Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

In the spirit of the holiday, I’m grateful for local businesses December 20, 2019

Urns filled with greenery add a holiday flair to the historic Bachrach building in downtown Faribault.


IF YOU’RE OLD SCHOOL—and that would be me—you appreciate homegrown brick-and-mortar businesses. These are the places that make our communities unique, the places that offer excellent customer service, the places that connect us as people, the places that boost our local economies.


Faribault Print Shop offers lots of options and promotes shopping local with the I GET IT! in Faribault campaign.


I can walk into the local hardware store to a greeting of “What can I help you find?” I can walk into a local third-generation family shoe store, be greeted by name, get my feet measured, shoes fitted. I can walk into a local gallery and chat it up with other creatives. People I know by name.


The only Grinch you will find in downtown Faribault is this painted one.


I love this about my community of Faribault. The interaction between business owners and customers. The feeling that I matter, as an individual as much as a potential customer.


In its window display this December, Heartman Insurance honors the Olympia Cafe, once housed in the firm’s building.


Historic buildings line Central Avenue in Faribault.


I love, too, the historic buildings that define our downtown and the care most property owners take in maintaining those structures.


At the Cheese Cave, windows promote the cheese sold inside, including bleu cheeses made and aged in Faribault.


Keepers Antique Shop always does an exceptional job with window displays, any time of the year.


On the antique shop door.


I love how, this time of year, businesses spread holiday cheer through creative window displays, encouraged by an annual competition.


An assortment of art in the front window of The Upper East Side Gallery.


Not everything here is perfect, of course. Nowhere is. There are vacant eyesore storefronts, negative attitudes still about immigrants who call downtown home (although that seems to be improving), perceived problems with parking…



But, overall, Faribault frames a positive image in a place I’ve called home for 37 years.

FYI: For another shop local option, check out the Solstice Market from 1 – 4 p.m. Saturday, December 21, at Keepsake Cidery, rural Dundas. Styled after outdoor European markets, the event will feature bonfires, grilling and 20-plus vendors from the Cannon Valley region vending their wares/food/creations inside a heated tent. The cidery is open from noon – 8 p.m.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


It’s all about stories in Faribault’s new branding campaign April 4, 2019

Faribault tourism’s newest billboard along Interstate 35 focuses on Crafting American Stories. Photo edited. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2019.


I CONSIDER MYSELF a storyteller, using images and words to share stories. Storytelling resonates with people, connects with them, builds a sense of community.


The home of town founder Alexander Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2017.


Now my community of Faribault is embracing the same storytelling concept through a new branding campaign themed as American Stories. A collaboration of the Faribault Main Street Design Committee and the City of Faribault, including the park and rec department, this storytelling approach seems a good fit for my southern Minnesota city. We truly are a place of stories—from past to present.


The first in a series of banners to be placed throughout Faribault includes this one photographed outside the Paradise Center for the Arts. The historic Security National Bank building backdrops this image. See the end of this post for more details.


Already, this American Stories theme has launched on the Faribault tourism website, on a billboard along Interstate 35 near Faribault and in banners hung throughout the downtown historic district. We truly have a gem of a downtown with many well-preserved historic buildings. Now Preserving American Stories banners flag this historic area.


A photo I took inside the Faribault Woolen Mill retail store several years ago after the mill reopened. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


More banners are yet to come, according to Kelly Nygaard of the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism office and the Faribault Main Street Coordinator. Those markers will include Experiencing American Stories to be posted near River Bend Nature Center, Crafting American Stories near the Faribault Woolen Mill and Shaping American Stories near the Minnesota State Academies for the Deaf and for the Blind and by Shattuck-St. Mary’s School. Additionally, Making American Stories banners will be placed throughout town.


This sculpture of Alexander Faribault trading with a Dakota trading partner stands in Faribault’s Heritage Park near the Straight River and site of Faribault’s trading post. Faribault artist Ivan Whillock created this sculpture which sits atop a fountain known as the Bea Duncan Memorial Fountain. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


Says Nygaard: “America is often described as a melting pot, and Faribault has always had diversity with Alexander Faribault himself being part First Nations. We have a beautiful downtown, great industry, a wide array of educational options, and plenty of fun ways to experience the outdoors and fun events.”


One of my all-time favorite photos taken at the 2012 International Festival in Faribault shows the diversity of Faribault as children gather to break a pinata. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.


I agree. This stories theme not only portrays the many unique aspects of Faribault, but it creates a sense of identity. And, I hope it also instills in locals a sense of pride in this place we call home. Individually and together we are Faribault’s stories.



A close-up of the banner posted outside Buckham Memorial Library.


ABOUT THAT Preserving American Stories banner. The banner photo features the then Plante Grocery on Third Street which “offered customers a wide variety of household products and foods in baskets, barrels and boxes,” according to info on the Faribault Heritage Preservation Commission website. 



In my photo of the banner, you will see the top of the 1870 National Security Bank building. The HPC website provides this additional information about the historic structure:  “A Classical Revival-style brick facade covers a stone structure constructed originally by mercantile entrepreneur F.A. Theopold. The building was leased by Security Bank in 1899. The bank eventually purchased the building, and a fourth story was added in 1914, possibly the same year that brick was used to radically alter the structure’s appearance.”


© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Snapshotting Northfield on a Sunday afternoon in April April 25, 2017


THE TEMPERATURE ON THE FIRST National Bank of Northfield sign flashed 68 degrees. Sixty-eight glorious degrees on a Sunday afternoon as sunny and beautiful as they come in southern Minnesota in April.


Unhooking a fish and fishing in the Cannon River by Bridge Square in the heart of Northfield’s downtown.


Daffodils, accented by curly willow, make a simple art statement in planters scattered throughout the downtown area.


Lots of downtown Northfield restaurants offer outdoor dining, including here at The Hideaway.


Everywhere people ranged in this river city. Bikers, outdoor diners, walkers, anglers, an auburn-haired child navigating across grass sprouted with dandelions, a woman smoking a cigarette in a doorway, an elementary-aged boy drawing an owl in a sketchbook, a line of families waiting outside a dance studio, college co-eds walking in pairs…


Poetry is imprinted in downtown sidewalks, this poem across a side street from Bridge Square.


Randy and I meandered the river walk, pausing to talk with a biker couple from Hartland asking about Froggy Bottoms, a riverside eatery. We chatted with the red-haired toddler’s mom who admired my camera and shared her passion for photography. She does the social media photos for her and her partner’s BlueNose Coffee in neighboring Farmington. We traded business cards and wished each other a good day and I thought how warm and friendly this young woman with the beautiful baby girl.


MakeShift Accessories is one of my favorite downtown Northfield shops given its creative uniqueness.


In all the times I’ve visited Bridge Square in downtown Northfield, I’ve never noticed the Civil War Monument topped by this eagle. This time the adjacent fountain was turned off, shifting my focus to the memorial and not to the water.


Handwritten notes on business doors always amuse me.


Reaching the end of the river walk, Randy and I circled to Division Street, slipping into the occasional business to peruse gifts, antiques and art. As we strolled, I paused to snap photos of whatever caught my eye. A haphazard collection of images.


Toys were corralled in a wagon outside a downtown Northfield antique shop.


The James-Younger Gang robbery of the First National Bank draws many visitors to Northfield. The original bank now houses the Northfield Historical Society and sits across the street from the current bank.


On the side of the historic bank building are holes ringed in black, supposedly marking bullet holes made during the bank raid.


Had a company party not drawn us indoors to a pizza and sports bar, I would have lingered longer outdoors, gathering with my camera those details, those Northfield scenes that perhaps remain unnoticed by too many.



The window of a barbershop across from Bridge Square.


One of two murals on the Northfield Union of Youth building.


Another mural on The Key (youth center) building caught my eye.


© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Promoting Faribault March 10, 2017

A snippet of Faribault’s just-published 2017 tourism guide cover shows Faribault’s signature angled name graphic overlaid on a photo taken along Central Avenue.


NEARLY 35 YEARS AGO, I moved to Faribault, relocating to this southeastern Minnesota city after my May 1982 marriage. My husband had the more secure job in an area with more employment opportunities.

I’ve grown to love this community and its people. I can go almost anywhere in town and run into a friend or acquaintance. While Faribault, with a population of around 23,000 still seems big to me in comparison to my rural southwestern Minnesota hometown of under 400, I feel here the closeness of a small town. Paths cross at events and in churches, schools, grocery stores, shops, restaurants, parks and more. That creates a sense of community.

Among events fostering community closeness is the monthly May – August Car Cruise Night along Central Avenue in our historic downtown. The well-kept aged buildings in Faribault’s central commercial district are among our strongest assets and provide an ideal backdrop for car enthusiasts to gather.

For a blogger like me, Car Cruise Night presents an abundance of photographic opportunities. I enjoy the challenge of coming up with new and creative ways to photograph the car show, showcased many times on Minnesota Prairie Roots.


My July 2016 Car Cruise Night photo is the cover of the 2017 Faribault tourism guide.


Now my car shoots have extended beyond this space to tourism. A photo I shot at the July 2016 Car Cruise Night graces the cover of the just-released 2017 Visit Faribault Minnesota tourism guide published by the Faribault Daily News in collaboration with the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism. I am delighted and honored to have my work chosen by a committee for this placement.

In a single photo, potential visitors get a snapshot of Faribault. In the backdrop architecture, they see the history and the care Faribault has taken to preserve historic buildings. In the people and cars, they see a fun event. In the green Faribault banner and lush, hanging flower basket, they see community pride.


My original photo from the July 2016 Car Cruise Night. The left side of this photo is printed on page 22 of the tourism guide in the section titled “Explore historic downtown.” Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


But there’s more to this photo than seen in the vertical tourism guide cover. I shot the image in a horizontal format, my view stretching along nearly the entire length of the 200 block (west side) of Central Avenue. The 1884 Fleckenstein building, beautifully renovated and restored by Faribault-based Restoration Services, Inc., anchors the image on the right. But just look at all those buildings beyond. I cannot say enough about how lovely the historic architecture in downtown Faribault.

Of course, Faribault is about much more, so much more. I’ve also had the opportunity recently to pen pieces on River Bend Nature Center and the historic murals in our downtown for the tourism website. I’m proud to promote Faribault, pronounced fair-uh-boh. That would be French in a community that’s today culturally diverse.


TELL ME: What would you like to know about Faribault? Or, what do you know about Faribault? Or, what do you love about Faribault?

FYI: In addition to my cover photo, my Midway photo from the Rice County Fair is printed in an ad on page 20 and a photo I took of Twiehoff Gardens & Nursery is published on page 30.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas in Faribault December 10, 2016



Let it snow.




Let it snow.




Let it snow,




in historic downtown Faribault on Saturday afternoon.


Just beautiful.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Road trip stories: A brief tour of beautiful Baldwinsville, a New York river town September 21, 2016

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Near Syracuse in central upstate New York.

Near Syracuse in central upstate New York.

FOLLOWING A SPRING-TIME 3,029-mile road trip from Minnesota to Massachusetts and back, I hold a deep appreciation for warm and welcoming hotel employees. Especially those who direct you to local restaurants.

On the list of dining options, Suds Factory River Grill.

On the list of dining options, Suds Factory River Grill.

Also on the list, Sammy Malone's Pub.

Also on the list, Sammy Malone’s Pub.

A desk clerk at the Comfort Inn Fairgrounds in Syracuse, New York, handed me a three-page print-out of seven homegrown eateries in neighboring Baldwinsville, complete with addresses, websites, phone numbers and directions, after I inquired about “a good place to eat.” Now that’s what I call outstanding customer service.

A walking path along the Seneca river in the heart of downtown Baldwinsville.

A walking path along the Seneca river in the heart of downtown Baldwinsville.

When my husband and I landed at the Comfort Inn in central upstate New York, I was exhausted. The second leg of our journey began that morning 516 miles to the southwest in Angola, Indiana. Except for 1 ½ hours lost in Buffalo, New York, while unsuccessfully searching for Niagra Falls, we’d driven strong and steady along the Interstate. We were in need of food and a place to stretch our legs before turning in for the night.

Welcome to Baldwinsville.

Welcome to Baldwinsville.

The village of Baldwinsville, population around 7,300, proved the ideal setting to unwind. Located on the Seneca River, it’s a lovely town that reminds me of Northfield, Minnesota, marketed as “A Classic American River Town.” Baldwinsville fits that definition, too, but uses the tag “Lock Into an Experience.” That plays off the Erie Canal’s Lock 24 located in Baldwinsville, I learned after our visit.

An example of the historic architecture downtown. Lovely.

An example of the historic architecture downtown. Lovely.

Historic buildings fill the downtown. Restaurants border the river. Nature and commerce mesh in an inviting way.

Fishing the Seneca River on a Friday evening late May.

Fishing the Seneca River on a Friday evening.

In the waning light of a lovely late May Friday evening, Randy and I followed the river, dodging both geese and their droppings. We crossed a bridge to check out the restaurant options and to simply walk. The area teemed with people. Dining. Walking. Fishing. Baldwinsville has a this-is-the-place-to-be vibe.

Pedestrians, including me, covered our ears as a fire truck screamed through downtown.

Pedestrians, including me, covered our ears as a fire truck screamed through downtown.

In their busyness, though, folks paused when a fire truck rumbled through town, siren piercing the evening ambiance and shaking the bridge upon which I walked.

Strong brick buildings like this grace the downtown.

Strong brick buildings grace the downtown.


This mural at Muddy Waters Kitchen and Bar plays on the New Orleans BBQ and soul food served there.

This mural at Muddy Waters Kitchen and Bar plays on the New Orleans BBQ and soul food served there.

Had I not been so hungry and weary, I would have checked out the church shown here.

Had I not been so hungry and weary, I would have checked out the church shown here.

Another mural at Muddy Waters.

Another mural at Muddy Waters.

I admired the aged brick buildings with arched windows, the steepled church half a block away, the murals at Muddy Waters Kitchen and Bar. I wished I had more time to explore Baldwinsville.

The B'Ville Diner was packed with customers waiting to be seated.

The B’Ville Diner was packed with customers waiting to be seated.

Eventually we ended up at B’Ville Diner, an old-fashioned 1950s style diner that’s been around since 1934. Recommended by hotel staff, the eatery, at least for us, proved more about the experience than the food. We needed an affordable meal. B’Ville offered that in a nostalgic diner car setting.

Definitely a 50s vibe in the diner.

Definitely a 50s vibe in the diner.

Randy had a little fun with the waitress, asking for a Beef Commercial—beef between two slices of white bread topped with mashed potatoes and gravy—rather than the Beef Pot Roast sandwich listed on the menu. She looked at him with zero recognition. He explained that in Minnesota, we call this a Beef Commercial. He was disappointed in the dish—clearly not homemade gravy or potatoes. My cheesy chicken sandwich laced with green peppers tasted fine.

The liquor store is across the street from the diner.

The liquor store is across the street from the diner. And, no, we didn’t stop there.

Refueled and refreshed, we headed back toward the Comfort Inn to settle in for the night before beginning the final five-hour leg of our journey east the next morning.

FYI: Periodically, I will feature more posts from my cross country Minnesota to Boston and back road trip in mid-May. Click here to read my earlier posts from Somerville and Medford, Massachusetts.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Cruisn’ onto Faribault’s Central Avenue on a summer evening July 19, 2016

A 1946 Fleck's

A 1946 Fleck’s delivery truck is showcased along Faribault’s Central Avenue at the July 15 Faribault Downtown Car Cruise Night. Donated to the Rice County Historical Society, this Fleckenstein Brewery delivery truck is the only known one to still exist. Efforts are underway to restore the truck  with a gofundme site established to raise $35,000 for the project. Fleckenstein Brewery was in business in Faribault for 108 years.



Car Cruise Night, 28 die in window



I've discovered that car collectors often possess a quirky sense of humor.

I’ve learned that car collectors often possess a quirky sense of humor.

HUMOR—all rolled into Faribault’s monthly Car Cruise Night on Friday evening in the heart of our historic downtown.


Car Cruise Night, 1 lime green Ford 4x4


Car Cruise Night, 71 boy in Mercedes


Car Cruise Night, 55 Pioneer collectible car


What an event. For three hours I meandered and perused the vehicles angled into parking spots along the 200 and 300 blocks of Central Avenue. Music blared. Cars roared and rumbled. And folks lingered car-side and curb-side to admire vehicles ranging from a polished lime green Ford F250 4×4 truck to a Pioneer collectible car to a mini Mercedes driven by a preschooler.


Car Cruise Night, 25 street scene downtown Faribault


The atmosphere was kicked back relaxing against a backdrop of lovely historic buildings on a perfect Minnesota summer evening.


Car Cruise Night, 81 skateboarders


Car Cruise Night, 85 hanging out


Car Cruise Night, 17 man passing through


Friends conversed. Car enthusiasts mingled. Teens skateboarded and biked through the crowd while families group-walked, men clustered to talk cars and a couple leaned in close to study an engine. Others simply went about their business downtown, seemingly oblivious.


Car Cruise Night, 113 Chrysler 300, 1965


I’ve been to many of these Faribault Downtown Car Cruise Nights, and never have I seen such a crowd. Participants included my friends Larry and Sheryl who arrived in their creamy pale yellow 1965 Chrysler 300, a car which recently took them on a road trip to the Ozarks of Missouri.


Car Cruise Night, 111 Chevy pick-up truck 1950

This truck, originally painted a dark green, belonged to Dean’s grandfather. It was then passed on to Dean’s dad, who painted it John Deere green. When Dean got the truck after his father’s death, he painted it black. Growing up, Dean learned to drive the pick-up in an alfalfa field. Although others have suggested that Dean soup this truck up, he intends to keep it as original as possible.

Across the street, Dean shared that he is the third generation owner of a 1950 Chevy pick-up, a truck he will some day pass on to his son. The truck means a lot to Dean, whose father died 26 years ago of a massive heart attack in his mid fifties.


Car Cruise Night, 36 Imperial


A block away, my friend Barb directed me to the classy 60s-something Chrysler Imperial she and husband Bob drove to the event.


Car Cruise Night, 45 in loving memory


If there’s one universal emotion among participants in Car Cruise Night, it’s pride. In every gleaming bumper, every personalized message, every vintage period accessory, I see the pride of those who own these vehicles.


Park stickers grace the window of a 1959 Edsel Village Wagon.

Park stickers grace the window of a 1959 Edsel Village Wagon.


Car Cruise Night, 64 red car


This one-of-a-kind ginormous trophy was unveiled

This one-of-a-kind ginormous trophy was unveiled at the Car Cruise. It will be awarded on August 19 to the car club with the 10 best cars during the Car Club Show Down.

Memories are polished in to these vehicles that are more than mere modes of transportation. These are Saturday night dates, family vacations, bumpy rides across alfalfa fields, first cars, trophy winners. These are stories of people and places and moments in life.

A show of humor on the back of a 1974 Ford Torino.

A humorous touch on the back of a 1974 Ford Torino.

Please check back for two more posts featuring images from the July 15 Faribault Downtown Car Cruise Night organized by Faribault Main Street and supported by numerous sponsors.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling