Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Appreciating the history & beauty of Valley Grove on a September afternoon September 18, 2019

A horse-drawn wagon takes visitors through the prairie at Valley Grove with the Big Woods in the distance. When fall colors change, the treeline is spectacular.

 

I CONSIDER IT ONE of the most scenic spots in Rice County. A location that presents a sweeping vista of the countryside from atop a hill adjacent to Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. Autumn, especially, at Valley Grove offers a visual delight.

 

Folks gather in the restored 1862 stone church for cake, hot dogs, beverages and conversation.

 

On Sunday afternoon, in hot and humid temps that felt anything but autumn-like, I attended the annual Valley Grove Country Social hosted by the Valley Grove Preservation Society.

 

The beautiful and well-preserved historic churches of Valley Grove as photographed from the cemetery.

 

The group aims to preserve and maintain this place on the National Register of Historic Sites. Here, on this land claimed by early Norwegian immigrants, two churches (built in 1862 and 1894) stand next to a cemetery and next to the prairie.

 

An historic photo and flowers grace a window ledge inside the stone church.

 

These crosses, crafted from Valley Grove burr oaks, were on sale.

 

One of six sets of historic sconces to be installed in the stone church as preservation efforts continue.

 

To visit here is to feel a deep appreciation for the history of this place and those who chose this site to build houses of worship.

 

Hutenanny, a Northfield-based traditional Nordic music group, entertains those attending the Valley Grove Country Social.

 

Making music with Hutenanny.

 

A sing-along inside the wood-frame church.

 

To attend the country social is to experience history—through music,

 

Donna Johnson of the mother-daughter duo Nordic Arts demonstrates the Norwegian art of rosemaling.

 

These sisters try rosemaling using crayons rather than paint.

 

An example of Nordic Arts’ art.

 

art,

Hewing a log next to the wood-frame church.

 

demonstrations, historical talks,

 

Learning how to make a rope.

 

Rope-making up close.

 

Kids especially loved doing laundry the old-fashioned way.

 

hands-on activities and more.

 

The Valley Grove churches.

 

I always feel such a peace at Valley Grove. As if the world of today exists somewhere distant.

 

A simple floral still-life on a windowsill in the wood-frame church.

 

It’s good for the soul to take time on a sunny Sunday afternoon in September to step back in time. Not necessarily to idealize life then—because it was hard. But to gather with others in the countryside far from traffic and distractions and the noise of modern-day life.

 

I noticed these dolls lying on the ground behind the old stone church. So fitting for the day.

 

To appreciate simpler times

 

Such beauty in this floral bouquet adorning a window ledge in the wooden church.

 

and simple beauty.

 

Valley Grove wildflowers at prairie’s edge.

 

To gather under the burr oaks, to walk the prairie, to study tombstones, to sing in the same church where early settlers sang, to watch youngsters craft ropes and walk on stilts. And so much more.

 

Built in 1862.

 

I appreciate the preservationists who understand the personal and historic importance of Valley Grove, of not allowing these churches to fall into disrepair like too many other shuttered country churches. They clearly value the land, the efforts of their forefathers, the importance of this place. Still today.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Advertisements
 

What’s the deal with all the flies at Valley Grove? April 27, 2018

 

The historic Valley Grove Churches, rural Nerstrand, Minnesota.

 

ALL YOU SCIENTIST, ENTOMOLOGY, biology types out there, I need your input to solve a mystery. I suppose I could google the topic, but I’d rather read your theories or fact-based conclusions.

 

The buzzing started once we stepped inside the front gate and onto the grass between the two churches.

 

Last Sunday afternoon while walking on the grounds of Valley Grove Church, rural Nerstrand, I heard a buzzing. Like a zillion bees. At first I thought I was hearing things because, when I would stop, the droning also stopped.

I questioned whether I could be suffering from tinnitus, an occasional issue given my hearing loss. I’m nearly deaf in the my right ear which causes all sorts of problems in determining sound sources and in hearing in general.

 

 

But this buzzing seemed real. I risked asking my husband if he heard what I heard. He did. We paused on the dormant dried grass. No buzzing. Then we took a few steps and the irritating hum resumed. Then my observant husband, with the way better vision than me, saw the flies. Everywhere. Infinite numbers settled on the grass as if sunning themselves. I strained to see the camouflaged flies and then photograph them. I managed one image of a single fly. Whenever either of us moved, they, too, moved. It was the craziest thing.

 

One of several birdhouses located on the grassland hiking area.

 

I’m a woman who has a history with flies. They were part of my growing up environment on a southwestern Minnesota dairy farm. A fly swatter was always at the ready. Sticky fly traps dangled from ceilings in our farmhouse; one even hung over the kitchen table. Not at all appealing. But I’d rather see a dead fly than have one land on my dinner plate. In the barn, biting, swarming flies were a constant problem. For cows. And for humans.

 

This aged, massive oak is a focal point in the corner of the cemetery.

 

But why were these thousands (maybe even millions) of flies here, on these church and cemetery grounds on a sunny late April afternoon, the first warm weekend of the season in Minnesota? There were no cattle (although the occasional piles of deer and other animal poop). There was no food.

 

 

The insects didn’t swarm the entire grounds—mostly just the area between the two historic church buildings and along the edge of the adjoining cemetery.

 

 

Once I got past the fly territory, I enjoyed my time at Valley Grove. It’s a beautiful place of quiet, of peace, set high atop a hill with lovely rural vistas. There are hiking trails and history in the cemetery (and churches when they are open). Generations of families are buried here. And there are oak trees, including one held together by thick chains in the corner of the cemetery.

This place holds stories. And now it holds one more story—the mystery of the fly invasion.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Discovering Minnesota’s oldest Czech church, St. Wenceslaus July 2, 2015

AS A LIFE-LONG LUTHERAN, I’m mostly unfamiliar with patron saints of the Catholic church, even though my husband, now Lutheran, grew up Catholic.

The Church of St. Wenceslaus, New Prague, Minnesota.

The Church of St. Wenceslaus, New Prague, Minnesota.

So when I happened upon the majestic Church of St. Wenceslaus rising above the east end of New Prague’s Main Street, I had to research the saint whose carved image guards the impressive columned front entry.

A close-up of the St. Wenceslaus statue above the main church entry.

A close-up of the St. Wenceslaus statue above the main church entry.

St. Wenceslaus, duke of Bohemia from 921 until his murder in 935, is considered a martyr for the faith and is hailed as the patron of the Bohemian people and the former Czechoslavakia.

A side and rear view of this stunning church.

A side and rear view of this stunning church.

The selection of this saint for the New Prague congregation is fitting for a community with strong Czech roots. Founded in 1856, the Church of St. Wenceslaus is the oldest Czech church in Minnesota. It is now part of the New Prague Area Catholic Community.

This is the old section of St. Wenceslaus Catholic School, located next to the church. An addition was built in 2003. Students from kindergarten through eighth grades attend.

This is the old section of St. Wenceslaus Catholic School, built in 1914 and located next to the church. An addition was built in 2003. Students from kindergarten through eighth grades attend.

The parish also includes a school opened in 1878.

The church features two towers.

The church features two towers.

This duo towered brick church is stunningly beautiful. I paused numerous times while photographing the exterior simply to admire its artful construction. Churches aren’t built like this any more.

Even the side stairs are artful and the entire church well-maintained.

Even the side stairs are artful and the entire church exterior well-maintained.

My single regret was finding the doors locked on a Sunday afternoon. This was not unexpected; most sanctuaries are locked now days. I could only imagine the lovely stained glass windows I would find inside, along with more statues of patron saints and worn pews.

In sunlight (right) and in shade, the exterior tile floor under the columned entry is lovely.

In sunlight (right) and in shade, the exterior tile floor under the columned entry impresses.

Being Lutheran, I am intrigued by aged Catholic churches which are often significantly embellished with ornate details and religious art. This is so unlike most Lutheran churches. I appreciate both, wherein I find solace and peace. And perhaps that is the reason I seek out churches to photograph. Photographing them connects me, in a visual way, to God.

BONUS PHOTOS:

An overview of Mary's Garden, located between church and school.

An overview of Mary’s Garden, located between church and school.

Children surround the statue of Mary in the garden.

Children surround the statue of Mary in the garden.

Children of many ethnicities are part of the Mary statue.

Children of many ethnicities are part of the Mary statue.

More details in the garden statue art.

More details in the garden statue art.

At the foot of the Mary statue, a message, in Czech, says "welcome."

At the foot of the Mary statue, a message in Czech says “welcome.”

Petunias spill from a windowbox at the front of the school.

Petunias spill from a windowbox at the front of the school.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In celebration of country churches June 26, 2013

Fine craftsmanship defines the sanctuary.

Fine craftsmanship defines the sanctuary.

STEP INSIDE AN AGED COUNTRY CHURCH anywhere and you will be drawn in by the history, the craftsmanship, the holiness of a house dedicated to God and the fellowship of the faithful.

A poster board with photos and well wishes stands in the church entry.

A poster board with photos and well wishes stands in the Moland Lutheran Church entry.

You need only pause and look, really look, to see the care, the love, the devotion, which fill such a sacred place.

Moland features architecture common in country churches.

Moland features architecture common in country churches.

Join me on a photographic tour of Moland Lutheran Church, 7618 Northeast 84th Avenue, rural Kenyon, Minnesota. The church, built by Norwegians in 1884, still holds Sunday morning worship services, currently led by the Rev. Nancy Edwardson.

Worship service is at 9 a.m. on Sunday.

Worship service is at 9 a.m. on Sunday. These photos were taken during the congregation’s June 23 strawberry festival.

From 25-30 worshipers fill the pews each week. And if that number seems too few to keep these doors open, do not underestimate the strength of a congregation rooted deep in this place, connected to this church building, this spot of land in rural Minnesota.

A verse from Matthew graces the altar.

A verse from Matthew graces the altar.

A full view of the altar painting done by A. Pederson and based on Matthew 28 - 30.

A full view of the altar painting done by A. Pederson and based on Matthew 28 – 30.

One can only imagine how many faithful kneeled at this altar railing.

One can only imagine how many faithful have knelt at this altar railing.

Or how many pastors have occupied this chair.

Or how many pastors have occupied this chair.

Stunning stained glass windows grace the sanctuary.

Stunning stained glass windows grace the sanctuary.

Suspended from the ceiling is this incredible historic light fixture.

Suspended from the ceiling is this incredible historic light fixture.

Stats, posted in a corner behind the organ at the front of the church.

Stats, posted in a corner behind the organ at the front of the church.

And more stats posted on paper just outside the sanctuary.

And more stats posted on paper just outside the sanctuary.

And, on the edge of the church property, this sense of community.

And, on the edge of the church property, this sense of community.

TO VIEW A PREVIOUS post about Moland Lutheran, click here. And then click here for another post.

To view my post about the Moland Lutheran Strawberry Festival, click here.

Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Gather with the Norwegians and the Lutherans this weekend in rural Minnesota June 21, 2013

IF YOU’RE NORWEGIAN (which I’m not), appreciate historic country churches (which I do), rejoice in the preservation of old buildings (which I do) and value worshiping God in a rural setting (which I do), then venture into Monkey Valley this weekend.

If you can’t resist a tasty meal in a church basement (which I can’t), love strawberries (which I do), enjoy good fellowship with the locals (which I do) and delight in a beautiful and historic country church (which I do), drive south of Monkey Valley to Moland on Sunday.

A rear view of the Old Stone Church, a simple structure with three shuttered windows running along each side of the building.

A rear view of the Old Stone Church, a simple structure with three shuttered windows running along each side of the building.

Within miles of each other, two area churches are celebrating this weekend, first with a Norwegian church service in an 1875 limestone church, appropriately called the Old Stone Church and located 2.3 miles south and west of Kenyon along Monkey Valley Road.

A stone's throw from the Old Stone Church, a view of Monkey Valley.

A stone’s throw from the Old Stone Church, a view of Monkey Valley.

The road name alone was enough to draw me to this ethnic worship service three years ago. As one story goes, monkeys escaped here from a traveling circus and fled into the woods. True or not, I’m buying it.

During a worship service filled with music, choir and congregational members sing in Norwegian, "Ja, vi elsker."

During a worship service filled with music, choir and congregational members sing in Norwegian, “Ja, vi elsker.”

To read about the Norwegian worship service I attended in 2010 and to learn more about the Old Stone Church, click here and here and here.

Sunday’s once-a-year worship service begins at 9:30 a.m.

Moland Lutheran Church, a Norwegian Lutheran church south of Kenyon in Steele County, the subject of my post which was Freshly Pressed in July 2010.

Moland Lutheran Church, a Norwegian Lutheran church south of Kenyon in Steele County near Owatonna.

About the time the service wraps up at the Old Stone Church and you’ve finished mingling, you’ll start thinking about lunch, conveniently served at Moland Lutheran Church a few miles to the south and west at 7618 84th Avenue N.E., rural Kenyon, close to where the counties of Rice, Steele, Dodge and Goodhue meet.

From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Moland folks will serve pulled pork sandwiches, potato salad, strawberries with angel food cake and/or ice cream, chocolate cake (if the menu is the same as in 2010) and beverages. As church meals go, I’d highly recommend this one for the food, the hospitality and setting.

Be sure to check out the sanctuary and history of this 1884 country church before leaving. Moland reminds me of the Lutheran church I attended growing up in southwestern Minnesota.

The Moland folks serve a generous amount of strawberries with two scoops of ice cream.

The Moland folks serve a generous amount of strawberries with two scoops of ice cream.

To read my 2010 post on the Moland strawberry festival, click here.

My Moland post, “In Praise of Preserving Country Churches,” was featured in WordPress’ “Freshly Pressed” on July 9, 2010. That’s a huge honor for any blogger, to have his/her work selected as among the best of the day from WordPress blogs world-wide. You can read about that honor by clicking here. Last year I was also featured in WordPress and you can read that post about the Faribault Heritage Days Soapbox Derby by clicking here.

The real honors, though, go to all those men and women out there who preserve country churches and serve all those delicious meals in church basements.

FYI: To read about more church dinners/meals, check out the Faribault-based blog, Church Cuisine of Minnesota, by clicking here.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling