Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

From Lonsdale: Reading, ‘Riting & ‘Rithmetic August 21, 2020

My first view of the 3-R Landmark School, Lonsdale, Minnesota.


MANY TIMES I’VE BEEN TO LONSDALE, a small, but growing, community in far northeastern Rice County only a 30-minute drive from the metro. I’ve even stopped to shop at antique and thrift shops there. And, decades ago, Randy and I attended a wedding at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church.



But during all those visits, I’d never seen the 3-R Landmark School, once home to Independent School District #76 Lonsdale Public School. Until recently.


A view from the back of the school shows the bell tower cupola, chimney (is there a fireplace inside?) and the top of the second story fire escape.


A side and back view of 3-R Landmark School.


The bottom of the fire escape, left.


As is our habit on random Sunday afternoon drives, Randy and I set out from Faribault to explore the countryside and small towns. This day our route led us to Lonsdale, and eventually a turn onto Third Avenue Southwest. And there, smack in the middle of a residential neighborhood, sits a stately two-story structure complete with bell tower cupola and bell in place.



You can only imagine my excitement at this discovery given my fondness for historic buildings. This 1908 school, designed and built by Patrick Sullivan and on the National Register of Historic Places, is a gem. From the exterior, the building with long, lean windows appears well cared for.



I peered through the windowed front door, not seeing much except the sign advertising OLD SCHOOL HOUSE TOURS (No Food or Drink Please!). I wished I could get inside. But this visit I had to settle for an exterior tour and only imagine the Reading,’Riting and ’Rithmetic that happened inside this center of education.


Once the center of education in Lonsdale.


From those three “Rs” comes the name, 3-R Landmark School. I like that creative tag tracing back to the basics of education—reading, writing and arithmetic.


Near the schoolhouse, a water source.


I found little information online about this school, which one source says was abandoned in 1946, the other 1948. The City of Lonsdale acquired the school property in 1963 after the Lonsdale school district consolidated to become Montgomery-Lonsdale Independent School District #394.


On the grounds are two vintage lamp posts.


Lamp post details.


Additional information reveals that a grassroots nonprofit formed in the late 1970s to restore the old schoolhouse. That group apparently dissolved in the mid 1980s following the school’s re dedication in 1986. Today this historic schoolhouse houses a museum and is open occasionally for community events.


Trees frame 3-R Landmark School, which sits on a one-acre grassy site. Plenty of outdoor play space for kids back in the day.


Perhaps once COVID-19 ends, the museum will reopen and I can walk through the front door into a classroom of yesteryear.


RELATED: The Steele County History Center in Owatonna is currently offering an exhibit, Country Schools: The Beating Heart of Rural Community. I toured that exhibit in June and will post on it at some point.

This Saturday, August 22, from 10 am – 2:30 pm, the Rice County Historical Society in Faribault is hosting Cruising Rice County History, a tour that will take participants on a self-drive to seven historic sites in the county. Cost is $20 per vehicle. Maps will be handed out at the historical society in Faribault on Saturday morning.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Should this Minnesota country schoolhouse be saved? June 24, 2016


The Le Sueur School District 18 schoolhouse, located at 35278 141st Avenue, rural Montgomery, Minnesota.

The Le Sueur County School District 18 schoolhouse, located at 35278 141st Avenue, rural Montgomery, Minnesota.

THE WEATHERED SCHOOLHOUSE sits on a slight rise along the gravel road, surrounded by a clipped lawn bordered by farm fields.

Hardy daisies thrive next to the schoolhouse.

Hardy daisies thrive next to the schoolhouse.

On this Sunday summer afternoon when I’ve discovered the aged building just off Le Sueur County Road 26 two miles east of Montgomery in Montgomery Township, the wind is rippling grain fields and bending daises nestled into an exterior corner of the schoolhouse.

Windows need repair/replacing.

Windows need repair/replacing.

As I brace myself against the wind, I notice shingle debris scattered across the grass. I notice the weathered grey of unpainted siding, the rotted boards, the barn swallow and wasp nests. I notice how much this schoolhouse needs care and upkeep.

A rear shot of the country school.

A rear shot of the country school.

In 1888, Wencel and Mary Petricka sold this parcel of land to Le Sueur County School District 18 for $1 to build this school. In 1957, when the Le Sueur district consolidated with the Montgomery School District, the little one-room country school closed.

Consider the hands that once turned this knob opening the door to an education.

Consider the hands that once turned this knob opening the door to an education.

And here it stands, a year shy of sixty years after closure, seemingly abandoned. Except for that mowed lawn and that patch of daisies. Someone still cares. And that gives me hope. Hope that someone will find the money and the inclination to save this piece of rural Minnesota’s educational history. Before it’s too late.


Three rooflines: entry, classroom and bell tower.

Three rooflines: entry, classroom and bell tower.

IT’S EASY FOR ME TO WRITE, Save the School. But the issue of financing often blocks the path to such endeavors. Do you have any creative ideas to fund a repair and restoration project? Perhaps I should first ask, should the schoolhouse be saved? I don’t even know who owns it.

Perhaps an American flag will fly again some day on the corner of the schoolhouse.

Perhaps an American flag will fly again some day on the corner of the schoolhouse.

In September of 2015, Le Sueur County School District 18 held its first ever reunion. With 31 alumni and guests in attendance (including a former teacher), there’s clearly an appreciation for this Minnesota country school.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling