Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

My writing publishes in The Talking Stick, Volume 29 September 11, 2020

Two stories and a poem I wrote just published in the latest The Talking Stick literary anthology.

 

AS A WRITER, getting one’s work published always validates personal creativity.

I’m honored to once again have my writing selected for publication in The Talking Stick literary journal, an annual project of the Park Rapids area based Jackpine Writers’ Bloc.

This year my short story, “Josephine Holding Deloris,” earned honorable mention in creative nonfiction. The story connects a 1 ½-inch square vintage family photo to my life experiences.

 

The beginning of my award-winning story.

 

Nonfiction judge Jill Johnson, author of several books, including Little Minnesota: 100 Towns Around 100, praises my work. “Thank you for sharing your touching story about your grandmother and aunt. You connected the tiny size of the photo to the small moments of life. You allowed the reader a vivid description of mother and daughter and brought the connection full circle. Keep writing!”

My poem, “Final Harvest,” and second piece of creative nonfiction, “A Quick Guide to Practicing Minnesota Nice,” were also chosen for publication in Insights, The Talking Stick, Volume 29.

This year’s book features 139 poems and stories (selected from 300 submissions) by 92 Minnesota-connected writers. My writing has published many times in The Talking Stick and earned multiple honors.

Copies of the latest book and past volumes are available for purchase at jackpinewriters.com. On the back cover of Insights, the editors note, “In the midst of social distancing, in the midst of mask wearing and Plexiglas shields, we are all grieving the changes in our world. But let’s keep one thing the same—you can still curl up with a good book and read. You can open the pages of Talking Stick 29 and see what your fellow Minnesota writers have written, and some how, perhaps, we can all feel a little bit closer.”

I’d encourage you to order a copy of this collection featuring so many talented writers. That includes Bernadette Hondl Thomasy, a native of Owatonna and a reader of this blog. Her “Mother’s Mojo” also earned honorable mention in creative nonfiction. She co-authored the book, Under Minnesota Skies, with her sister Colleen Hondl Gengler. Minnesota, in my opinion, has produced many gifted writers in all genres. And you’ll find a fine sampling of those creatives in Insights, The Talking Stick, Volume 29.

Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

View from my office window September 8, 2020

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ON A RECENT AFTERNOON, I took a visual break from the computer, a mental break from writing, to glance out my office window.

The view isn’t particularly lovely. Lots of parked vehicles in my line of vision. Almost like a car lot, a repair shop, a junkyard.

And then there’s the street itself, a main artery through Faribault, heavy with traffic. The drone of vehicles and wail of sirens assures few moments of peace.

So, when I take a break from work, that is what I see. I often wish my office was located elsewhere in our house, with a view of the wooded hillside that rises to the south and west. But, unless we move the kitchen or demolish the garage and add on, I’m stuck with this spot, this scene.

But, amid all of this, there is a splash of beauty in the flowers that rise right outside my office window. Phlox in white and shades of pink and purple. And hydrangea that anchor each side of the front steps, their massive flowers so beautiful that people occasionally stop to inquire about them. That includes a neighbor, a trucker, and the last person I would think interested in flowers. I’ve promised him hydrangea roots in the spring. Maybe he’ll give me some of his lovely peonies in return.

 

An Eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly feeds on my phlox.

 

My perennials provide the nature perspective I need when breaking briefly from work. And, on a recent summer afternoon, those phlox presented even more—three Eastern tiger swallowtail butterflies swooping, hovering, landing among the blossoms.

I grabbed my camera, with no intention of hurrying outside to photograph the butterflies. I knew from experience that they would be gone before I grabbed my shoes, flew outside and rounded the house. So I opted to photograph through the screen window, filthy from all the passing traffic.

The results were not sharp images and I deleted most. But one stood out. Soft. Butterfly feeding upon vivid pink blossoms. Poetic. Exquisite. A natural respite from the clutter that typically defines the view from my office window.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A fair alternative September 4, 2020

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Photographed on August 29 in the Ace Hardware store parking lot, Faribault, Minnesota.

 

MINNESOTANS LOVE THEIR FAIRS. County and then state. And right about now, crowds would be converging on the Minnesota State Fairgrounds in Falcon Heights for the final days of the Great Minnesota Get Together.

But not me; I haven’t attended in nearly 40 years. And not anyone at the fair this year due to COVID-19 and the resulting cancellation of this big food/entertainment party.

While the fair features everything from crop art (gone virtual this year) to farm animals, from carnival rides to marketplaces, from politicians (especially this election year) to princesses, the food seems the draw. Anything on-a-stick. And a lot not on a stick.

To satisfy the hungry masses missing fair food, the State Fair this year offered a drive-through Food Parade at the fairgrounds for $20/vehicle plus whatever the cost for the foods ordered from 16 participating vendors. Tickets quickly sold out for the food frenzy event that continues through Labor Day weekend.

While people are waiting in their vehicles for turkey legs, mini donuts, egg rolls on-a-stick, sno cones, walleye cakes, funnel cakes, Sweet Martha’s cookies and much more, I’m content to avoid the congestion.

I know faithful fair food devotees will tell you it’s not the same…but I spotted this food stand in the parking lot of the local Ace Hardware Store on Saturday morning. Cheese curds and pronto pups vended right here in Faribault. No need to travel to the Cities or pay $20 or wait in line at the fairgrounds.

I already hear the protests. “But it’s not the fair!” And that would be accurate. No crowds pressing in. No feeling of togetherness. No endless food choices. Just a taste of the fair, right in my backyard. In hardware store and other parking lots around Minnesota. Streetside. On fairgrounds in Rice and Steele counties during special food events earlier this summer. And even in some restaurants. It may not be the same experience as the State Fair, but, hey, it’s something. Which is better than nothing during a global pandemic.

FYI: To find pop-up fair food stands in Minnesota, visit the Fair Food Finder Facebook page by clicking here.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Take a (story) walk along Central in Faribault September 2, 2020

 

A page from Eric Carle’s book, From Head to Toe, photographed inside a StoryWalk display case.

 

“I can do it!” What an empowering statement, especially for young children. Those four words refrain in an installment of pages from the children’s picture book, From Head to Toe, now posted on street corners in the heart of historic downtown Faribault.

 

Posted next to Burkhartzmeyer Shoes and looking down a side street off Central.

 

I love this latest addition to my community as part of a StoryWalk® CENTRAL project coordinated locally by Buckham Memorial Library. The idea is rooted in Vermont and seems to be a trend right now in the library world. River Bend Nature Center in Faribault and the public library in neighboring Northfield are hosting similar story walks.

 

Looking north on Central Avenue, you can see one of the StoryWalk pages posted next to an historic-themed bench.

 

Last week one evening, Randy and I walked Central Avenue with our four-year-old granddaughter, viewing the colorful story crafted by noted author and illustrator Eric Carle. He is perhaps best-known for his children’s picture book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar. I’ve long been a fan of Carle’s creativity. He understands how to connect with the littlest of people through colorful illustrations and simple, repetitive and engaging language.

 

Historic Central Avenue provides the backdrop for StoryWalk CENTRAL.

 

Bold colors and strong shapes define Carle’s art.

 

The book engages.

 

It took Isabelle a bit to get into From Head to Toe. But when she observed Grandma and Grandpa wriggling their hips like crocodiles, bending their necks like giraffes and stomping their feet like elephants, she joined in. Carle’s book calls for the reader and listener to actively participate in the book by doing the actions associated with each animal. It’s a great way to get kids up and moving. Adults, too.

 

The thoughts behind StoryWalk.

 

And that, according to information posted on one of the 12 signs, is part of the motivation behind the interactive StoryWalk® concept. The book “combines early literacy learning, family engagement and physical activity.” And promotes brain growth and physical health through exercise.

 

The animals lead the action.

 

The book also highlights diversity in the different ethnicities of the children and in the different animals Carle has created in his story. I especially appreciate that in our diverse community of Faribault. Buckham Memorial Library Director Delane James echoes my thoughts, praising From Head to Toe as a book that “resonates with everybody in the community…anyone can enjoy it no matter who they are.” And that means even those who can’t read or whose native language is one other than English. Like me, she calls Carle’s book “empowering.”

There are plans for more, and longer, book installations, all funded by a federal grant and coordinated with multiple city departments, James says. She noted the joint efforts of library, economic development, engineering and public works staff in getting the first StoryWalk® CENTRAL in place. From Head to Toe will remain posted for several months. This will be an ongoing and evolving public art and literacy project with five years worth of books included in the funding. The library buys multiple copies of the featured books, then removes and laminates the pages for posting in the weather-proof display cases.

 

The 12th, and final, story board is located outside the entry to Buckham Memorial Library. This is looking north toward Central Avenue. The final board is designed to get kids and others inside the library, although the library is currently open by appointment only.

 

I appreciate, in this time of a global pandemic, a safe activity I can do with my granddaughter when she’s visiting. Only after we arrived home did Izzy share, “That’s Isaac’s favorite book.” That means we’ll be back on Central with her 20-month-old brother, wriggling our hips, bending our necks, stomping our feet and repeating, “I can do it!”

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Immigrants, Escape Artists &, yes, Elvis in the house September 1, 2020

“Ashley,” portrait by Kate Langlais.

 

“GO BACK TO WHERE YOU CAME FROM. GO BACK TO MEXICO AND NEVER COME BACK!”

 

A snippet of Ashley’s story, as posted with her portrait.

 

I intentionally capitalized and boldfaced those angry words spoken to a 5-year-old by a “mean girl.” Can you imagine hearing such awful, horrible words directed at you? Yet, they are all too common. If not spoken, then thought.

 

Kate Langlais, painting at a recent concert in Faribault’s Central Park as part of “Art in the Park.” Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2020.

 

Ashley, the subject in an art exhibit, “I Am Minnesota,” by Faribault portrait artist Kate Langlais, experienced that hatred. She reported the insult to her mom and her principal. I’m thankful she called out the bully, because no one should have to endure such disrespect, especially a kindergartner.

 

“Faysel” up close by Kate Langlais. He fled war in Somalia.

 

And I’m thankful to Kate, the artist, for taking on this project which features portraits of first and second-generation immigrants living in Faribault and their stories. Her portraits are currently exhibited at the Paradise Center for the Arts in historic downtown Faribault through September 12.

 

The title of each portrait is simple. The subject’s name.

 

Kate invites viewers to “recall what they know about their family’s immigration stories.”

 

Parker, four months, the son of an immigrant who arrived here at about the same age. Portrait by Kate Langlais.

 

But she pushes beyond that to prompt thought about problems immigrants must overcome—language barriers, cultural differences, acceptance (or not) by neighbors.

 

An overview of a portion of the Escape Artists exhibit.

 

After viewing Kate’s thought-provoking portraits and accompanying life summaries, I walked over to a larger gallery featuring art by the Escape Artists. Right away, I connected the two. Not because the art is at all alike. But because of the word “escape.” The subjects in Kate’s portraits escaped oppression, war, poverty and more for life in America. The Escape Artists are a group of artist friends who, 30-plus years ago, began escaping together to create art.

 

A section of “On the Ragged Edge” by Theresa Harsma.

 

As I meandered through the gallery, I considered the Escape Artists’ art with the imprint of Kate’s portraits on my mind. For example, Theresa Harsma writes in her artist’s statement for “On the Ragged Edge” of sorting through her collection of found objects and choosing those that seemed to want to be part of the piece. Just like immigrants want to be part of the piece that is America.

 

“1938 Church Wedding” by Linda Van Lear is based on The Holy Innocents Episcopal Church located at the Rice County Fairgrounds/Historical Society Museum Grounds.

 

I expect LInda Van Lear’s painting of “1938 Church Wedding” includes immigrants among wedding guests, probably even in the bridal party.

 

“Lasso the Moon” by Susanne Crane.

 

And I interpreted Susanne Crane’s “Lasso the Moon” as lassoing dreams. Dreams of a better life for those who came to America, including my forefathers, and probably yours.

 

This photo shows part of “Streams of Consciousness, Rivers of Green” by Theresa Harsma.

 

“Maria” by Kate Langlais.

 

Back to artist Theresa Harsma, another work, “Streams of Consciousness, Rivers of Green,” struck me in its connection to one story in “I Am Minnesota.” Three times Maria attempted to cross the river from Mexico into the U.S. The determination, the exhaustion, the despair—they’re all woven into her story. No matter how you feel about immigration issues, at the very core is a human being, now a Minnesotan, with struggles, hopes and dreams.

 

An overview of the Cash-Elvis exhibit.

 

Julie M Fakler created this piece, “You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog,” inspired by Elvis’ song.

 

A close-up of Dan Rathburn’s “A Man in Black” (aka Johnny Cash).

 

Once I finished touring the Escape Artists’ exhibit, I shifted my focus to a Johnny Cash and Elvis pop-up show in a small corner gallery. In some ways, these two musicians were escape artists, too, escaping through their music.

 

“Tree of Life with Mother Nature’s Daughters” by Susanne Crane.

 

I love when art, from a divergence of artists, connects. We are all different. Yet alike in our humanity.

 

The Paradise Center for the Arts marquee.

 

FYI: The Paradise Center for the Arts, 321 Central Avenue North, Faribault, is open Thursday-Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. The above exhibits close on September 12.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Anything but a typical walk at River Bend Nature Center August 31, 2020

This path cuts through the edge of the prairie at River Bend Nature Center, Faribault.

 

AS RANDY AND I HIKE the paved trails through the woods and the grassy path edging the prairie at River Bend Nature Center in Faribault, we often see the same sights, have the same conversations.

 

Prairie wildflowers

 

These prairie grasses remind me of my youth, when I played in such grass on the southwestern Minnesota prairie.

 

My favorite prairie wildflower, the black-eyed susan.

 

I talk about my love for the prairie and for the wildflowers and for grasses swaying in a poetic rhythm in the wind.

 

Eradicating invasive buckthorn from the woods remains an ongoing battle.

 

We discuss the buckthorn that grows rampant in the woods despite efforts to control it via goats and hands-on removal.

 

Leaves are beginning to change color.

 

I observe details that hint at the changing of seasons.

 

Photographed in the rain garden by the interpretative center.

 

Not even a bumblebee escapes my notice or my camera’s lens.

 

The art of bark.

 

Dead trees, bark, moss and fungi draw me to pause and look. Nature is, after all, in the details.

 

The doe and her baby, barely visible behind her.

 

But on this Sunday afternoon visit, mosquitoes and other pesky bugs push us at a much faster pace along wooded paths. So fast that I miss the doe and her growing fawn just off the trail leading to the Turtle Pond. Randy spots the pair and softly calls my name, enough to cause me to stop. Then he points to the woods where the deer stand. Still. Watching. I fire off three frames before the pair turn and clip through the trees. Disappearing to camouflage themselves within the green and brown hues of the treescape.

 

The hawk blends easily into the woods.

 

A few twists and turns later, I am still speed walking, driven to hurry by those biting insects. But then a bird catches my eye and I stop, speak Randy’s name. He doesn’t hear, fails to the see the bird so blended is it into the trees. I snap one photo before the bird rises, wings spanned wide. It appears to be a juvenile hawk. I am pleased with the hawk and deer sightings because we seldom see wildlife here, other than squirrels.

 

The oddest sighting ever at River Bend, doll well above my head in a tree.

 

But earlier I spotted the most unusual sighting ever at River Bend—a baby doll suspended in a tree. I expect a child lost her beloved doll and someone found it and decided it would be funny to place the toy in a tree. I found it a bit creepy. Like I was walking into Halloween or a Stephen King novel.

 

The first sign in a series of bug signs bordering trails.

 

No-see-ums get their own page in the bug book.

 

The grasshopper, too, merits its place in the bug alphabet book.

 

Along the same pathway, River Bend staffers posted photocopies of pages from The Icky Bug Alphabet Book by Jerry Palloth. More creepiness if you are not a fan of bugs. I don’t dislike bugs unless they pester (flies) or bite me (mosquitoes and no-see-ums) or destroy my flowers/plants (Japanese beetles) or are centipedes. I detest those fast-moving, too-many-legged insects.

 

Info about the bumblebee from Pallotta’s book.

 

I found the bug book informative, which I expect was the intention, along with giving families something of interest to study while in the woods. The Northfield Public Library is doing a similar activity, posting picture book pages on posts in five public parks during August, calling these “Story Strolls.” In downtown Faribault, along Central Avenue, Buckham Memorial Library has also posted a Story Walk, featuring pages from Eric Carle’s Head to Toe. (I’ll post about that soon.)

 

I had not previously noticed this small sign near a tree by the interpretive center.

 

I appreciate nature centers like River Bend, now more than ever during this global pandemic. Living as we do today with so many limitations in our lives—and justifiably so—I’ve grown to understand that I shouldn’t take anything for granted. I am thankful I live in a region where I can find endless natural settings to simply immerse myself in the beauty, solitude and peace of the outdoors. Baby dolls in trees aside.

 

Note: I took these photos several weeks ago, so the landscape has likely changed and the baby doll may be missing.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

About those face masks… August 28, 2020

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A clown mask for sale at a Minnesota antique shop. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo

 

REMEMBER THOSE MOLDED plastic masks, popular Halloween costumes back in the 1960s? OK, if you, then you are younger than me. But I loved those masks because I could transform into someone other than the skinny farm girl I was in real life.

 

A Halloween mask for sale at Antiques of the Midwest. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I still remember the year I pressed a gypsy woman mask to my face, pulled on my mom’s colorful, full skirt and a blouse, and slipped bangles onto my arms. I was not elementary-aged Audrey ready to race about town gathering Hershey candy bars, Tootsie Pop suckers and the occasional rock-hard colored homemade popcorn ball that threatened to break teeth. Rather I was this free spirit of a gypsy seeking new adventure.

 

An Archie mask for sale at an antique shop. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Yet, I wasn’t quite free. I felt trapped inside that hot Halloween mask. It was uncomfortable. It limited my vision as did my missing prescription eyeglasses. In between candy stops, I sometimes pulled the mask up, freeing my face. But I put up with all this uncomfortableness for the fun of Halloween.

 

Face masks crafted and sent to me by Penny, a blogger friend in Texas.

 

Now fast forward to today. Each time I leave the house to go to a public place, I grab a cloth face mask. And hand sanitizer. It’s become as routine as grabbing my handbag, as slipping on my shoes. Like Gypsy Audrey of decades ago, I feel conflicted, though, about that face mask. I absolutely, 100 percent, support the wearing of face masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and am thankful for the mask mandate in Minnesota. But I don’t like wearing a mask. Just like back in my gypsy days, I find face masks hot, uncomfortable and limiting my vision whenever my glasses fog. But I put up with all the uncomfortableness because I care about protecting others from a disease that has sickened and killed people in my circle or connected to my circle.

 

A sign posted at the Steele County History Center in Owatonna. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.

 

So, when I head into public and see people without masks (still) or wearing them incorrectly (not covering their noses), my irritation rises. I don’t buy into the “you’re taking away my personal freedom” argument. If I enter a business, I need to wear a shirt and shoes or I won’t be served. If I get in a vehicle, the law requires I belt myself in. And, in Minnesota we also have a hands-off when driving cellphone law.

 

“Protect the herd” plays off Northfield, Minnesota’s “Cows, Colleges and Contentment” slogan. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2020.

 

While I’m limiting my public circulation, I’m still out and about. And I’ve seen, in Faribault, way too many people who are either not wearing masks or are “half-maskers,” a new term I just heard a few days ago in a media report. The report focused on the importance of covering the nose, where the virus thrives and can be spewed by simply breathing. You don’t need to be an infectious disease doctor to grasp that basic health concept.

 

Wearing a face mask the right way, covering your nose and mouth. I photographed this toy monkey in the window of an historic home in Dundas, Minnesota.

 

About two weeks ago when I went to the local dollar store to pick up greeting cards, I encountered a customer without a mask and saw both cashiers and the customer in front of me wearing their masks below their noses. That same day, I spotted two grocery store employees at two different stores with masks below their noses. And my last visit to the dollar store, I once again saw an unmasked customer and a different cashier with her mask not covering her nose. I’d had enough. I politely asked the cashier to pull her mask over her nose and advised her that the mask was doing no good if she left her nose exposed. She reluctantly pulled the cloth face covering up and then, even before I was completely turned away, pulled it back down, her eyes glaring dislike toward me. I reached for the hand sanitizer in my pocket and squeezed a generous amount onto my palm.

I don’t get it. I just do not get it. Businesses want our business. Yet I see employees wearing masks incorrectly. People want this pandemic to end. Yet, some are half-maskers or no maskers (and that includes customers who come into my husband’s workplace) and/or believe this pandemic is all a hoax. It’s not. It’s as real as the two sympathy cards I’ve sent to friends who have lost loved ones to COVID-19.

 

FYI: Click here to read the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention information on how and why to wear a face mask and more.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Beyond simply chalk art August 27, 2020

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Chalk art by Jane.

 

SIMPLY PASSING BY without acknowledgment of something we appreciate is so easy. We all do it, right? Admire something from afar, and then continue on our way. And Randy and I did just that, even though he asked if we should stop. “Maybe on the way home,” I said.

“She’ll be gone by then,” Randy surmised.

At that point, I was more interested in getting to North Alexander Park for a short evening walk than in photographing a chalk art artist. I appreciated her efforts from the comfort of our passing van and figured if I remembered the art on our return trip, fine. If not, fine, too.

And so we enjoyed our evening trail walk, which included geese and squirrel watching, and a pass through the Rice County Fairgrounds as we headed back toward home along Second Avenue. Nearing the intersection with Seventh Street, Randy repeated his “Do you want to stop?” question.

This time I agreed.

 

Jane, at work, with her angel heart wings in the foreground.

 

And I’m glad I did. Or I never would have met Jane, a lovely young woman who looks about 10 years younger than her mid-twenties age. She sat on a sidewalk step at a house along Seventh Street, chalk in hand, creating art.

 

 

 

As I admired the flowers, turtle, angel heart wings, peace symbol and smiley face, and took photos, Jane and I chatted for a bit. She shared a glimpse into her life story. There have been struggles.

 

 

But here she was, exuding joy in our conversation, in the sweet smile gracing her face. I saw grit and determination there, too, as she focused on creating art. Her fingers, dusted with chalk, worked art onto the sidewalk. She was creating this public art to bring joy to others. I thanked her for that effort. That gift.

 

Chalk, Jane’s tool of choice on this summer evening.

 

Art, Jane says, is her passion. She’s also painted with acrylics, had some art training. Nothing formal.

 

Jane’s art stretches along the sidewalk in front of her Seventh Street residence.

 

I felt compelled to encourage this young woman as I asked about her plans. She’s uncertain about her future. I advised her to follow her passions in life, that life is too short to not do what you love. And that money isn’t everything. Things aren’t everything. But happiness is. I sensed she already knows this.

 

 

I complimented her, too, on her smile and Jane confirmed others have told her the same, how beautiful her smile. It was genuine, coming from deep within. From a place that has experienced challenges and overcome them. To create art. Bright and bold and beautiful.

 

© 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

 

“Cruising Rice County History,” Part I August 24, 2020

This shows a portion of a guide, designed by Jeff Jarvis of West Cedar Studio, for “Cruising Rice County History.”

 

WE CONSIDERED WHETHER WE SHOULD take the tour, expecting that we’d likely visited all of the historic places featured in “Cruising Rice County History,” the first ever cruise of historical sites in our county. But, in the end, because Saturday was beautiful weather-wise and COVID-19 has left us with few leisure options, Randy and I opted to attend the event sponsored by the Rice County Historical Society.

 

First on the tour, Prairieville United Methodist Church, founded in 1870; existing church built in 1902; and congregation dissolved in 2019.

 

Vintage tractors added interest to the stop at the Prairieville country church.

 

A cornfield snugs right up to the Prairieville Cemetery behind the church.

 

We joined 84 other vehicles on the tour, which took us east of Faribault, then north and west and, finally circling back to the RCHS in Faribault. Only one of the seven featured spots—Prairieville United Methodist Church and Cemetery—was a new to us point of interest, although we’re certainly familiar with the country church along Minnesota State Highway 60.

 

First stop: The Rice County Historical Society to pay our $20/vehicle tour fee and pick up our map and other info.

 

Many volunteers worked the event, including this guy who welcomed tour participants at the historical museum.

 

Before heading out of town, the tour took us through historic downtown Faribault, where I thought we were going to see a display of historic brewery items at a local bank. But apparently we are supposed to view this on our own sometime. Anyway, I photographed this banner outside the State Bank of Faribault.

 

Yet, at each stop, from two country churches to flour mill ruins to an old schoolhouse and an historic town hall, we learned new information, both from site hosts and from educational hand-outs.

 

The Nerstrand City Hall (tall brick building)l, built in 1908, is on the National Register of Historic Places. After three wooden buildings were destroyed by a major fire in 1904, the city required all future buildings in the business district to be made of brick or stone and with firewalls between.

 

Nerstrand City Hall, up close.

 

A plaque marks the Nerstrand City Hall as an historic structure.

 

Peering in the windows of the locked city hall.

 

On the back of Nerstrand City Hall, bars cover a window, a reminder that a jail was once housed here.

 

We were disappointed we couldn’t get inside some of the historic buildings, but expect safety concerns factored into closed doors. Participants in the Saturday event were asked to mask up and social distance. And they did. So we felt comfortable.

 

One of the two historic churches at Valley Grove, near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. Randy and I have been to this site many times, thus didn’t linger here. It’s one of our favorite spots in rural Rice County. So peaceful and beautiful atop a hill. The woodframe church pictured here and a stone church directly across from it were built by Norwegian immigrants.

 

Two couples, including friends of ours (left), visit outside Nerstrand City Hall. This alley runs between the hall and the fire department.

 

We also chatted from a distance with friends, either hosting site stops or on the tour. What a joy to see familiar faces after months of minimal social interaction. Even if their smiles were hidden behind masks.

 

Driving toward Nerstrand.

 

Driving through rural Rice County, we saw lush fields of towering corn and acres of soybeans among farm sites.

 

The route followed only paved roads, with plenty of gravel roads to see alongside.

 

I also enjoyed the rural route given my love of the country. There’s something freeing about traveling along paved back roads bordered by acres of cropland, intersected by gravel roads, punctuated by farm sites.

 

Young and old attended the “Cruising Rice County History” tour. This photo was taken at Valley Grove.

 

Thank you for joining my photo tour of “Cruising Rice County History,” Part I. Check back for Part II tomorrow.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling