Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Horse-drawn wagon rides honor Christmases past in Faribault December 14, 2015

Mike Fuchs guides his team or horses southbound on Central Avenue in historic downtown Faribault late Saturday afternoon.

Mike Fuchs guides his team of horses southbound on Central Avenue in historic downtown Faribault late Saturday afternoon.

 

BELLS JINGLED AS HORSES clopped along Faribault’s Central Avenue late Saturday afternoon pulling Santa’s Wagon, although Santa was missing.

 

Santa's horse-drawn wagon, 79 close-up

 

Traffic jammed and shoppers paused to watch.

 

Santa's horse-drawn wagon, 84 close-up of Mike & horses

 

And occasionally along the route, Mike Fuchs reined his team to a halt for exiting and boarding passengers.

 

Santa's horse-drawn wagon, 89 near Security Bank clock

 

The horses trod past aged buildings and the recently-refurbished Security Bank Building clock.

 

Santa's horse-drawn wagon, 92 red car following

 

Time slowed for drivers trailing Santa’s Wagon. But no horns honked.

 

Santa's horse-drawn wagon, 94 horses in motion

 

For a few hours on a December Saturday afternoon, time flashed back to yesteryear, to days when horse power truly meant horse power.

 

Santa's horse-drawn wagon, 101 by print shop

 

It is good to slow down, to travel at the pace of a horse’s stride, to listen to the repeat rhythm of hooves upon pavement, to hear sleigh bells ring.

 

Santa's horse-drawn wagon, 106 by State Bank

 

There is time in the haste of life, in the crazy busyness of the Christmas season, for a horse-drawn wagon ride.

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Check back for more weekend holiday stories in and around Faribault, including a precious portrait you won’t want to miss tomorrow.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Focusing on festive Faribault December 11, 2015

Looking down Central Avenue in historic downtown Faribault.

Looking down Central Avenue in historic downtown Faribault.

IT’S BEGINNING TO LOOK a lot like Christmas in historic downtown Faribault, despite the lack of snow.

Peanuts characters adorn the former Kay's Floral building on the corner of Central Avenue and Fourth Street/Minnesota State Highway 60.

A Peanuts theme plays on the windows of the former Kay’s Floral building at the corner of Central Avenue and Fourth Street/Minnesota State Highway 60.

Evergreen boughs adorn wrought iron fences. Snowflake lights and holiday banners hang from vintage style street lamps. White lights drape trees, creating a festive mood. And, throughout the downtown, merchants showcase Christmas displays in storefront windows. There’s something magical about a business district transformed for the holidays.

Lights adorn trees in the downtown including next to the Signature Bar & Grill, Faribault's version of "Cheers." Here you'll find, in my opinion, the best pizza in town.

Lights wrap trees in the downtown including next to the Signature Bar & Grill, Faribault’s version of “Cheers.” Here you’ll find, in my opinion, the best pizza in town.

A snippet of the festive window display at Vohs Floors.

A snippet of the festive window display at Vohs Floors, which celebrates 70 years in business in 2016. Harry Vohs started the business in his living room. The second-generation flooring store is owned by his son, Karl, and Karl’s wife, Ann.

Even the clothing on the mannequins in The Crafty Maven display is vintage.

The Crafty Maven created this window display for the vintage theme division of the holiday window decorating contest. The display highlights businesses that were open in Faribault when sisters and Maven owners, Beth Westerhouse and Dee Bjork, were growing up here. Many of those businesses are no longer open. The Crafty Maven also will close in January.

Wednesday evening, in balmy weather that is more September-like than December, I grabbed my camera in an attempt to capture some of the magic that is Faribault. Mine is a city of some 23,000 that takes pride in its downtown, a place of aged, well-kept buildings. There’s a sense of history here, a sense of community connection. Small town appeal.

Santa at Vohs Floors.

Santa inside Vohs Floors.

From sleigh rides to visits with Santa to a holiday window decorating contest and more, there’s much to see and do. Faribault Main Street and downtown merchants are working hard to welcome locals and visitors alike with “Hometown Holidays” events.

The Paradise Center for the Arts presents "Twice the Cheer: A Charlie Brown Christmas and The Best Christmas Pageant Ever."

Paradise Community Theatre presents “Twice the Cheer: A Charlie Brown Christmas and The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” this weekend at the Paradise Center for the Arts.

This Saturday, for example, you can participate in the following activities:

Keepers Antiques

Keepers Antiques shows some holiday glitz in its window display.

Wedding and party glam spotlighted at Weddings by Deb.

Wedding and party glam spotlighted at Weddings by Deb.

Festively dressed dolls snug at sewing machine at B & J Sewing Center.

Festively dressed dolls snug a sewing machine at B & J Sewing Center.

If you’ve never been to Faribault, come, spend an afternoon and/or evening here in a city that’s all decked out for the holidays. Meander through our one-of-a-kind shops. Enjoy the hospitality of friendly merchants. Celebrate the magic of the season in southeastern Minnesota.

BONUS PHOTOS:

This winter wonderland in the window of Dufour Cleaners was voted the all-around favorite in the holiday window decorating contest.

This winter wonderland in the window of Dufour’s Cleaners was voted the all-around favorite in the holiday window decorating contest. Thousands of cotton balls were used to create the snow in the scene.

Studio 14 Salon & Spa placed first in the Peanuts themed division of the window decorating competition.

Studio 14 Salon & Spa placed first in the Peanuts theme division of the window decorating competition.

Here's the other side of the Peanuts display at Studio 14.

Here’s the other side of the Peanuts display at Studio 14.

Charlie Brown and crew also occupy a window space at the Paradise Center for the Arts.

Charlie Brown and crew also occupy a window space at the Paradise Center for the Arts. The PCA won for best vintage theme.

Nearby is this holiday display at Paul Swenson Portraits.

Nearby is this holiday window at Paul Swenson Portraits.

A vintage sled rests in a front window at Vohs Floors,

A vintage sled rests in a front window at Vohs Floors.

The Crafty Maven created this window display for the vintage themed division of the holiday window decorating contest. The display highlights businesses that were in Faribault when Maven sisters and owners Beth Westerhouse and Dee Bjork were growing up here.

An overview of the vintage themed window display at The Crafty Maven.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Threads of tenacity, loyalty & quality weave through Faribault Woolen Mill book December 7, 2015

This sign marks The Faribault Woolen Mill, which sits along the banks of the Cannon River in Faribault, Minnesota.

This sign marks The Faribault Woolen Mill, which sits along the banks of the Cannon River in Faribault, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2015.

“DID YOU GUYS HAVE a tan mitten found yesterday?” customer Molly asked in a recent entry on the Faribault Woolen Mill Facebook page. She’d shopped at a mill overstock sale the day prior and lost a mitten knit by a family member. To Molly, it wasn’t about the mitten as much as the memory and love attached to it.

A mill employee asked Molly to send a photo to aid in the search. Whether the mitten has been found, I don’t know. But I view the mill’s response as a current day example of how this 150-year-old Faribault business cares like family.

Book cover by The History Press

Book cover by The History Press

That’s a recurring theme in a just-published book, Faribault Woolen Mill—Loomed in the Land of Lakes, by my friend, Faribault author Lisa M. Bolt Simons. Lisa cites numerous cases of the mill’s loyalty to Faribault and its employees. In 1961, for example, mill owners purchased a cabin near Bemidji for use by employees, customers and others. That appreciation goes both ways. Community residents and employees have remained fiercely loyal to the woolen mill. Many employees returned to work after the mill briefly closed. Employment longevity reaches into decades, up to sixty years for one mill employee, spotlighting a strong work ethic.

Appreciative customers exist world-wide. Lisa found an August 1966 mill retail store guest book entry notation that The Beatles (yes, those Beatles) visited. That seems unlikely, though, given the Beatles only Minnesota concert, at Met Stadium, happened in August of 1965. However, during eight months in 1966, nearly 2,000 people from 45 states and nine countries signed the mill guest book.

Sandbags protect the Faribault Woolen Mill from the rising Cannon River.

Sandbags protect the historic Faribault Woolen Mill from the rising Cannon River in June 2014. The mill is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. That designation in 2012 allowed the business to apply for, and receive, a $300,000 grant from the Minnesota Historical Society for mill restoration. This photo is published in black-and-white on page 96 of Lisa M. Bolt Simons’ book. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.

Lisa’s 126-page book, published by The History Press, is packed with information that shows extensive research on her part to tell the complete story of Minnesota’s oldest manufacturer. Her bibliography runs four pages. I must note here that Lisa references my June 12, 2012, blog post, “Historic Faribault Woolen Mill Opens Store with Artsy Vibe,” in the preface. One of my photos is also published in her book.

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

Perusing merchandise at The Mill Store shortly after it opened in 2012. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Typically, I do not enjoy reading history. But I finished Lisa’s book in just a few days. It was that interesting. I didn’t grow up in Faribault. So, unlike natives, I didn’t know the history of the mill which started with the Klemers, a family ownership that extended into five generations. I didn’t know about the mill’s multiple locations, about the five fires. I didn’t know how close the mill came to closing during several economic down-turns. I didn’t know why the family sold to outside investors, a move that eventually resulted in the mill’s closure in 2009.

Lisa references public court documents that offer insights into the short-term closure. She also quotes employees who dealt with bounced paychecks and unpaid health insurance premiums. Her information confirms what my neighbor, a retired mill retail store employee, told me years ago.

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

An historic photo from the mill, among those showcased in a mini wall of Woolen Mill history. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Through the challenges of fires, floods (in 2010 and 2014) and finances, the Faribault Woolen Mill survived with a tenacity that continues today under the ownership of Paul and Chuck Mooty and their leadership team. The cousins reopened the mill in 2011. A theme of endurance weaves throughout the book.

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

Crisp white cubbies, ever so perfect for showing off blankets/throws at The Mill Store. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

As it did from the beginning, the mill remains rooted in producing quality wool products, specializing in blankets that have warmed troops, hotel guests, airline passengers, newlyweds… Today you’ll find Faribault Woolen Mill products in boutiques and trendy places nation-wide, many of those notable locations listed in the book.

The mill's products are labeled as "Loomed in the Land of Lakes" by "Purveyors of Comfort and Quality." Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

The mill’s products are labeled as “Loomed in the Land of Lakes” by “Purveyors of Comfort and Quality.” Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

Because of Lisa’s book, I now hold a deeper appreciation of the Faribault Woolen Mill, one of the last vertical woolen mills in the U.S. I understand why locals value this business hugging the banks of the Cannon River. A quote from Jean Mooty, who restarted the retail store and is the wife of co-owner Paul Mooty, says it all: “The mill gets in your blood.”

Lisa M. Bolt Simons. Photo by Jillian Raye Photography.

Lisa M. Bolt Simons. Photo by Jillian Raye Photography.

FYI: The Mill Store, 1500 Second Avenue Northwest, will host “A Book, Beer + Blankets” book tour launch from 4 p.m. – 7 p.m. on Wednesday, December 9. Lisa will give a short presentation at 5:30 p.m. Faribault’s F-Town Brewery will offer beer tasting. And, of course, Faribault Woolen Mill products will be available for purchase.

(Note: I received a complimentary copy of Faribault Woolen Mill—Loomed in the Land of Lakes. The inclusion of my mill photo and references to me and my blog did not influence this unbiased and honest review of the book.)

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Book cover image by The History Press
Author portrait by Jillian Raye Photography

 

Minnesota Faces: Meet, Brenda, a Minnesota Vikings fan October 16, 2015

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Portrait #43: Minnesota Vikings fan Brenda

 

MN Vikings fan, 66 rear view of Vikings car

 

I noticed the purple Ford Focus in the parking lot of a Faribault convenience store late on a Sunday morning. Lucky for me, I had my camera. I sprang from the van, striding toward the car on a photographic mission.

 

MN Vikings fan, 67 Brenda

 

Lucky for me, the driver, Brenda, granted permission to photograph her and her car, painted her favorite purple for her favorite team, the Minnesota Vikings.

 

MN Vikings fan, 71 front of Vikings car

 

She doesn’t have a favorite player. I asked.

 

MN Vikings fan, 73 wheel of Vikings car

 

But it’s clear, from the purple rims to the purple steering wheel cover to the Vikings seat covers to the Vikings hood art to Brenda’s purple hair, that she loves the color purple and the Minnesota Vikings.

 

MN Vikings fan, 72 hood art close-up

 

And to think, this wasn’t even a game day.

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Minnesota Faces is featured every Friday on Minnesota Prairie Roots

Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 

Autumn in Faribault October 12, 2015

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Nearly noon on Sunday along Second Avenue in Faribault, Minnesota.

Nearly noon on Sunday along Second Avenue in Faribault, Minnesota.

IF I COULD TAKE A DAY and tuck it away for safekeeping, to pull out on the dreariest of bone-chilling Minnesota winter days, it would be yesterday.

Gorgeous fall colors in a tree along Fifth Street Northwest across from Trinity Lutheran Church.

Gorgeous fall colors in a maple tree along Fifth Street Northwest across from Trinity Lutheran Church.

Sunday here in southeastern Minnesota was gloriously beautiful as in blue skies and sunshine and warmth melding with the changing colors of the season.

Biking through River Bend Nature Center.

Biking through River Bend Nature Center.

A walk in the woods. A drive in the country. Fishing at the King Mill Dam. Sunday was a day to be cherished.

A deep blue sky provides the backdrop for aged cottonwood trees in River Bend Nature Center, Faribault.

A deep blue sky provides the backdrop for aged cottonwood trees in River Bend Nature Center, Faribault.

My mom told me a few weeks ago how much she loves this month of cobalt skies. I’ve always felt the same about the skies of autumn.

A leaf from the maple tree in my backyard.

A leaf from the maple tree in my backyard.

And the hues of the leaves. Do I forget from year to year how lovely are the blazing oranges, the brilliant reds, the subtle browns? Or are the colors sharper, more vibrant, this year?

The sun blazes through cottonwoods in Tee Pee Tonka Park.

The sun blazes through cottonwoods in Teepee Tonka Park.

Really, it doesn’t matter. What matters is seeing, and appreciating, the blessedness of autumn.

BONUS PHOTOS:

A black-eyed susan adds a jolt of color to a road ditch at River Bend Nature Center.

A black-eyed susan adds a jolt of color to a road ditch at River Bend Nature Center.

Prairie grasses have dried to a muted brown at River Bend Nature Center.

Prairie grasses have dried to a muted brown at River Bend Nature Center.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Memories from “A Night at the Museum” October 5, 2015

Museum, 90 family photo outside church

 

ON THE FRONT STEPS of Holy Innocents Episcopal Church, a family posed for photos.

 

A boy feigns mock injuries for the living history event in Faribault.

A boy feigns mock injuries for a living history event in Faribault on Saturday.

Under a Red Cross tent, nurses tended a young boy kicked in the head by a horse.

The one-room Pleasant Valley School quickly filled with students as the teacher led his class in songs.

The one-room Pleasant Valley School quickly filled with students as the teacher led his class in songs.

Inside Pleasant Valley School, students sang “If you’re happy and you know it…” along with their accordion-playing teacher.

Every time this little guy poked the duck hunter, a duck call emitted. Eventually, he figured out that a real man, Brian Schmidt, was under all that garb. This is the moment Brian revealed himself.

Every time this little guy poked the duck hunter, a duck call emitted. Eventually, he figured out that a real man, Brian Schmidt, was under all that garb. This is the moment Brian revealed himself.

Inside Harvest and Heritage Hall, a boy poked at a duck hunter, wondering whether the camouflaged man was mannequin or real.

Mrs. Morris takes a break from making applesauce.

Mrs. Morris takes a break from making applesauce.

I love photographing moments like this of people connecting.

I love photographing moments like this of people connecting, here outside the Morris “home” in the Harvest/Heritage Hall.

Next to Mrs. Morris’ front porch, a trio of men visited while the lady of the house peeled apples in her kitchen.

Participants in "A Night at the Museum" file into the Harvest and Heritage Hall.

Participants in “A Night at the Museum” file into the Harvest and Heritage Hall.

Scenes. Some part of living history activities. Others authentic, in the moment. But all part of the Rice County Historical Society’s annual “A Night at the Museum.”

Many kids were dressed in period costume.

Many kids dressed in period costume.

A near perfect Saturday in October brought families and others to the museum grounds in Faribault to participate in this living history program that seems to grow in popularity every year. It’s an engaging event that includes a local history quest game for kids and plenty of learning and reminiscing opportunities for the adults.

Horse-drawn wagon rides around the Rice County Fairgrounds were popular.

Horse-drawn wagon rides around the Rice County Fairgrounds proved popular.

And mixed in with all the education and fun is the building of memories. I expect kids will remember riding in the horse-pulled wagon, searching for the Bruce Smith display to determine the year the Faribault native and University of Minnesota football player won the Heismann Trophy (1941), struggling to walk on stilts and more. One boy may even remember answering an old crank phone to the question, “Would you like to order a pizza?”, posed by my husband on the other end.

Old books were laid out on school desks.

Old books were laid out on school desks.

I’ll remember, not so pleasantly, the stressed mom who yanked and yelled at her daughter and how I tried to comfort the young girl cowering behind the schoolhouse door. Sometimes life’s moments hurt. But I delighted in finding a scythe I will return to photograph for an author writing a book about Laura Ingalls Wilder. And I was impressed by Gunnar, the friendly and confident elementary-aged boy who informed me that I was landscaping. He was right. I was photographing landscape (horizontal) images with my camera.

I expect this young girl will remember being pushed around in a wheelchair by a Red Cross nurse during this historical reenactment.

I expect this young girl will remember being pushed around in a wheelchair by a Red Cross nurse during this historical reenactment.

Aside from the unsettling incident I witnessed, I observed moments to savor. Moments that become part of an individual’s history, a family’s history, a couple’s history—remember that night we went to the museum…

BONUS PHOTOS:

A scene photographed looking from the outside into the historic log cabin.

A scene photographed looking from the outside into the historic log cabin.

Ready to iron outside the log cabin.

Ready to iron outside the log cabin.

Math class is underway inside the one-room Pleasant Valley School.

Math class is underway inside the one-room Pleasant Valley School.

Art in a classroom window.

Art in a classroom window.

A student reenactor sings along with her class.

A student reenactor in class.

Inside the main museum building, I studied a map with a magnifying glass. Minnesota was spelled with one "n."

Inside the main museum building, I studied an 1849 map with a magnifying glass. Minnesota was spelled with one “n.” And the Minnesota River was labeled the St. Peter River.

Mike and Pat Fuchs brought their horses and wagon for free rides.

Mike and Pat Fuchs brought their horses and wagon for free rides.

The beautiful horses.

The beautiful horses.

Driving through the fairgrounds.

Driving through the fairgrounds.

Stacked inside the Harvest and Heritage Halls are these crates from Fleckenstein, which brewed beer and made soda in Faribault.

Stacked inside the Harvest and Heritage Halls are these crates from Fleckenstein, which brewed beer and made soda in Faribault.

A high school reenactor reads a book in the museum barbershop.

A high school reenactor reads a book in the museum barbershop.

Behind the historic church, I walked through the graveyard.

Behind the historic church, I walked through the graveyard.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Minnesota Faces: Historical reenactors “Katie” and “Jim” plus more October 2, 2015

Portrait #42  : Siblings Kaylee and William

 

Portrait 42, Night at the Museum actors

 

Back in the day when I studied history, it was dull and boring and printed mostly as straight factual information in books. Dates and events and important people. Page after page after page with the occasional illustration or photo to break up the blocks of copy. Since I’m good at memorizing, I passed history classes with ease, but not with interest.

I haven’t cracked a history textbook in decades. But I presume they are a bit more interesting, perhaps in a storytelling, personalized way.

Today, thankfully, living history conveys the past in a personal and relatable way that a textbook never will. When I met siblings Kaylee and William last September, they were role-playing pioneer children during the Rice County Historical Society’s second annual “A Night at the Museum.

Lots of kids were running around the grounds in period attire or attending class inside the historic Pleasant Valley School. I was learning, too, as I wandered the museum grounds and observed reenactors portraying historical characters. I suspect I’m like most people who find this much more educational and entertaining than simply peering at historical items on display inside museum walls. Not that that doesn’t have value, too. It certainly does. I just prefer living history and am grateful our local historical society started this annual “A Night at the Museum.”

From 4 p.m. – 7 p.m. this Saturday, October 3, attendees can interact with costumed characters from Rice County’s past on the museum grounds at 1814 Northwest Second Avenue in Faribault, right next to the fairgrounds. New this year is a Flashlight Tour of Harvest and Heritage Halls at 6 p.m. There will also be horse-drawn wagon rides and food available around the fire pit. Click here for more information.

Maybe you’ll spot Kaylee and William there, pretending to be Katie and Jim.

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Participants in last year's Chili Contest dish up chili at a business along Central Avenue during the Fall Festival.

Attendees sample chili at a business along Central Avenue during the 2011 Fall Festival. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

IF YOU WANT TO MAKE a full day of it in Faribault, arrive earlier for the annual downtown Fall Festival and Oktoberfest. Most events begin at noon. However, starting at 9:30, until noon, local artists will gather outside the Paradise Center for the Arts to create en plein air.

At noon there’s a kiddie parade and a Chili Contest with businesses and others offering chili samples (for a fee) until 2 p.m. From 12:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m., those interested can take the Spooky Basement Tour, a free event at the Paradise Center for the Arts. The PCA is also holding a costume sale.  Kids can go trick-or-treating downtown from 1 – 3 p.m. Games for kids, pumpkin painting and a unicycle show are also among fest activities.

New to the downtown festival this year is Oktoberfest, celebrated from noon to 11 p.m. at Faribault’s new brewery, F-Town Brewing Company, just off Central Avenue. The event features food trucks, yard games, live music and, of course, beer.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling