Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

From Mazeppa: When fire destroys a community gathering place March 12, 2018

 

PERUSE THE FACEBOOK PAGE for WD’s Bar & Grill in Mazeppa and you get a strong sense of what this business means to the folks of this small southeastern Minnesota community north of Rochester.

 

 

Here locals gather to celebrate special occasions like Valentine’s Day with prime rib and jumbo shrimp dinners. Or birthdays with burgers and a beer. And during this season of Lent, a Friday Night Fish Fry draws crowds. This seems the place to be—to meet your family, your friends, your neighbors, to commune over good food and conversation.

 

 

But no more. Early Sunday morning this 1900 brick corner building in the heart of this town burned. I can only imagine how locals are reeling from the loss of a community gathering spot. When a town of around 800 loses a business, it loses part of its identity. I should note, though, that Mazeppa still has other bars/restaurants/gathering places.

 

 

I visited Mazeppa in October 2016 and found it an especially interesting community to photograph given the historic buildings and also the incredible building signage created by resident sign painter Mike Meyer. If only I’d stepped inside WD’s Bar & Grill during that brief visit. There’s a lesson to be learned in that. Although I documented this town with my camera, I didn’t really experience it. I didn’t walk into that long-time bar and grill and observe the locals, feel the heartbeat of this community. I regret that now.

Even if WD’s chooses to rebuild, something will have been lost. Not in the people. But in the setting of history, of a rooted sense of place.

 

The Crow Bar & Grill, Courtland, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2014.

 

FYI: Click here to read a post from November 2015 about another small town bar and grill destroyed by fire. Last time I passed by nearly two weeks ago, a new building stood on the site in Courtland, presumably the rebuilt The Crow Bar & Grill.

Please check back soon for more photos from my October 2016 stop in Mazeppa, including the signage of Mike Meyer. It’s time I post those forgotten filed images.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Where the faithful once gathered… February 26, 2018

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I’M GOING TO THE CHAPEL and I’m gonna…

 

 

have a beer

because Jesus isn’t there turning water into wine.

 

 

Rather Andrew Burns and crew are brewing and serving beer at Chapel Brewing in Dundas. Located along the banks of the scenic Cannon River in this small southeastern Minnesota town, the latest brewery in the area offers an intimate setting in a former chapel.

The name fits this historic building constructed in 1880 as a village hall and jail and two years later converted into a chapel. For 50 years, the faithful met here for Sunday School and related religious purposes. Eventually, the building use reverted back to that of a town hall and then to a photography studio for 30 years before transitioning into a taproom. Patrons sometimes reminisce about senior portraits taken here.

When I consider the history of beer making, I think how appropriate that craft beer lovers now drink beer in a former chapel. The church in general has a long history of beer making with monks brewing beer and even Martin Luther’s wife, Katie, opening a brewery.

 

 

I found Chapel Brewing to be an inviting place. It’s different from many other southeastern Minnesota breweries I’ve visited. For one, the space is small, really small. And loud with sound bouncing off the hard wood surfaces. That’s not an uncommon problem, though, in many breweries. I was thankful when some of the patrons left. But I like the warmth of wood and the overall homey, and less industrial, essence of the taproom. You really can feel the history in this sun-drenched building and imagine it as a chapel.

 

 

Chapel beer is also worthy of praise. I favor hoppier beers and chose the Chapel IPA. I liked it, and I don’t always say that about craft beers I try. Likewise, my husband, Randy, enjoyed his Kolsch, a German ale. I’d like to see Chapel Brewing have a little creative fun with its beer names, though.

 

 

Given my positive experience, I’ll return, but next time to drink a brew outside. Had the riverside deck been cleared of snow on the warm (by Minnesota standards), sunny Saturday afternoon I visited, I would have imbibed there. Just to say I drank beer outside the chapel in February.

 

FYI: Here are two tips should you visit Chapel Brewing: Parking is limited to just a few on-site spaces and to a several spots out front. You are encouraged to park in the municipal lot a short walk away across the river rather than along residential streets. If you park on the bridge, you could be ticketed. Also, bring your photo ID. You will be asked for that, no matter your age. And, yes, you will have to retrieve your ID from your vehicle if you don’t have it on you.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part III from La Crosse: Hollywood, Wisconsin style March 24, 2017

 

DRIVING PAST THE HOLLYWOOD Theater on the fringes of downtown La Crosse, I wondered whether the theater was open. It appeared closed. An online search later confirmed that.

Not that efforts haven’t been made to restore the 1936 theater. It has opened and closed multiple times, last closing as a live music venue in the late 1990s, according to an article published on the La Crosse Public Library website. The current building owner planned to renovate and reopen the theater. But then a fire damaged the building in 2013 stalling that project.

Black-and-white images in the library’s “La Crosse Movie Palaces” story show a splendid 42-foot high illuminated HOLLYWOOD tower gracing the theater along with a wrap-around marquee. Both were removed after World War II. What happened to those? The article doesn’t reveal that and perhaps it’s unknown.

I hope finances fall into place for the current owner to complete renovation plans and reopen the Hollywood Theater. In my community of Faribault, a former theater is now the Paradise Center for the Arts, a gem of a place that includes galleries, clay works and textile labs, classrooms, a library and a theater performance space.

I appreciate when aged theaters are valued and saved.

TELL ME: Are you familiar with a similar vintage theater that has been restored to its original glory? Please share.

Or, if you’ve been inside the Hollywood Theater when it was open, I’d like to hear your stories.

FYI: Please check back for more stories in my “From La Crosse” series. Click here to read Part I and click here to read Part II.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part II from La Crosse: The impressive Pearl Street Books March 23, 2017

The tiled entry to Pearl Street Books reveals its history as the home of Arenz Shoe Company, founded in La Crosse and once housed at 323 – 327 Pearl Street. The La Crosse shoe store once boasted eight stores in Wisconsin and Iowa. Today only one, a fifth generation family-owned Arenz Shoes, remains open in nearby Sparta, Wisconsin. 

 

FIRST I NOTICED the sprawling oak and the organic shoe store message of Quality to the Roots embedded in the entry way tile.

 

 

Then I glanced to the window display and the heart shaped note of appreciation purposely placed among earthy books.

 

 

Both drew me inside Pearl Street Books as if I really need anything to get me inside a bookstore. I don’t.

 

An overview of the bookstore taken from the second floor and looking toward the front.

 

Ladders slide along the built-in towering shelves allowing access to the books.

 

Chairs scattered between shelves invite shoppers to sit and peruse books.

 

But I’ve never been in a book shop like Pearl Street Books in downtown La Crosse, Wisconsin. I walked inside and then just stood there for a minute taking in the scene before me.

 

The wood floor lends a signature vintage look to Pearl Street Books.

 

A Minnesota mom snapped a photo of her daughter and I asked to do likewise. Shortly thereafter the daughter climbed much higher and was kindly asked to come down for safety reasons.

 

This inviting section houses kids’ books, new and used.

 

From the worn wood floor that speaks of age and history to the ladders that slide along side shelves packed with books to the massive quantity of books, this place impresses. The shopkeeper working the day I visited said 55,000 volumes fill this store. Now I don’t know how that compares to your average mass market book retailer. But for an indie bookstore, I’d guess that’s a significant number beyond the norm.

 

Just another overview from upstairs.

 

This beautiful stairway leads to the upper floors, including a lounge space on the second floor for book groups or just a spot to hang out.

 

You could spend hours here…

 

Pearl Street Books, on its Facebook page, bills itself as a specialty used, new, collectible and antique bookstore that “can procure almost anything.”

 

My husband purchased this updated adult version of the Dick and Jane books.

 

 

Pearl Street Books offers some additional merchandise such as these bumper stickers.

 

Based on the extensive inventory, I believe that statement. And, yes, I bought a book and so did my husband.

TELL ME: Have you ever visited Pearl Street Books or a similar bookstore?

FYI: Please check back for more stories as I continue my series from La Crosse, Wisconsin. Click here to read my first story.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Noticing details at Faribault’s historic woolen mill February 23, 2017

The Faribault Woolen Mill sits on the bank of the Cannon River.

The Faribault Woolen Mill sits on the bank of the Cannon River. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

SNUGGED ALONG THE BANKS of the Cannon River in Faribault, the 150-year-old Faribault Woolen Mill stands as a noted local landmark and a nationally-recognized producer and purveyor of high quality wool blankets and more.

Faribault Woolen Mill blankets/throws are artfully hung on a simple pipe.

Faribault Woolen Mill blankets/throws are artfully hung on a simple pipe. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

In recent years, with the acquisition of the briefly-closed mill by successful and marketing savvy Minnesota businessmen, the mill has experienced growth and significant national exposure. Many times I’ve picked up a magazine to see the mill’s products featured.

In the upper left corner of the mill, the sign unnoticed by me until several days ago.

In the upper left corner of the mill, the sign unnoticed by me until several days ago.

What I’d not noticed until recently was a faded sign along the back side of the historic mill, the side visible from North Alexander Park. My view of the mill complex is typically the public side motorists see while driving by on Second Avenue.

The back of the mill as photographed from the North Link Trail. The mill is on the National Register of Historic Places. Several years ago the city of Faribault received a $300,000 Minnesota Historical Cultural Heritage grant for rehab of the smokestack.

The back of the mill as photographed from the North Link Trail. The mill is on the National Register of Historic Places. Several years ago the city of Faribault received a $300,000 Minnesota Historical Cultural Heritage grant for rehab of the smokestack.

But this time I was walking, following the North Link Trail that runs through the park and is part of a city-wide recreational trails system. I paused to appreciate the inky blue waters of the Cannon on a brilliantly sunny afternoon when my gaze drifted to the mill. There I focused on white sign advertising BLANKETS. Faded, indiscernible lettering hovered over that key word.

A replica of an original sign is now in the Woolen Mill's historic display area.

A replica of an original sign is now in the Woolen Mill’s historic display area. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I wondered how, in my 35 years living in the area, I failed to notice the vintage signage. Sometimes familiarity of place creates a lack of visual awareness. We become so accustomed to our usual surroundings that we fail to truly see. And to appreciate.

TELL ME: Have you ever felt the same upon discovering something (what?) in your community that’s been there forever but you didn’t see?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part II from Pleasant Grove: Minnesota’s oldest Masonic Lodge January 30, 2017

pleasant-115-grove-side-front-of-masonic-lodge

Masonic Lodge 22, Pleasant Grove, Minnesota

ON AN OCTOBER STOP in Pleasant Grove, Minnesota, I walked the gravel road from the town hall to the old Masonic lodge. Yes, you read that right. Gravel. Not a single paved street in this unincorporated village that is home to Minnesota’s oldest Masonic lodge chartered in 1858.

pleasant-108-grove-backs-of-pick-up-trucks

Parked next to the Masonic Lodge.

In this settlement, you will see too many vehicles with hoods up, wood stashed in the backs of abandoned pick-up trucks, sizable wood piles and at least one grand brick and limestone house atop a hill.

pleasant-98-grove-garage-by-town-hall

A garage next to the town hall.

Most motorists likely wouldn’t even bother to turn off Olmsted County Road 1 into this berg. It’s that unassuming. But then I am not anyone. I delight in discovering these mostly unnoticed places that others pass by.

An extraordinarily lovely historic home in Pleasant Grove.

An extraordinarily lovely historic home in Pleasant Grove.

While Pleasant Grove, which lies some 15 miles south of Rochester, may not be all neat and city-ish proper, it is still home to some. Knowing small towns as I do, I expect I was being watched while poking around.

 

pleasant-111-grove-front-of-masonic-lodge

 

As I climbed the wooden steps to Masonic Lodge 22, I was hoping to get inside. But that was wishful thinking. Nothing’s unlocked anymore. Instead, I settled for peeking inside a front window to view a spacious room with what appears to be a kitchen in the rear.

 

pleasant-114-grove-masonic-lodge-plaque

 

This structure, built in 1868 and rededicated in 2003, has been home to local Masons for more than 150 years. They meet here twice a month, except in the summer when it’s once/month.

 

pleasant-112-grove-green-mountain-house-sign

 

According to a sign out front, Lodge 22 meetings were initially held in the Green Mountain House. Google as I might, I could find no online info about that house.

 

pleasant-109-grove-side-view-of-masonic-lodge

 

This historic structure also served as a store and meat market when it was built.

 

pleasant-113-grove-masonic-lodge-wooden-sign

 

So what, exactly, is a Mason? According to the Grand Lodge of Minnesota, freemasonry is the oldest and largest fraternal order in the world—a universal brotherhood of men dedicated to service, God, family, fellowman and country.

 

pleasant-106-grove-back-of-masonic-lodge

 

No mention of men laying stone.

FYI: Please check for one more story in this three-part series from Pleasant Grove. Click here to read my first story.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Anniversary event features amateur silent film clips from Faribault March 16, 2016

 

A mural, one of several in the downtown area, promotes historic Faribault.

A mural, one of several in the downtown area, promotes historic Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I MAY NOT BE A FARIBAULT NATIVE. But I’ve lived here long enough—34 years—to surface-know local history.

A downtown Faribault mural featuring Fleck's beer.

A downtown Faribault mural features Fleck’s beer. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

So when Brian Schmidt, native historian, collector of Fleckenstein Brewery memorabilia and member of the Rice County Historical Society Board of Directors, called me recently, I listened. Faribault history interests me because, even if I wasn’t born and raised here, this community is now part of my family’s history.

Inside the historic Village Family Theater. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

Inside the historic Village Family Theater. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2015.

On Saturday, March 19, a previously publicly unseen piece of local history will debut on the big screen at the historic Village Family Theater in the form of a silent movie. I could hear the excitement in Schmidt’s voice as he talked about amateur film footage shot between 1935-1938 by Charles Fleckenstein of Faribault brewery fame.

Schmidt purchased the unmarked film at a Faribault auction house. When he started viewing the clips, he knew he’d stumbled upon something remarkable. And now he’s sharing that discovery in a 10-minute professionally produced silent film montage reminiscent of a bygone era.

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

Stacked inside the RCHS Harvest and Heritage Halls are these crates from Fleckenstein, which brewed beer and made soda in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2015.

Viewers will see workers digging a tunnel and celebrating a birthday at Fleckenstein Brewery (yes, they’re drinking beer), plus other footage of a long ago golf course in the middle of town, the 1938 Faribault Jalopy Race and Thrill Day, The Top amusement ride on Roberds Lake, and the old Faribault Airport and The Bluebird Inn (a former high-end restaurant) south of town.

An edited photo of a sign at the Rice County Historical Society. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2015.

An edited photo of a sign at the Rice County Historical Society. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2015.

The silent film, followed by the feature film, The Quiet Man starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, kicks off the Rice County Historical Society’s 90th anniversary celebration. Set and filmed in Ireland, the movie seems the ideal classic for a post St. Patrick’s Day show.

I did a quick tour of the theater in August 2015. This sign sat in the lobby. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

I did a quick drop-in tour of the theater in August 2015. This sign sat in the lobby. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

After the movie, attendees can tour the historic theater, purchased in 2103 by Steve McDonough and since refurbished. The building, just off Faribault’s Central Avenue, was built in 1896 as an Armory, then converted to a funeral parlor in 1912. In the late 1940s, the building became the Village Movie Theater, closing some 40 years ago. It also served for awhile as the Village Bar and as a church.

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The wooden floor is original to the theater. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2015.

Schmidt says attendees at the RCHS event should take special note of supporting timbers in the basement. Those were cut to angle the floor for the movie theater. The floor is a floating floor, unattached to the walls.

Surrounded by history while watching history. That’s how I see it.

FYI: The 90th anniversary celebration begins with the silent film showing at 3 p.m. followed by the feature movie and tour. The Village Family Theater is located at 20 Second Street Northwest. Admission is $5 for RCHS members and $7 for non-members.