Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Along Goodhue County Road 8, past fields, farms & ghost towns November 16, 2021

Just outside of Cannon Falls along Goodhue County Road 8, we stopped to admire the treeline and the gravel road winding toward it. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo mid-October 2021)

WHITE ROCK. Belle Creek. Hader. They are among the 60-plus ghost towns of Goodhue County. Places that once thrived, marked now only by signs along a road, a cluster of homes, perhaps a church or abandoned buildings.

Oh, lovely hues of autumn near Cannon Falls. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo mid-October 2021)

Yet, acknowledging their existence, as the Goodhue County Historical Society does with roadside signs, matters. Because these towns mattered to previous generations and still matter to those with connections to the likes of Aspelund, Burr Oak Springs, Crystal Springs, Eidsvold, Skyberg and so many more with names that hint at heritage and sound poetically beautiful.

Snugging CR 8, a well-kept barn. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo mid-October 2021)

On a road trip to Goodhue County a month ago, Randy and I followed County Road 8 east and then south of Cannon Falls back toward Faribault.

Clouds and trees and field along CR 8. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo mid-October 2021)

Our route took us past clusters of woods, some tinged in autumn hues.

Goodhue County Road 8 near Cannon Falls sweeps into the valley. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo mid-October 2021)

Soon the road curved and swept into the valley, rows of corn rolling across the landscape. Only groves of trees surrounding farm sites broke the vista of endless unharvested fields.

Somewhere between White Rock and Belle Creek, this farmyard drew my eye. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo mid-October 2021)

Sometimes those farmyards hugged the paved road and I caught a close-up glimpse of farms, some with aged weathered barns and outbuildings, others updated with modern equipment and structures.

Likely a former creamery in Belle Creek. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo mid-October 2021)

In Belle Creek, Randy and I noticed a white building, likely a former creamery. Creameries often graced these small settlements, a necessity for farmers who sold cream for butter-making.

In Belle Creek, a building with an unknown-to-us story. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo mid-October 2021)

Another building in Belle Creek left us guessing at its past life. Perhaps a general store. Then a dance hall. We could be way off…

Seeing cows in the countryside takes me back in time. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo mid-October 2021)
Near Hader, I spotted calves outside their huts. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo mid-October 2021)

Occasionally, we spotted cattle, cows, calves. Growing up on a dairy farm, I delight in seeing bovines, especially Holsteins. But rare are the small family farms today that still raise animals. Corporate and mega farms have mostly replaced that self-sufficient lifestyle. That’s reality.

Lots of sky and cornfields along CR 8 in Goodhue County. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo mid-October 2021)

Just like ghost towns, many farms have become, in some ways, ghost farms. They are but ghosts of the past. Ghosts of their former selves and purposes. I see that in decaying, empty buildings, especially barns. I see that in the absence of livestock. I see that in families who can no longer support themselves solely via the farm.

Farm after farm after farm defines this area of Goodhue County. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo mid-October 2021)

All of this is unsettling. But with time comes change. And with change must come acceptance and perhaps also an added historical appreciation for the past.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A bit of Norway at a country church in the Sogn Valley November 10, 2021

A simple country church, Eidsvold Norwegian Methodist. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

WHENEVER I HAPPEN upon an aged rural Minnesota church, as I did recently in Leon Township south of Cannon Falls, I wonder about the immigrants who founded it. What are their stories? How did they feel living an ocean apart from their beloved homelands and families? I admire their strength. Their ability to board a ship and sail toward The Land of Opportunity.

A Norwegian name in the Eidsvold Church cemetery. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Oftentimes, the very names of these country churches and the names of those buried in the churchyard cemeteries reveal roots and heritage.

A brief history of the church. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

The small white clapboard church Randy and I discovered on 70th Street in the Sogn Valley area was clearly founded by Norwegian immigrants. Eidsvold Norwegian Methodist Church banners a sign with a brief history. Founded in 1893. Also known as “Ring Church.” Built by Gulbrand Nilson. Last service in 1949.

My initial view of the Eidsvold Church. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2021)

An online search dates the congregation’s organization to 1860. Perhaps the signage date references building construction. I couldn’t find much other information other than parishioners originally meeting for worship in homes, a common practice.

My own great grandfather, Rudolph Kletscher, who immigrated to the US from Germany in 1885, eventually settling on a farm near my hometown of Vesta in southwestern Minnesota, opened his home for worship. A pastor from the Lutheran church in neighboring Echo led services for 8-9 families and in 1900 those German immigrants built St. John’s Lutheran Church in town.

For those brave souls settling in a new land, I expect their faith provided comfort, strength and hope. And a place to gather, to sing and pray in their mother tongue, to support one another, to socialize. To celebrate. Baptisms. Weddings. Confirmations. Christmas and Easter. And to mourn.

Marthina Ring’s unassuming marker. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

The final service held at Eidsvold, as noted on the church sign, was the funeral of Marthina Ring on April 11, 1949. I determined to find her grave marker and I did. It’s a small, unassuming stone engraved with her birth and death dates. Born March 7, 1865. Died April 6, 1949. Other Ring family stones are larger, more prominent. John Ring, I learned online, was a leading supporter of this church. I have no idea of his connection to Marthina.

Beautiful flowers grace the cemetery. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

This cemetery appears cared for with golden marigolds, red and pink geraniums and other annuals splashing color among the grey and brown tombstones.

Water at the ready… (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Jugs of water snugged against the church foundation show me that someone comes here regularly to water those plants.

A token of love left for a mother. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

And a painted stone placed atop a marker for Virginia Jacobson reveals how much she is missed. Has been missed since her 2006 passing.

The door into Eidsvold was padlocked. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

That this church and graveyard have not been abandoned here among the fields in the Sogn Valley pleases me. This land, this church building, this cemetery meant something to those long ago Norwegian immigrants. And that is to be valued. Cherished. Honored. Celebrated, even by those of us with no connection to Eidsvoll/Eidsvold, Norway.

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IF YOU KNOW more about the Ring Church, please share. I welcome additional information. As is often the case at rural churches, I found the front door locked.

The Goodhue County Historical Society placed this historical interest sign at the ghost town of Eidsvold. The sign was erected to preserve the history of this former post office site and to recognize its historical contribution to the area. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2010)

The Goodhue County Historical Society marks its ghost towns with road signs. In 2010, I photographed the above sign for Eidsvold, near County Road 30.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Driving into a ghost town on Hogsback Road July 23, 2012

An old building, perhaps a former blacksmith shop, in Belvidere Mills.

GHOST TOWNS INTRIGUE ME. I wonder—who lived in these places and were these towns once thriving and why did people leave?

Often, placement of the railroad determined which Minnesota town survived, which did not.

Recently my husband and I, on one of our day trips, turned off Goodhue County Road 3 about 10 miles south of Red Wing, onto Hogsback Road and into Belvidere Mills.

Yes, Hogsback Road. When you read a street sign like that, you just know there’s a story somewhere that’s been passed down from generation to generation. If only I knew the right old codger to consult for a little history lesson on the road that now also is called Wellscreek Trail. I’ll travel on Hogsback Road, thank you.

The former Belvidere Mills creamery, modernized into a garage.

The first view we got of the lovely old barn in Belvidere Mills.

And so we did, up the hill on Hogsback Road past a handful (or less) of houses and the old creamery and a stately red barn and past another old building (perhaps a blacksmith shop), around a curve in the gravel road and we were already out of Belvidere Mills. We turned around and backtracked.

Our second view, the side, of the barn as we backtracked into the ghost town.

And back again past the old building in the top photograph, this a side shot. What is it, readers?

Thanks to signage placed by the Goodhue County Historical Society along the county road, we knew this was the site of the former Belvidere Mills, established in 1858.

The historical society has marked some 60 ghost towns in Goodhue County with signage to “preserve their history and to recognize their historical contribution.” All either once had, or currently have, post offices.

They also have intriguing names like Black Oak, Cannon Junction, Featherstone, Roscoe Centre, Skyberg and White Willow.

And then there are the Goodhue County Minnesota ghost towns of—ready for this—Lena, Norway and Miami.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Hey, Ole, can you tell me about Eidsvold, Minnesota? April 7, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:54 AM
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Is this a hitching post at historic Eidsvold, in southeastern MN.? This ghost town's one remaining building stands in the background.

FROM OUR ROADSIDE perspective, the cement post near the ditch along Goodhue County Road 30 appears to be a historical marker. After all, a road sign posted by the county historical society denotes this as the former site of Eidsvold.

But when I walk up to the marker, I find no words, only a plain column topped by two iron semi-circles embedded in the cement.

My husband and I, who are on a Sunday afternoon drive into the historical Sogn Valley area of Minnesota, conclude this is a hitching post. Are we right?

We wonder too about the dilapidated building a stone’s throw away. Ignoring signs to keep out, we move in closer. I step over fallen branches to peer inside the structure, where oats spill from an open doorway.

Wood, muted gray by exposure to the elements, and rugged limestone, stacked irregularly to form an interior wall, invite me to wonder about this building’s history.

Who built this structure? When? And was it always used for grain storage?

I wonder, because I am always and forever wondering.

Who lived in this ghost town presumably named after Eidsvoll, Norway?

Up close, this sure looks like a hitching post to me. Am I right?

The Goodhue County Historical Society placed this historical interest sign at the ghost town of Eidsvold. The sign was erected to preserve the history of this former post office site and to recognize its historical contribution to the area.

A peek inside the interior of Eidsvold's single remaining structure reveals oats strewn on the floor.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling