Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

From Owatonna: The legend of a princess & healing waters November 5, 2020

Note: The following post has been in my “drafts” since May. Time to publish this, as it appropriately themes to healing.

 

The statue of Princess Owatonna in Mineral Springs Park dates to the early 1930s.

 

LEGEND GOES THAT PRINCESS OWATONNA experienced restored health by drinking the curing waters of Minnewauan.

 

Princess Owatonna and her story, a park focal point.

 

The story of the princess, and a statue of her, center Mineral Springs Park in Owatonna, a place defined by water. Springs. Maple Creek. And a man-made waterfall.

 

Randy climbs a steep stairway to the top of a wooded hillside.

 

When we visited in mid May, apple blossoms were budding and blooming.

 

It was such a lovely May day to be out and about.

 

On a Friday afternoon in May, Randy and I stopped by the park to take in the art, the legend, the beauty of the water and apple blossoms, and simply nature.

 

Maple Creek, spanned by several bridges in the park.

 

Water streams from a pipe along the river bank.

 

Gracing Mineral Springs Park, a beautiful man-made waterfall constructed in the early 1970s.

 

During a previous visit, I drank cold spring water from a fountain. But on this day, no water bubbled up. Instead, water streamed from a nearby pipe, flowed in the creek and cascaded down the waterfall.

 

More history on a monument in Mineral Springs Park.

 

The park on this weather-perfect afternoon proved busy. But not too busy that we felt uncomfortable or crowed. Everyone respected everyone and social-distanced.

 

Another view of Maple Creek, which winds through Mineral Springs Park.

 

In 1875, Owatonna Mineral Springs Company formed with the spring water served for many years on railroad dining cars, according to the City of Owatonna website. One can only imagine the refreshing taste of that water sourced from this place in southern Minnesota, this place where Princess Owatonna, daughter of Chief Wabena, once found healing. So the legend goes…

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BONUS FINDS:

 

 

 

 

While walking around Mineral Springs Park, we found these messages on stones and a shell left in the park.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Kenyon: More than just a bus service October 23, 2020

Held Bus Service in downtown Kenyon, Minnesota.

MANY TIMES I’VE PASSED through Kenyon, usually en route to visit family in Madison, Wisconsin, four hours distant. But many times also, this town of some 1,800 about a half hour east of Faribault has been my specific destination. Last Sunday afternoon on a drive to view the harvest and fall colors (before an unexpected snowstorm changed the landscape to winter), Randy aimed our van north out of Monkey Valley toward Kenyon just a few miles away.

This window features a classroom of yesteryear.
A close-up of a focal globe in the classroom display.
More details from the past…

We had no intention of stopping in Kenyon. But the passenger side window needed cleaning so Randy pulled into a corner service station and washed the glass. (He’s thoughtful like that.) Then we continued down Minnesota State Highway 60, which runs through the heart of the business district. As luck would have it, I happened to look, just at the right time, at the Held Bus Service building. And there, in the front windows, I spotted a school-themed display. Photo-worthy, I thought, as I asked Randy to swing around the block and return to the bus building. He even pulled ahead so the van wouldn’t reflect in the glass. (He’s thoughtful like that.)

Look at this bus-themed window display with the apparently handcrafted bus.

Photographing the window art proved challenging given the reflections. But I was determined to do my best. Someone worked hard to craft and create these educational-themed displays that show the importance of the Kenyon-Wanamingo School in this community—right down to the Knights mascot, the happy bus driver in the red cap and the smiling students. Yes, by that time I’d noticed two separate window displays, one an historic classroom and the other themed to school buses.

Love these portraits of students on the bus.
The school mascot even gets a place of honor.
More KW students riding the bus.

As someone who grew up riding the bus for 12 years to schools in southwestern Minnesota, I understand the importance of bus drivers. Mine were Jeff and Harley. Great guys. Friendly. Kind. Competent. It’s not easy driving on rural roads during a Minnesota winter. Nor is it necessarily easy dealing with a bus full of kids.

Presumably Jon Held behind the wheel of the bus.

But Jon Held, owner of Held Bus Service, loves kids. According to a 2016 KARE 11 TV feature on him, he is well-loved, too. He knows kids by name, greeting them daily before and after school (pre-COVID), often with hugs. He keeps a candy stash and one year even handed out his company’s signature red caps to some happy students.

The business is housed in an historic building which was damaged in an August 2016 fire. You can’t tell by looking at it now.

That’s a snapshot of the backstory framing these window displays. These are the stories that define small towns like Kenyon as caring communities, more than simply some place to pass through en route to somewhere else.

Please check back for more photos from Kenyon.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflecting on September 11 in photos from NYC, thoughts from Minnesota September 11, 2020

My son drew this picture of a plane aimed for the twin towers a year after 9/11. He was a third grader in a Christian school and needed to think of a time when it was hard to trust God. To this day, this drawing by my boy illustrates to me how deeply 9/11 impacted even the youngest among us.

 

SEPTEMBER 11, 2001. The date is forever seared into our memories as the day terrorists targeted the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon and a jetliner flying over Pennsylvania. When those planes crashed. When those towers fell. When fires raged. When thousands died, we grieved. Individually. And collectively as a nation.

 

On the campus of Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, a plaque honors an alumni, Ann Nelson. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2019.

 

Yet, as a Minnesotan nearly 1,200 miles removed from New York City and D.C. and Pennsylvania, I did not experience the same depth of fear and grief as others much nearer to the target sites or with loved ones lost.

 

I reconstructed a tower using the same blocks my son and his friend used on September 11, 2001, to duplicate what they saw on television. These are also the same airplanes they flew into the tower. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Sure, I remember where I was—at home with my kindergarten age son and another boy in my care. I remember how the boys stacked wooden toy blocks and then crashed toy airplanes into the two towers, copying the scenes played and replayed on television because I could not bring myself to shut off the TV.

I recall, too, the eeriness, the feelings of uncertainty and worry and disbelief.

 

The Faribault firefighters pay special tribute to the fallen New York firefighters on their memorial sign. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

But none of this, none of this second-hand experience, compares to those who lived it and saw it. Like NYC photographer Keith Goldstein, a gifted creative whose work I follow on his blog, Far Earth Below. Keith excels in portrait photography. On the street, not the studio. Real. Everyday life. Raw and emotional and difficult sometimes to view. But honest in every way.

Keith was there on 9/11. He saw the devastation, destruction, death as he headed from his East Village home toward the towers. He found himself unable to photograph the horror unfolding before him. But several years later, as construction began on the Freedom Tower, he lifted his camera to undertake a project, “Looking On, Watching the Building of the Freedom Tower.”

The photos of people watching construction of the tower are signature Keith Goldstein. Honest. Emotional. Real. Every time I view Keith’s work, I wonder how he does it. How does he manage these focused, powerful images without his subjects noticing his presence? It’s a gift, a talent honed from years of experience.

That talent was recognized by Olympus Passion, which published a portion of his “Looking On” project in November 2018. Keith shared that publication on his blog today and I invite you to study his images and read the story he wrote about his 9/11 experiences. I expect you will be as impressed as I am by his work and the insights his photos provide.

I invite you also to continue following Keith’s photo blog. I appreciate how his images show me a world far removed from my Minnesota home. A world much different. Yet, a world I need to see because, even though my life and world are much different than his, we still live in this place called America.

Keith is as kind and decent and caring as they come. We’ve communicated occasionally via email, so I know this to be true. Several years ago he gifted me with a colorful print on aluminum of an immigrant vending t-shirts. My choice of photos. Choosing an image proved challenging. But I wanted a portrait. Signature Keith.

As different as we are, we are connected by our love of photography. And by our desire to share the world we view through our cameras.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Oh, so excited to see an Oscar Mayer wiener on wheels September 9, 2020

Heading into Madison, Wisconsin. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 14, 2020.

 

SO…WE’RE DRIVING along the interstate, entering Madison, Wisconsin, on a mid-July afternoon. Traffic is getting heavier. Drivers are weaving their vehicles in and out of traffic lanes. Trip after trip to this capital city we’ve noticed the increases in speed and aggressive driving as we near Madison.

But this time something other than the traffic chaos diverts our attention. Up ahead I spot a bright yellow vehicle with what looks like a hot dog atop the roof. Could this be…yes, it is, the Wienermobile.

Oh, I wish I were an Oscar Mayer wiener…

Remember that jingle? I expect you do. The catchy words and tune proved memorable, an advertising success in promoting hot dogs.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 14, 2020.

 

On this summer day, one of six Wienermobiles circulating throughout the US is here, perhaps for a stop in Madison or on its way to Milwaukee or even Chicago to the east. I don’t know. But I smile at the sight of this American icon.

 

In Dane County, Wisconsin, location of the state capital, Madison. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 14, 2020.

 

The sighting led me to research the 27-foot-long Wienermobile, first created in 1936. That includes one crafted in Madison in 1969, recently restored and now under ownership of the Wisconsin Historical Society. Too big for the Society’s museum, the iconic “Old Number 7” Wienermobile will be displayed outside the downtown Madison museum during special events and also shown elsewhere in the state.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 14, 2020.

 

Up until the closure of the Oscar Mayer plant in Madison in June 2017, that Wienermobile stood outside company headquarters. When Oscar Mayer’s parent company, Kraft, merged with H.J. Heinz Co., corporate restructuring resulted in closure of the Madison facility. A local business staple for more than 100 years as a producer of hot dogs and lunch meat, this was a big loss to the city. The Madison plant at one time employed 4,000 people, but by 2013, only 1,300. Still, that’s a lot of jobs.

But, at least Madison kept its Wienermobile.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From milling flour to drinking whiskey in Rice County, history tour Part II August 25, 2020

At the ruins of an historic flour mill in Dundas, a kiosk provides historical info, including this map of flour mills in the area.

 

RICE COUNTY IS RICH IN HISTORY, especially in historic buildings. I value that about this region of Minnesota. I appreciate that many aged structures remain, well cared for and treasured. I appreciate, too, those who share their knowledge of the past.

I grew up 120 miles west of here, on the prairie. Given the difference in landscape and settlement time and other factors, the history of southwestern Minnesota differs considerably from southeastern Minnesota. I am still learning about Rice County, the place I’ve called home for 38 years.

 

Vintage vehicles were among those on the history cruise, here at Christdala Swedish Lutheran Church near Millersburg.

 

On Saturday I expanded my understanding of this area by attending the first ever “Cruising Rice County History” tour, an event that took attendees through the county to seven historic sites. In yesterday’s post, I covered three of those places—Prairieville Church, Nerstrand City Hall and Valley Grove Churches.

 

The Archibald Mill ruins are fenced to keep people from wandering onto the historic site.

 

Today we head west to the small town of Dundas, just outside of Northfield, and then even farther west to the even smaller settlement of Millersburg. Pre-tour, I was familiar with each point of interest on the cruise. But I still picked up tidbits of information either new to me or forgotten over the years.

 

A few walls remain of the once flourishing flour mill on the west side of the Cannon River in Dundas.

 

Kiosk info details flour milling history here.

 

Tour participants check in at the flour mill ruins, where they could learn more about Rice County flour mills from local historian Jeff Jarvis, Susan Garwood (director of the RCHS) or read printed info.

 

In Dundas, the ruins of a long-gone flour mill, destroyed by fire, focused the third stop. I learned of the mills the Archibald brothers, from Canada, built here around the 1860s along the banks of the Cannon River. Their flour was world-renowned and their flour patent eventually sold to what is now General Mills. It’s quite a history in a region once known for its flour mills. If only one remained…

 

The history cruise took us throughout rural Rice County. This farm field lies along Rice County Road 1 on the way to Millersburg from Dundas.

 

Before heading to the next stop, Randy and I picnicked at Memorial Park in Dundas. That left us a bit crunched for time as we aimed out of town along Rice County Road 1 past farm sites and farm fields to the Millersburg District #20 School House Museum. We’ve been here before, toured the museum.

 

The former Millersburg School now houses a museum operated by the Christdala Preservation & Cemetery Association. Exhibits include school and church items, tools and info related to the James-Younger bank robbery.

 

While we couldn’t go inside the schoolhouse, we could peek our heads in the door.

 

Appropriately, a bell sat on the check in station at the schoolhouse.

 

An historic marker outside the schoolhouse. You can also see the swings, remaining from the playground, to the right in this photo.

 

The back side of the historical marker outside the schoolhouse.

 

As the story goes, the Younger gang stopped for whiskey at the Millersburg store in September 1876 at the current location of Boonies.

 

But this visit I picked up some info not necessarily related to the 1881 school, but to the 1876 robbery of the First National Bank in nearby Northfield. Here, four members of the James-Younger Gang stopped for whiskey at the then Millersburg Store (today Boonies Bar & Grill across from the schoolhouse), stayed at the Cushman Hotel just down the road and the next day met up with fellow outlaws in Dundas.

 

Christdala’s defining steeple. The church is on the National Register of Historic Places. Randy and I recently picnicked on the front steps of Christdala.

 

I was delighted to find the doors open to Christdala Swedish Lutheran Church.

 

And on their way back from robbing the bank, the gang followed the same route, taking us to the next stop on our tour, Christdala Swedish Lutheran Church. I’ve also visited here many times, including just a few weeks ago. Swedish immigrants built this church in 1878 high atop a hill, spurred by the death of friend and neighbor Nicolaus Gustafson. He was an innocent bystander killed in a shoot out during the Northfield bank raid. Because the Swedish community had no cemetery, Gustafson was buried in Northfield.

 

Simple stained glass windows inside Christdala in colors of the Swedish flag.

 

Today you’ll find Gustafsons buried in the Christdala graveyard along with many others whose surnames end in “son.” This long-closed church was open during the history tour. Although I’ve previously been inside, I wasn’t about to miss another opportunity to step inside this small Swedish church, complete with Swedish flags and stained glass windows in the Swedish colors of blue and yellow.

 

One of the many displays inside the Rice County Historical Society Museum, this one honoring Native Americans who lived in the county.

 

The RCHS recently acquired metal art sculptures from Lockerby Sheet Metal, a long-time Faribault sheet metal fabrication company no longer in business. Those pieces are being restored. This knight currently stands in the museum entry.

 

On the historical society grounds are these two historic buildings: the Pleasant Valley School District #22 schoolhouse (educating children in Bridgewater Township in the late 1850s) and Holy Innocents Episcopal Church, built in Cannon City in 1869 and later moved here.

 

With time pressing to get back to (event sponsor) the Rice County Historical Society Museum in Faribault, Randy and I didn’t linger for long. We needed to turn in our poker run cards and look around the museum and grounds before everything ended. While Randy handed in our losing poker hand, I breezed through the museum exhibits and took a few photos inside and out.

 

Many of these historic places still exist thanks to preservation groups and history enthusiasts.

 

And I considered what a lovely day it had been. Out and about, enjoying and appreciating local history, thanks to the hard work and efforts of those who value Rice County history enough to preserve and share it.

 

Please check back for a follow-up post on an historic building I discovered in Dundas, and not on the tour, but with a powerful and timely message posted.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

“Cruising Rice County History,” Part I August 24, 2020

This shows a portion of a guide, designed by Jeff Jarvis of West Cedar Studio, for “Cruising Rice County History.”

 

WE CONSIDERED WHETHER WE SHOULD take the tour, expecting that we’d likely visited all of the historic places featured in “Cruising Rice County History,” the first ever cruise of historical sites in our county. But, in the end, because Saturday was beautiful weather-wise and COVID-19 has left us with few leisure options, Randy and I opted to attend the event sponsored by the Rice County Historical Society.

 

First on the tour, Prairieville United Methodist Church, founded in 1870; existing church built in 1902; and congregation dissolved in 2019.

 

Vintage tractors added interest to the stop at the Prairieville country church.

 

A cornfield snugs right up to the Prairieville Cemetery behind the church.

 

We joined 84 other vehicles on the tour, which took us east of Faribault, then north and west and, finally circling back to the RCHS in Faribault. Only one of the seven featured spots—Prairieville United Methodist Church and Cemetery—was a new to us point of interest, although we’re certainly familiar with the country church along Minnesota State Highway 60.

 

First stop: The Rice County Historical Society to pay our $20/vehicle tour fee and pick up our map and other info.

 

Many volunteers worked the event, including this guy who welcomed tour participants at the historical museum.

 

Before heading out of town, the tour took us through historic downtown Faribault, where I thought we were going to see a display of historic brewery items at a local bank. But apparently we are supposed to view this on our own sometime. Anyway, I photographed this banner outside the State Bank of Faribault.

 

Yet, at each stop, from two country churches to flour mill ruins to an old schoolhouse and an historic town hall, we learned new information, both from site hosts and from educational hand-outs.

 

The Nerstrand City Hall (tall brick building)l, built in 1908, is on the National Register of Historic Places. After three wooden buildings were destroyed by a major fire in 1904, the city required all future buildings in the business district to be made of brick or stone and with firewalls between.

 

Nerstrand City Hall, up close.

 

A plaque marks the Nerstrand City Hall as an historic structure.

 

Peering in the windows of the locked city hall.

 

On the back of Nerstrand City Hall, bars cover a window, a reminder that a jail was once housed here.

 

We were disappointed we couldn’t get inside some of the historic buildings, but expect safety concerns factored into closed doors. Participants in the Saturday event were asked to mask up and social distance. And they did. So we felt comfortable.

 

One of the two historic churches at Valley Grove, near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. Randy and I have been to this site many times, thus didn’t linger here. It’s one of our favorite spots in rural Rice County. So peaceful and beautiful atop a hill. The woodframe church pictured here and a stone church directly across from it were built by Norwegian immigrants.

 

Two couples, including friends of ours (left), visit outside Nerstrand City Hall. This alley runs between the hall and the fire department.

 

We also chatted from a distance with friends, either hosting site stops or on the tour. What a joy to see familiar faces after months of minimal social interaction. Even if their smiles were hidden behind masks.

 

Driving toward Nerstrand.

 

Driving through rural Rice County, we saw lush fields of towering corn and acres of soybeans among farm sites.

 

The route followed only paved roads, with plenty of gravel roads to see alongside.

 

I also enjoyed the rural route given my love of the country. There’s something freeing about traveling along paved back roads bordered by acres of cropland, intersected by gravel roads, punctuated by farm sites.

 

Young and old attended the “Cruising Rice County History” tour. This photo was taken at Valley Grove.

 

Thank you for joining my photo tour of “Cruising Rice County History,” Part I. Check back for Part II tomorrow.

 

© Copyright 2020 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

 

Montgomery’s new mural details this Czech community August 19, 2020

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A family views Montgomery’s updated mural by Victor A. Garcia.

 

PUBLIC ART, WHEN RESEARCHED, well thought out and created by talented hands, enhances any community. Montgomery, Minnesota included.

 

The new mural, recently installed in Montgomery.

 

Recently, this town of some 3,000 in Le Sueur County unveiled a new historic-themed mural done by former long-time Montgomery resident and artist Victor A. Garcia, now of Belle Plaine.

 

A close-up shot of the prior Montgomery mural, photographed around 2013. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

The latest 40-foot long painting replaces a weather-beaten mural Garcia created about 25 years ago.

 

Montgomery’s main street, circa 1900. Overhead lights shadow across the mural.

 

A current day view of a section of downtown Montgomery. The mural is to the left, on a side street.

 

Like the previous scene, the new mural depicts a view of the town’s main street, First Street, around 1900. But this time, both sides of the street are included in the painting.

 

A “key” of sorts to the mural. And a thank you to supporters.

 

Kolacky Days honored in the mural.

 

Garcia also featured “Montgomery Identifiers” to search for in his artwork. Like kolacky. This Czech community is, after all, the self-proclaimed “Kolacky Capital of the World.”

 

Franke’s Bakery is among businesses incorporated into the mural.

 

My photo of Franke’s photographed from across the street, by the mural.

 

Right across the street from the mural sits Franke’s Bakery, a popular local source for this fruit-filled Czech pastry.

 

The artist’s signature and a “Redbird.”

 

Cardinals are also painted into the mural, honoring the former school mascot, the Redbirds, before schools merged and the mascot became the Titans.

 

The local newspaper gets a place on the mural.

 

A Czech flag and the Green Giant and many more details incorporated into the mural depict the history and heritage of Montgomery.

 

One of several names I spotted on the mural.

 

Garcia even added some personal touches in images and words.

 

One last look at the Montgomery mural on Ash Street.

 

This mural calls for close study, not just a quick drive-by or look. Next visit to Montgomery, I’ll take more time to study the details I missed. For it is in the details that we learn the intricacies of a community and its history. And grow to understand and appreciate that which defines a place.

 

FYI: This $20,000 project was funded and supported by the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, The Montgomery Community Foundation, Prairie Lakes Regional Arts Council, individuals, businesses and more.

This concludes my series of blog posts from Montgomery.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Picnicking at historic Christdala Swedish Lutheran Church August 16, 2020

On the backroads in Rice County, heading northwest of Faribault.

 

IN MINNESOTA, WE LOVE our summers. And that has a lot to do with our long winter season of too much cold, too much darkness and too much being cooped up inside. Factor in COVID-19, and summer days are even more beloved.

This summer, especially, Randy and I often pack sandwiches, fruit and whatever else for a weekend picnic lunch. It gets us out of the house/town and into nature, exactly what we need when so few options exist for escaping anywhere these days.

On a recent Sunday we contemplated our choices and decided to head to Cannon Falls, a lovely river town about a 40-minute drive northeast of Faribault. But, as we backed out of the driveway and looked to the east, we saw storm clouds building. Change of plans.

 

One of my favorite rural sightings: aged barns. This one is near Circle Lake.

 

Instead, we drove northwest, with the intention of picnicking at Circle Lake near Millersburg. A much shorter drive on a day of unsettled weather and possible afternoon storms. As farm-raised kids, Randy and I always delight in traveling rural roads—paved and gravel—to reach our destination. On our way to the lake, I observed acres and acres of cornfields, far exceeding soybeans. Not uncommon.

 

The sign marking Circle Lake’s public pier.

 

No comfortable place to sit here…

 

A view across the lake of the surrounding countryside.

 

Randy missed the lake turn, backed up on the county road and then proceeded down a gravel road toward the public access point on Circle Lake. To our dismay, we saw no picnic tables either at the boat launch site or the adjoining patch of green space. A bit farther, though, we spotted a public fishing pier and decided to eat our lunch there.

 

Christdala Swedish Lutheran Church, rural Millersburg. This congregation is no longer active with the church open only for special services and events.

 

Except, upon exiting the van, the stench and sight of stagnant green lake water, a floating dead fish and an obviously neglected dock caused us to, once again, change plans. I suggested we drive to Christdala Swedish Lutheran Church, a nearby historic church set atop a hill overlooking the countryside. We could, I suggested, sit and eat on the front steps.

 

A long flight of steps lead up to Christdala.

 

And that’s exactly what we did, after we climbed a flight of steep steps and passed under an arch leading into the fenced church property. We turned our backs to the sun, settled onto the cement steps and pulled our sandwiches and other food from the cooler. It’s the first time I’ve picnicked next to a graveyard.

 

Near Minnie’s gravestone, I photographed this interesting fungi on a stump.

 

As we ate, we talked. About Minnie’s gravestone, in our direct line of vision. She died at age 23. Like too many who lost their lives prematurely so long ago, pre-modern medicine.

 

Christdala Swedish Lutheran Church painted in 1969 by Faribault artist Rhody Yule. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

We talked about our friend Rhody Yule, who showed select original religious-themed paintings here in September 2010. He gifted his 1969 painting of Christdala to the church on that Sunday afternoon. I organized the outdoor exhibit and a more extensive gallery show months later at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault. Randy and I shared how much we liked Rhody, an artist we met while on a Sunday afternoon drive two years prior. He quickly became a good friend, someone we delighted in for his gentle spirit of kindness and deep faith. A true joy.

 

Posted next to the front door.

 

The steeple rises high above the treetops.

 

A summary of church history is posted next to the parking area at the bottom of the hill.

 

We noticed paint scrapings on the ground, indicating the 1877 church was recently repainted. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places, significant because the first Swedish settlers in Rice County founded this congregation, built this church.

 

Another marker nearby honors Swedish immigrant Nicolaus Gustafson.

 

One of those immigrants, Nicolaus Gustafson, was fatally shot by Cole Younger in the attempted raid of the first National Bank in nearby Northfield in 1876.

 

Just a sampling of the Swedish names on gravestones at Christdala.

 

There’s so much history and heritage here in names like Johnson, Anderson, Paulson, Gustafson, Nelson…the “son” of Swedish ancestry.

 

I spotted this probably glow-in-the-dark cross near a gravesite.

 

The graveyard surrounds Christdala church.

 

A wrought iron fence encloses the entire property.

 

We meandered through the graveyard separately. I didn’t recall the wrought iron fencing or the graveyard expansion with plenty of open space for future burials. It’s a lovely and peaceful spot behind the church, away from busy enough Rice County Road 1.

 

Randy saw this snake before me, but didn’t tell me. He knows I intensely dislike snakes. He suggested I move in for a closer photo. Nope, won’t get any nearer.

 

Randy directed me to a small stone marking the additional graveyard space as a 2008 donation from Arnold and Phyllis Horejsi. Arnold, 91, died on March 23 with services delayed until August 18 and burial at Christdala at a later date. I walked over to the marker, commenting on the many small holes that pock the land. And then, as I focused my camera lens on the stone, I noticed the garter snake. Striped. Too long. Head up. Tongue flicking.

That was it. I was done touring this cemetery, especially after I saw a second snake nearby. My mind fixated on snakes slithering over my feet and I couldn’t help but think of the biblical reference in Genesis to Satan as a snake. I wanted out, away, gone.

 

A heavenward view of Christdala.

 

And so I waited near the front steps for Randy to finish his graveyard tour. I aimed my camera lens skyward, away from the ground and slithering snakes. High toward the steeple. To the cross.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Walk, sit & then study Faribault’s history via educational benches August 1, 2020

 

“Faribault supports the military” themes a recently-installed bench.

 

SEVERAL DAYS AGO, I featured historic-themed benches recently installed in historic downtown Faribault. Well, more have been added to Central Avenue. And some I missed during my first walking tour. More are yet to come.

All 12-plus (I’ve lost count) highlight important aspects of my community’s history in images and words.

 

Alexander Faribault and the fur trade focus a bench on the north end of Central Avenue.

 

This depiction 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.

 

The home of town founder Alexander Faribault, located just a block off Central Avenue. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2017.

 

One bench focuses on town founder, Alexander Faribault, and the local fur trade he began with the Dakota peoples. He was of French-Canadian and Dakota heritage. One of his fur trading posts eventually became the site for the town of Faribault.

 

Focus on downtown.

 

This mural on the corner of Minnesota State Highway 60 (Fourth Street) and Second Avenue, welcomes people to our historic downtown. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

A 1950s scene along Faribault’s Central Avenue is shown in this mural in our downtown district. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Another bench shines a light on the core business area with Downtown: The Place to Be.

 

An historic photo of students and staff at the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind backs one bench.

 

Honoring a teacher and leader at the school for the blind.

 

Another bench highlights the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf.

 

Across the river on the east side of Faribault, sit the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind and the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf, schools still in operation and each getting their own benches along Central Avenue.

 

WASP Pilot Liz Strohfus, after whom the Faribault airport is named.

 

Finally, Faribault’s support of the military themes another bench that showcases WASP Pilot Liz Strohfus and Brigadier General Lewis Beebe, a veteran of WWI and WWII, a POW and more of notoriety.

 

The bench honoring the school for the deaf sits on the north end of Central Avenue.

 

There’s a lot of historic information to take in on these benches, a project coordinated by the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism and Faribault Main Street and supported by local businesses. My posts only summarize what you will discover on these locally-crafted park style benches that now enhance our downtown.

 

Here you see the fleur de lis symbol.

 

No detail is too small. On the bench ends, the branding symbol of Faribault—the fleur de lis—has been incorporated into the iron work. Depicting a lily, the symbol honors Faribault’s French roots.

 

Markers like this tag historic buildings throughout downtown Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

There’s so much to learn about my southeastern Minnesota community from these benches. I invite you to walk along Central Avenue, sit for a spell, shop, admire the historic buildings, enjoy the many historic murals in the downtown core. Faribault truly is an historic gem. In so many ways.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling