Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Celebrate autumn in Minnesota this weekend October 10, 2014

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THERE’S MUCH TO LOVE about Autumn in Minnesota.

Stop at a roadside stand or a farmers' market for pumpkins, apples, squash and other Minnesota-grown produce. That's me at The Country Store of Pepin (Wisconsin) photographed earlier this week by my husband, Randy.

Stop at a roadside stand or a farmers’ market for pumpkins, apples, squash and other Minnesota-grown produce. That’s me relaxing at The Country Store of Pepin (Wisconsin) photographed earlier this week by my husband, Randy.

It’s the season of harvest and leaves crackling underfoot and piled pumpkins.

My meal at last year's Trinity dinner, minus the bread and cranberries. I had cake for dessert, too.

Trinity Lutheran Church, North Morristown, hosts its annual fall dinner and craft sale from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. this Sunday, October 12. It’s one of the best church dinners around, in my opinion. All of the food (some not shown here) is homemade. Cost is $10 for ages 13 and older; $5 for ages 6-12; and free for ages 5 and younger. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

It’s the season of church dinners.

Christine Henke serves chili, which I classified as "very spicy" at Glam Central Salon.

Faribault holds its annual downtown Fall Festival on Saturday, October 11, with a kids’ costume parade, kids’ activities, chili tasting (between 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.), gallery-on-the-go and a mystery dinner. Visit the Faribault Main Street website for more information. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

And festivals galore.

 

Just inside the entry to the Blue Earth County Fairgrounds.

The third annual Maker Fair Fall Festival runs from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. Saturday, October 11, at the Blue Earth County Fairgrounds in Garden City. Handcrafted arts and food from nearly 100 south central Minnesota artisans will be featured along with music, kids’ activities and more. For more info, visit makerfair.org. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

It’s the season of shopping at craft sales in small towns and along country roads.

Fall colors are at their prime in some areas of Minnesota. This photo, taken on Thursday, shows the St. Croix River near Stillwater.

Fall colors are at their prime in some areas of Minnesota. This photo, taken on Thursday, shows the St. Croix River near Stillwater.

But most of all, it’s about taking the time to appreciate this season that brings a sharpness to our days, an awareness that we must savor every ray of sunshine, every moment outdoors. Take time this weekend to embrace Autumn before she exits and Winter walks through the door.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Shareholders vote to sell historic Blue Earth County Fairgrounds January 10, 2014

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The beef barn, shaded by an oak tree.

This beef barn is representative of the many old buildings which grace the 154-year-old Blue Earth County Fairgrounds. The oak-covered fairgrounds sits along the Watonwan River in Garden City, Minnesota.

THE VOTE IS IN.

And if all goes as planned, the Blue Earth County Fair will move from an historic 154-year-old site in Garden City to within a two-mile radius of Mankato, 10 miles away.

Shareholders, during a special meeting Thursday evening, voted 175 in favor and 76 against to sell the long-time fairgrounds, according to an article in the Mankato Free Press. (Click here to read that story.) That sale authorization paves the way for possible construction of a new fairgrounds near Mankato, the county seat and county’s center of population.

For background on this story, click here and read my post, “Deciding the future of the historic Blue Earth County Fairgrounds.” Also click here to read an earlier post about my visit to the fairgrounds in July.

I am disappointed. Once an historic gem like this is lost, you can never replace it. Let’s hope, at least, that those old buildings can be saved.

And I wonder, too, whether simply moving the fair will increase attendance and push the fair out of debt.

This will be an interesting process, no matter what side of the issue you favor.

 

Discovering an historic church in Garden City

I found the doors of First Baptist Church locked while in Garden City this past July.

I found the doors of First Baptist Church locked while in Garden City this past July.

THE FRUSTRATING FACT for me as a photographer, when I come upon an aged church, is that most often I find the doors locked. I understand. Churches need to protect not only their buildings but also the valuables therein.

My first glimpse of this historic 1868 church.

My first glimpse of this historic 1868 church.

So, unless you have been inside the First Baptist Church in Garden City or seen interior photos elsewhere, you will simply have to imagine what lies within this church constructed in 1868 a block from the Watonwan River.

Those 1868 cement blocks, up close.

Those 1868 cement blocks, up close.

Built of locally-made Geist and Huntzelman cement blocks, the building holds special significance as the earliest known use of concrete blocks in Minnesota. In 1980, the church was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Looking up toward the belfry.

Looking up toward the belfry.

It is built in the Greek Revival style, with a belfry added later. In 1959, a concrete block addition was added at the rear of the church.

How wonderful that this remains a functioning church.

How wonderful that this remains a functioning church.

Apparently the structure still functions as a church with the Rev. Harvey Hallada leading 9 a.m. Sunday worship services.

Now sometimes photographers, like my friend Jackie who blogs at “Who Will Make Me Laugh,” find a church door open. Jackie appreciates old churches, barns and drives in the country as much as I do. So be sure to click here to read Jackie’s post showcasing Pilot Mound Lutheran Church in the Chatfield area. She found one gem of a church and several other wonderful old buildings and scenes while on a recent Saturday afternoon drive with her husband.

I’d encourage all of you to follow Jackie and another photo blogger, Dan over at Dan Traun Photography, if you enjoy viewing photographic results of a drive in the country or through the city (that would be Dan).

A side view of the church in Garden City, located 60-70 miles from my home.

A side view of the church in Garden City, located 60-70 miles from my home.

I’d encourage you also to find time in 2014 for country drives. There is much to be discovered nearby, in our own backyards, if only we will take the time to look.

FYI: These photos were taken in July during a brief stop in Garden City, south of Mankato along U.S. Highway 169. See posts from the past two days for additional images shot in Garden City.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Zip code 56034 January 9, 2014

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YESTERDAY I SHOWED YOU the quaint 154-year-old Blue Earth County Fairgrounds in Garden City, the fate of which will be decided this evening at a special shareholders meeting of the Blue Earth County Fair Association.

The Garden City, Minnesota, Post Office, housed in a former bank building.

The Garden City, Minnesota, Post Office, housed in a former bank building.

Today, I reveal another gem in this unincorporated village along U.S. Highway 169 south of Mankato. That would be the post office.

Garden City post office, window and boxes

I took my camera inside the post office on a July morning because, well, you just don’t see all that many post offices like the one in Garden City.

Garden City post office, front close-up

According to the postmistress, the post office has been housed in this former bank building since the 1960s.

Garden City post office, door and steps

Garden City post office, boxes

Garden City post office, boxes up close

Garden City post office, inside window

It’s a glorious place from the old-fashioned front screen door to the tile floor to the woodwork, glazed windows and rows of vintage post office boxes.

Garden City post office, sign on door

Garden City post office, arch above door

Garden City post office, flowers by

THERE’S ONE MORE THING you should know about Garden City. Ten men, who “went on to be significant contributors to modern day industry giants like Piper, Jaffray, Archer Daniels Midland and GlaxoSmithKline,” once called Garden City home, according to promotional info for the book, The Remarkable Men of Garden City by E. Winston Grundmeier.

How’s that for small-town success?

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Deciding the future of the historic Blue Earth County fairgrounds January 8, 2014

The beef barn, shaded by an oak tree.

The beef and other barns are circled by aged oaks.

IN THE SHADE OF AGED OAKS sprawling along the banks of the Watonwan River in Garden City, agricultural buildings stretched long and lean as my husband and I drove through the Blue Earth County Fairgrounds on a July morning.

I was enamored with this charming and historic place, where buildings are labeled BEEF, SHEEP, POULTRY, FFA, 4-H EXHIBITS…

Just inside the entry to the Blue Earth County Fairgrounds.

Just inside the entry to the Blue Earth County Fairgrounds.

For 154 years, folks have come here each summer to celebrate the area’s agricultural roots.

But now this bucolic spot, which so charmed me during that brief drive-through this past July, may no longer serve as the site for Blue Earth County’s fair. The fair board is looking to move the fair within a two-mile radius of nearby Mankato, according to information on the fair website.

 A posting of fair sponsors just inside the front gate.

A posting of fair sponsors just inside the front gate.

Thursday evening, Blue Earth County Fair Association shareholders meet at Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato to discuss the future of the fair, supported in the past by rural sponsors like Crystal Valley Coop, Watonwan Farm Service and the Blue Earth County Farm Bureau.

Shareholders will vote, beginning at 6:20 p.m., on whether to sell the Garden City fairgrounds. I’m not privy to financial details but, according to a story in the Mankato Free Press, the fair has consistently lost money in recent years. The thought is that moving the fair nearer the county’s center of population (Mankato) and adding amenities will increase attendance and better tell the story of agriculture. Click here to read the document, BLUE EARTH COUNTY FAIR: GROUNDS FOR GROWTH.

I expect this membership meeting may be a heated one pitting historians and preservationists against those favoring change, and country folks against city residents. I might be wrong.

If you buy a $5 share, you can vote. Once. There’s no buying multiple shares for multiple votes. Shares are available for purchase yet today (from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. and from 5-7 p.m.) at Busters on Madison Avenue in Mankato. And shares will be sold before the meeting, from 4:45-5:45 p.m. Thursday.

The open class exhibit buildings.

Open class exhibit buildings.

I’m not fully-informed on all sides of the issue. Yet I do know this: When my husband and I wove our way through the fairgrounds in Garden City, I was impressed by the historic character, the nostalgic charm, the quaint old buildings in the beautiful natural setting and the fact that a place like this still exists. There is something to be said for that, for the time-honored tradition of this fair and the pastoral appeal of this land. It is, undeniably, a picturesque place along the Watonwan River, a lovely gathering spot for the generations who have come here each summer to celebrate rural life.

LET’S HEAR YOUR THOUGHTS on the future of the Blue Earth County Fairgrounds. How would you vote? Move the fair to a site closer to Mankato or keep it here, in Garden City?

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Stepping into yesteryear at the Blue Earth County fairgrounds August 1, 2013

Just inside the entry to the Blue Earth County Fairgrounds.

Just inside the entry to the Blue Earth County Fairgrounds.

PRIOR TO LAST FRIDAY, I’d never been to the Blue Earth County Fairgrounds, nor even to Garden City, the unincorporated community in which the fairgrounds is located. That would be south of Mankato, along the banks of the Watonwan River.

Log cabins on the fairgrounds include this one from 1860 and a replica of an 1839 cabin.

Log cabins on the fairgrounds include this one from 1860 and a replica of an 1839 cabin.

What a delightful place—like a step back in time.

The beef barn, shaded by an oak tree.

The beef barn, shaded by an oak tree.

Space for chickens and ducks and geese and such poultry.

Space for chickens and ducks and geese and such poultry.

Always a fair favorite, the sheep.

Always a fair favorite, the sheep.

Just look at these old-fashioned buildings and imagine the cattle, pigs, poultry and sheep trucked into this scenic spot for the annual showing of the best of the best.

I expect (hope) the 4-H food stand will be repaired before the fair.

I expect (hope) the 4-H food stand was repaired before the fair.

Imagine 4-Hers clutching coveted ribbons.

The open class exhibit buildings.

The open class exhibit buildings. Look at the splendid old doors on these structures.

Imagine the families and old folks, the neighbors and strangers mingling here to celebrate life in rural Minnesota.

Imagine the young lovers strolling the grounds.

My Aunt Marilyn remembers, more than 50 years ago, attending this fair on a weekday afternoon along with other Blue Earth County employees. “I suppose they don’t do that anymore,” she said.

I expect not, Marilyn.

 A posting of fair sponsors just inside the front gate.

A posting of fair sponsors just inside the front gate.

Today, August 1, through Saturday, August 3, you can experience this grassroots fair when gates open at the Blue Earth County Fairgrounds/Shady Oaks Campground in Garden City just off U.S. Highway 169.

CLICK HERE for detailed fair information and click here for info about the campground.

BONUS PHOTOS:

It seems every fairgrounds has an old school or church like this one.

It seems every fairgrounds has an old school or church like this one.

An on-site beverage stand.

An on-site beverage stand.

The Future Farmers of America building.

The Future Farmers of America building.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling