Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Charming Northfield, Minnesota August 5, 2019

A pedestrian bridge crosses the Cannon River in the heart of downtown Northfield.

 

CHARMING. That word, when tagged to towns, seems overused. But I attach that adjective to Northfield because it fits.

 

As a fan of historic architecture, I appreciate all the old buildings that define Northfield’s downtown.

 

This college town, hugging the banks of the Cannon River in southern Minnesota, charms with its downtown historic architecture,

 

On the Carleton College campus, a lovely nature area.

 

its natural beauty,

 

Message on the exterior of the Northfield Arts Guild.

 

its artsy focus,

 

 

A patch of tomatoes grows in the boulevard in this bike-friendly city.

 

its front-yard flower and vegetable gardens,

 

The entry to The Contented Cow.

 

its home-grown shops and eateries, and much more.

 

A section of a poem stamped into a Northfield sidewalk.

 

Think independent bookstore, Content. Think The Contented Cow, a British style pub. Think Tanzenwald and Imminent breweries and Loon Liquors Distillery and Cocktail Room. Think Sidewalk Poetry, public art sculptures, the Northfield Arts Guild. Think the First National Bank of Northfield (robbed by the James-Younger Gang) now turned historical society.

 

 

Today I feature a few photos from Northfield in images taken after the rain finally stopped on a recent Saturday. Enjoy this glimpse of a community that bills itself as the place of “cows, colleges and contentment.” That fits given the rural setting, St. Olaf and Carleton Colleges, and the seeming contentment of those who live and visit this city.

 

The river runs through, making Northfield’s downtown especially picturesque.

 

TELL ME: Have you visited Northfield or do you live there? If so, tell me what you love about this town. Or tell me about a similar community you would tag as charming.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Appreciating the art & architecture of a business block in historic downtown Faribault August 31, 2018

A side view of an artsy window display at Fleur de Lis Gallery.

 

STOREFRONT WINDOWS ARE LIKE A CANVAS, a creative space that can cause passersby to pause, then perhaps step inside a business. Or at a minimum, to value the visual efforts of a shopkeeper.

 

A full front view of that Fleur de Lis window art.

 

Historic buildings reflect in the front window of Ruf Acres Market, one of Faribault’s newest businesses. Ruf Acres won the 2017 Downtown Faribault Business Challenge to launch new businesses.

 

A colorful flier promotes Pawn MN.

 

During a brief walk in the 200 block of Central Avenue in historic downtown Faribault on a recent Sunday afternoon, I discovered visual delights in window displays, splashes of color, wordage, architecture and more.

 

Nona has created this eye-catching Wash Day window displace at Keepers Antiques.

 

I appreciate the efforts of local shopkeepers to create window art that enhances our downtown.

 

In the window of Ruf Acres Market, egg cartons promote eggs from Graise Farm in rural Faribault.

 

Mallory of Grit & Grace uses a Rolling Stones quote to draw people into her new Faribault shop of merchandise and much more.

 

At The Upper East Side, Suzanne offers guests the option of painting totes and more. Love this artsy Faribault tote made at the sip and paint shop.

 

I appreciate those who value and promote local.

 

Ruf Acres signage highlights historic Faribault.

 

Markers like this tag historic buildings throughout downtown Faribault.

 

Historic architecture reflected in the window of a van.

 

I appreciate, too, those who long ago decided our historic buildings were worth saving. “You have a beautiful downtown,” a woman from Jackson noted to me as she and her friend explored Central Avenue while I shot photos. I welcomed them, invited them to return when shops are open.

 

 

I appreciate also the energy and enthusiasm of shopkeepers like Jessica at Fleur de Lis Gallery and Suzanne at The Upper East Side. Both possess a passion for art that adds to the growing art presence in my community.

 

 

A close-up of that Wash Day window display at Keepers Antiques with historic buildings reflected in the glass.

 

Fette Electronics is a long-time business in downtown Faribault.

 

From the Paradise Center for the Arts to local shops to new public art installations to historic murals, this southeastern Minnesota city is stretching its creativity and emerging as a place for the arts. For that I am grateful.

 

A section of the 200 block of Central Avenue in the business district of historic downtown Faribault.

 

It is through the lens of art—whether visual, literary or performing—that we see beauty in a place. And today that place is Faribault.

 

FYI: Check back for a close-up look at The Upper East Side, a paint and sip business and more.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Delighting in the unexpected at a Pine Island cafe June 18, 2015

IT WAS WELL AFTER THE NOON HOUR on a Saturday. I was hungry. And we were still too many curving miles away from our destination of Pine Island in southeastern Minnesota.

I needed something, anything, to settle my immediate need for food. I unzipped my purse, scrounged for two peppermint Life Savers, unwrapped them and then dropped one into my husband’s hand and popped the other into my mouth. This would tide me over until I could get real food into my empty stomach.

Driving along Pine Island's busy Main Street, I notice a meat market and a Subway. I was looking for a small town cafe.

Driving along Pine Island’s busy Main Street, I notice a meat market and a Subway. I was looking for a small town cafe but was semi distracted by the historic architecture.

Finally, we rolled into Pine Island from the west backroads, not from U.S. Highway 52, the crazy busy four-lane that connects St. Paul to Rochester and bypasses this rural community.

The Rainbow Cafe is among businesses housed in historic and architecurally interesting buildings.

The Rainbow Cafe is among businesses housed in historic and architecturally interesting buildings.

Simple and lovely signage above the front door.

Simple and lovely signage above the front door.

The sandwich board menu that drew me inside. I like to see menus before entering an eatery. And since I don't have a smart phone, this street side listing is helpful.

I like to see menus before entering an eatery. Since I don’t have a smart phone, this street side menu listing is helpful.

Now, where to eat. We drove through the downtown scouting for a place, finally settling on the Rainbow Cafe. The outside sandwich board advertising a variety of unique selections not typically found on small town diner menus drew me to this eatery.

My Prime Rib Sandwich.

My Prime Rib Sandwich.

The Rainbow did not disappoint. I ordered the grass-fed Prime Rib Sandwich with a bowl of Cream of Artichoke Soup. Randy chose a Cuban Pork Sandwich (with a delicious smoky taste to the meat) and fries. Both arrived promptly and piping hot. I like my food hot. And I always appreciate quick service.

First I enjoyed a bowl of Cream of Artichoke Soup.

First I enjoyed a bowl of Cream of Artichoke Soup.

The creamy soup would have been even better, though, with additional and larger chunks of artichoke. And both Randy and I agreed that our sandwiches, although definitely savory and filling, could have done with less mayo on mine and less mustard on his.

That said, I would not hesitate to return here because many menu items, like the Organic Blueberry Pork Sandwich—slow-roasted organic pork, blueberry and arugula on ciabatta—and the free-range Chicken Apple Sandwich and other lunch choices sound delectable.

On the cafe’s Facebook page, I noted this recent dinner offering: Grilled pork chop with pea vine macadamia pesto, bacon and chile roasted broccoli and kohlrabi over green garlic confit mashed potatoes.

The Rainbow features locally-sourced (from places like the farmers’ market) and (sometimes) organic food with an ever-changing seasonal menu. I welcome that approach in a small town restaurant where the usual lunch offerings often lean toward your basic burgers and fries or chicken/fish sandwiches with minimal creativity. You’ll find burgers at the Rainbow. But lots more, too. Among the salad listings is a Roasted Beet Salad that I’d like to try sometime.

The dessert menu and water served in a wine bottle.

The dessert menu and water served in a wine bottle.

The waitress tempted us with a dessert list. But we were too full to indulge.

Uncluttered decor with clean lines and those dangling stones define the interior decor.

Uncluttered decor with clean lines and those dangling stones define the interior.

Besides the appeal of creative and tasty food choices, the Rainbow Cafe presents a soothing environment in which to dine. Granted, we ate there at past peak meal time. But I think even at its busiest times, diners would feel comfortably relaxed in this minimalist setting. Randy and I were a bit curious about the stones dangling from the ceiling beside tables. I forgot to inquire. My guess: They are related to the concept of Fen Shui.

From my seat, I had a good view of beautiful historic buildings and Main Street.

From my seat, I had a good view of beautiful historic buildings and Main Street.

We purposely seated ourselves next to a front window, for the light as much as the view of Pine Island’s Main Street which sees a steady flow of traffic. Cross carefully. We did exactly that after finishing our sandwiches and setting out to explore this town of some 3,300 only 18 miles from Rochester.

FYI: The Rainbow Cafe, 212 South Main Street, is open 11 a.m. – 8 p.m. Tuesday – Saturday; from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. for Sunday brunch; and is closed on Mondays. This post is based on our dining experience in May.

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OTHER DINING OPTIONS:

Borgy Boyz appears to be a popular pizza place which also serves wraps, salads, sandwiches and more.

Borgy Boyz appears to be a popular pizza place which also serves wraps, salads, sandwiches and more.

I really like this signage. Signage counts with me.

I really like this signage. I’d like to know the history behind the name.

On a few drive throughs along Main Street, I saw a number of folks hanging out outside this sports bar. I don't care for sports bars, so did not consider this a dining option.

On a few drive through along Main Street, I saw a number of folks hanging out outside this sports bar. I don’t care for sports bars, so did not consider this a dining option. It seemed a popular place, though.

Because I know everyone has different tastes, such as a Wisconsin resident who didn’t find cheese curds at the Rainbow Cafe (so our waitress shared), there are plenty of other options like Borgy Boyz Pizzeria & Cafe, which looked busy; the Pine Island Sports Bar; Cathy’s Catering and Cafe; and Better Brew Coffeehouse.  I’m sure I missed a few places.

The Rainbow Cafe serves mozzarella sticks. Not quite Wisconsin cheese curds. But then this isn’t Wisconsin.

FYI: If you missed my first post on Pine Island, click here to learn more about this southeastern Minnesota community.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The patriotism of the Winnebago County, Iowa, courthouse square May 21, 2015

At the top of the hill looking down the street we just traveled to reach downtown Forest City and courthouse square.

At the top of the hill looking down the street we just traveled to reach downtown Forest City and courthouse square.

THE RED-WHITE-AND-BLUE BEDECKED gazebo caught my attention as we drove up the hill, past grain bins and Dollar General, into downtown Forest City two Saturdays before Memorial Day.

This oversized gazebo sits in the Winnebago County Courthouse square.

This oversized gazebo sits in the Winnebago County Courthouse square.

What a delightful, patriotic welcome to this northern Iowa county seat, home to Waldorf College, Winnebago Industries and Heritage Park of North Iowa.

The courthouse was built in 1897 for $20,496. A south wing was added later.

The courthouse was built in 1897 for $20,496. A south wing was added later.

The Winnebago County Veterans Memorial rests on the side of the courthouse near the gazebo.

The Winnebago County Veterans Memorial rests on the side of the courthouse near the gazebo.

The Union Soldier statue was purchased by the local Women's Relief Corps in 1899. The chapter was founded to care for Union soldiers and to assist their widows and orphans and to honor the dead. There are 151 Civil War veterans buried in Winnebago County.

The Union Soldier statue was purchased by the local Women’s Relief Corps in 1899. The chapter was founded to care for Union soldiers and to assist their widows and orphans, and to honor the dead. There are 151 Civil War veterans buried in Winnebago County.

This eye-catching display of American pride drew my eyes to the gazebo and then to the imposing 1897 Romanesque style courthouse. Both sit in the Winnebago County Courthouse square, graced by two war memorials—that of a Union soldier and the Winnebago County Veterans Memorial.

The vintage Sherman tank.

The vintage Sherman tank.

A Sherman tank anchors a corner of the block.

A sculpture on a corner of the courthouse.

A sculpture on a corner of the courthouse.

Aiming my camera up at the towering courthouse.

Aiming my camera up at the towering courthouse. Notice all that architectural detail.

Another courthouse sculpture.

Another courthouse sculpture.

The Union Soldier was constructed from zinc by J. L. Mott Iron Works of Trenton, New Jersey, at a cost of $155.

The Union Soldier was constructed from zinc by J. L. Mott Iron Works of Trenton, New Jersey, at a cost of $155. The monument was restored in 2005.

The fountain atop which the Union soldier stands was also built by J. L. Mott Iron Works. It is of French Victorian design. The goat head symbolizes strength and victory.

The fountain atop which the Union soldier stands was also built by J. L. Mott Iron Works. It is of French Victorian design. The goat heads symbolize strength and victory.

It was a lot to take in, to photograph. Artsy architectural details add visual interest to the fountain and courthouse, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. I only wished it had been a week day so I could have toured the courthouse interior.

I appreciated the patriotic colors on The Legion.

I appreciated the patriotic colors on The Legion.

But, since I couldn’t get inside, I focused my camera on the exterior, all the while watched by two elderly men across the street near the Legion. I expect they were wondering about the couple in the car with Minnesota plates and the woman shooting pictures with a fancy camera. Perhaps I should have chatted it up with them. The likely could have told me a story or ten.

FYI: Click here to read my first, and then my second, blog post on other Forest City, Iowa, attractions.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reason number one to visit Decorah, Iowa: The historic architecture July 10, 2013

The architecture on the historic buildings is incredible.

The architecture on the historic buildings is incredible.

“MOM, YOU’LL LOVE DECORAH.”

Except for getting sprayed with soda while dining at an Italian eatery (and no amends made save a perfunctory “sorry”), my husband and I loved this northeastern Iowa river town.

Our daughter Miranda, who visited a college friend here last summer, was right. We delighted in Decorah’s historic architecture, natural beauty and small town ambiance.

That Norwegian museum we need to tour next time we're in Decorah.

That Norwegian museum we need to tour next time we’re in Decorah.

Home to Luther College and the world’s largest collection of Norwegian artifacts at the Vesterheim—The National Norwegian-American Museum and Heritage Center, Decorah definitely presents a college town feel and an ethnic bend toward Norwegians. Interestingly enough, we didn’t tour either Luther or the Vesterheim. Next trip, because we will return.

Blue Heron Knittery is housed in the lower level of this architecturally stunning corner building in downtown Decorah.

Blue Heron Knittery is housed in the lower level of this architecturally stunning corner building in downtown Decorah.

So what exactly did we see? Mostly, we simply strolled through downtown admiring the historic buildings and occasionally popping into charming shops in this city of some 8,000.

On a Tuesday morning, the streets were teeming with pedestrians, including this Amish man from southeastern Minnesota.

On a Tuesday morning, the streets were teeming with pedestrians, including this Amish man from southeastern Minnesota.

Decorah, with numerous one-way streets, plenty of stoplights, an abundance of benches, information kiosks, bike racks, and planters overflowing with vibrant flowers and vining plants, rates as an especially pedestrian friendly community. First impressions count and this Iowa town does a splendid job of making visitors feel welcome via the relaxed setting created in the downtown business district.

It's the details that count, that show a community truly cares like vibrant plants in windowboxes.

It’s the details that count in creating an inviting downtown shopping experience.

Join me as we begin our journey through Decorah, today with a peek at that historic architecture and other photo-worthy snippets in the downtown.

So much to see along Decorah's downtown city streets.

So much to see along Decorah’s downtown city streets.

You'll find an abundance of trolls/gnomes.

You’ll find an abundance of trolls/gnomes.

The Storypeople workshop exterior pops with vibrant colors and images. I'll tell you more about Storypeople in a future post.

The Storypeople workshop exterior pops with vibrant colors and images. I’ll tell you more about Storypeople in a future post.

Window displays and signs are equally as interesting as the architecture.

Window displays and signs are equally as interesting as the architecture.

A building needn't be ornate to impress. I love the strong simple lines of Cary's Fabrication.

A building needn’t be ornate to impress. I love the strong simple lines of Cary’s Fabrication.

If I had excess discretionary funds, I would have purchased the woodcut art of Lennis Moore sold at Eckheart Gallery.

If I had excess discretionary funds, I would purchase the woodcut art of Lennis Moore sold at Eckheart Gallery.

More great buildings...

More great buildings…

FYI: Check back for more posts from downtown and elsewhere in Decorah, Iowa, including images of the historic hotel where we stayed, a beautiful waterfall, Storypeople, an historic home and a fish hatchery. I promise that by the end of this photographic tour, you will add this community to your list of “must visit” towns.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling