-propelled, racing-a-car-down-a-hill event began?

Dayton, Ohio, claims itself as the birthplace of the Soap Box Derby. In 1933, a photographer for the Dayton Daily News photographed several boys racing homemade, gravity-pull cars down a street. Myron E. Scottie was so intrigued by the idea that he asked the boys to return a week later with their friends for a race that would offer a prize cup.

Last-minute prep before a trial run of the Faribault Soap Box Derby route.

The concept took off and continues today with local champions in stock, super stock and masters divisions Soap Box Derby races from around the world converging on Akron, Ohio, each July to compete for scholarships and prizes in the All-American Soap Box Derby.

In only its fourth year, the Faribault race is certainly in its infancy. Organizer Reher noted, however, that he’d like to see the local event expanded to a circuit competition with neighboring Morristown and Northfield. Morristown’s races have been around longer at Morristown Dam Days while Northfield held its first Soap Box Derby last year during The Defeat of Jesse James Days.

A peek at the interior of the car which Ben will race on Saturday during the Faribault Heritage Days Soap Box Derby.

Since I’ve only attended the one trial run and not an actual race, I don’t know how competitive these racers get. But I saw the potential in 13-year-old Ben, driver of the blue M8Solutions car. He’s already racked up two first place finishes in Faribault, one in Morristown and one in Northfield. Mom Tina has also won with a second place finish in Morristown and a first place in Northfield.

I’d bet money on 7-year-old Curtis doing well in Saturday’s competition.

And then there’s little brother Curtis and his red, white and blue MsSolutions 7X racer with “Boo” (his nickname) spray painted on the nose… I’d bet my money on this seven-year-old.

FYI: For more information about the Faribault Soap Box Derby, click here.

For more information about the All-American Soap Box Derby, click here.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling