Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Valley Grove Country Social, up close September 22, 2022

The young boy wearing these cowboy boots watched intently as Northfield artist David F. Allen worked on a painting of Valley Grove Church. The two talked about creating (the little guy likes to color) and about a newly-acquired pig named Pinky. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

IN TELLING A STORY, whether in images or words, details matter. Combined, details comprise the whole. And that’s the approach I take in creating.

A painting of the 1862 Valley Grove stone church and cemetery by David F. Allen and for sale at the Social. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2022, photographed with the artist’s permission)
Panels placed alongside the stone church provided historical details. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

In the entry of the 1894 church, more historical info and photos. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Recently I attended the Valley Grove Country Social in rural Rice County. This event, hosted by the Valley Grove Preservation Society, celebrates the history, heritage, land and people rooted to two hilltop Norwegian churches with adjoining cemetery and restored prairie. One of the first pastors here founded St. Olaf College in nearby Northfield.

Folks gather outside the 1894 church to converse and to view the art of David F. Allen. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Many people from my area hold this place dear and that shows in the upkeep of the 1862 stone church and the 1894 wood church rising high above a landscape of prairie, farm fields and wooded areas near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park.

A section of the cemetery looking toward the rolling prairie land. The Social included tours of the cemetery and of the prairie. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

A prairie restoration project fills the prairie with wildflowers, grass and insects. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
This striped gopher ran across the cemetery lawn before popping into a hole. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I, too, despite no personal connection to Valley Grove, have come to hold this site dear. I appreciate the historic churches and cemetery and the surrounding landscape. And I also appreciate gatherings like the Country Social.

This prop horse harnessed to a buggy features a horse hide blanket. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

An accordion players plays with Hutenanny under the oaks in the cemetery. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Ribbon-tied notecards for sale in the stone church. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

This Social showcases Valley Grove in a way that stretches beyond history, although that decidedly focuses the celebration. Music and art and hands-on activities weave into the all of it.

Doing laundry the old-fashioned way. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Corn ground at the Social. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Toys like this stick horse were available for kids to use. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I love to see adults and youngsters engaging, conversing, teaching, learning. The younger generation will one day carry on with events like this and with the preservation of history and heritage at Valley Grove. So offering hands-on activities like rope-making, corn grinding, doing laundry, playing with yesteryear toys…is vital.

Musicians perform under the oaks while Social attendees listen and/ore explore the cemetery. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

While I was persuaded to wind twine into a rope with Randy, I simply observed the other participatory activities. I prefer to meander unobtrusively (not always easy) with my camera, observing, documenting. I strive to tell a story that will encourage others to embrace events and places like Valley Grove. There’s so much right here in Rice County to explore and experience. We need to treasure that which is in our backyard. Just like the “eat local” movement, I say, “Explore local.”

The goats drew lots of admirers as they wandered, tethered, with their owner. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
The kids’ tent, right, featured hands-on activities. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
A leashed dog came with its owner. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Much of what I feature here on my blog is local. And, if it isn’t, it’s rooted in my region. I value southern Minnesota, especially the small towns, the rural landscape, the people, the arts, the events…the all of it defining this place I call home.

TELL ME: What specific places and/or events do you appreciate where you live and which you feel go unnoticed by many locals?

This concludes my three-part series on the 2022 Valley Grove Country Social. Click here to read my first post about Bjorn Norgaard and my second post, an overview of the Social.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Connecting, celebrating & more at Valley Grove Country Social September 21, 2022

Vehicles line the gravel driveway leading to the hilltop Valley Grove churches, rural Nerstrand, during the September 18 Country Social. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

A COUNTRY SOCIAL EVOKES an essence of history, of community celebration, of activities that hearken to a bygone era. The Valley Grove Country Social held on Sunday afternoon high atop a hill near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park fits that and beyond. This site, the location of two historic churches and an adjoining cemetery, marks one of my favorite places in rural Rice County for its history, natural beauty and peace.

Inside the stone church, now used for fellowship, folks grab refreshments, converse and view historical information and art. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
Among the newest additions to the stone church are four tapestries woven by Minneapolis artist Robbie LaFleur and reflective of Valley Grove. This one is titled “Pastor Quammen Skis between Parishes.” He was the longest serving pastor at the church. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
A vintage buggy adds another historic aspect to the Valley Grove Country Social. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

On this September afternoon, I delighted in an event that brings people together to celebrate Norwegian heritage and history, people and place, stories past and present, the arts, and, oh, so much more.

Bouquets and vintage photos edge window sills in the oldest church. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

An organist and violinist play during a recital in the newer church. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Horse-drawn wagon rides onto the prairie drew many passengers throughout the afternoon. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
Grinding corn as part of the hands-on learning opportunities. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
Northfield artist David Allen brought his brushes, watercolors and paper to paint on-site. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

From garden and prairie flowers tucked into Mason jars set atop window sills in the 1862 stone church to a recital inside the 1894 church to horse-drawn wagon rides to kids grinding corn to an artist painting, the scope of activities proved broad. There was something for everyone from the youngest to the eldest. Generations mingled, connected. One taught, the other learned.

From cemetery’s edge, the open prairie. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
Rope making, a nod to Valley Grove’s agrarian roots, was part of the Country Social. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
All ages were drawn to these two goats. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

To observe, to converse, to listen, to feel, to experience all of this imprints upon my soul gratitude for those who know this place, this Valley Grove, is worth preserving and sharing. Although I hold no personal connection here, I feel connected. It is my faith, my love of the land, especially the surrounding prairie and farmland, and the quiet of this remote rural location which cause me to feel comfortably at home, at peace.

One of David Allen’s paintings of Valley Grove. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

If you’ve never visited Valley Grove and live near enough to tour, then do. I’ve been here many times to walk the cemetery and grounds, to hike through the prairie, even once sitting on the front steps of the wooden church for a picnic lunch. The churches are locked when not open for events or special services like a wedding or Christmas Eve worship.

A musician performs with the group Hutenanny under the oak trees in the cemetery.

Still, whether inside or outside the two churches, a sense of the past prevails. Gravestone after gravestone bears the names of Norwegian immigrants and their descendants. Study the markers and stories begin to emerge, whether real or imagined. I can only imagine the joys and sorrows shared here.

Toys of yesteryear were available to try. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Valley Grove is about more than a place where historic churches stand next to a cemetery. It is a gathering spot for those who are celebrating, those who are grieving, those who are remembering and, on this afternoon of a Country Social, a place of connecting with community.

Please check back for more photos from the Valley Grove Country Social. And click here to read my first post from the event, a personal piece about a young man named Bjorn.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Connecting with community, history & art at Fall Flea Market September 17, 2022

Shoppers peruse the RCHS Fall Flea Market. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

SATURDAY MORNING FOUND ME wandering among vendors at the Rice County Historical Society Fall Flea Market in Faribault. It was, as always, an enjoyable event, marked by conversations with friends I haven’t seen in awhile, conversations with vendors and reflecting on the past.

A handwritten sign along Second Avenue points to the flea market in the parking lot and on the grounds of the RCHS. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
A RCHS Faribault sign provides the backdrop for a vendor’s book display themed primarily to Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

One vendor was giving away these plastic bags from the now closed Farmer Seed & Nursery in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Really, this is what local gatherings are all about for me. They’re about community and connecting, about embracing and appreciating this place I call home.

Beautiful bouquets from Erin’s Acre. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I was especially delighted to find, among all the vendors of miscellaneous merchandise, several artists. That includes Erin Sellner Honken of Erin’s Acre at Honken Farms. Erin creates with flowers she grows, tends, harvests and arranges into stunning bouquets for CSA subscriptions and special events. With an abundance of flowers right now, she decided to do a pop-up sale at the flea market featuring $10 dahlia mixed bouquets.

The stunning “river” table by JS Woodcrafts. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Just down the way by the historic schoolhouse, I discovered Jeremy of JS Woodcrafts. It was his “river” table which drew my attention and admiration. If I could afford the $500 price tag, this maple top table with stones and pebbles epoxied in the middle like a river, would be mine. Love, love, love this work of art.

Spanky’s Woodshed art made from pallets. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

John “Spanky” St. Clair of Spanky’s Woodshed also specializes in woodcrafting. I learned that he uses pallets and aged barn wood to create. Anyone who recycles to create earns my praise.

A flower created by recycling spoons and forks. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

An eye-catching Louie Armstrong. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I almost bought the pheasant paint-by-number, one of a trio of paintings. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I found more art in spoon flowers, in a Louie Armstrong figure, in paint-by-number paintings, in an endless array of merchandise.

Playing a woodwind in A Fun Lil’ Band. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
Propped against the barn near the band (seemingly listening), cut-outs of Ed and Frank, spokesmen for Bartles & Jaymes winecoolers. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
The band that loves to make music. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

And while I walked I heard music rising from A Fun Lil’ Band in Rice County with a sign declaring WE JUST LOVE TO PLAY MUSIC!! Their music added an extra touch of joy to the morning market.

The RCHS was selling collector limited edition bottles of Fleck’s grape soda. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

A view through a vendor’s booth featuring old toys. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
A vintage toy tractor reminded me of the farm toys I played with as a child. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

This event is a fundraiser for the Rice County Historical Society. But history is also very much a part of the market in aged and vintage merchandise vended. I reminisced over old farm toys, a baby stroller, a yellow Pyrex mixing bowl. I picked up a few items, pondering whether I should buy, but, in the end, held steady in my determination not to acquire more stuff. I’m at that age…

This colorful character caught my attention. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Parked along Second Avenue at the RCHS Fall Flea Market. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
I was pushed in a stroller like this, except the stroller was blue. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Instead, I collect with my camera, gathering images to tell a story, to share this market, to showcase the works of creatives, to express my appreciation for my community, this place I’ve called home for 40 years.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

“The Wedding Collection,” a look at weddings in southwestern Minnesota September 15, 2022

A sampling of the many beautiful gowns in the exhibit. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

WHETHER YOU’RE A ROMANTIC or an appreciator of fashion and/or history, a closing-in-days exhibit at a southwestern Minnesota museum is a must-see.

My first view of the bridal gowns. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

On Tuesday, I toured the Lyon County Historical Society Museum in Marshall, including a second floor temporary exhibit, “The Wedding Collection.” Walking among the bridal attire, accessories and wedding photos proved interesting and delightful.

A particularly lacy wedding dress skirt up close. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I will never pretend to understand, or even care, much about fashion. But this held my interest as I noted the variety of styles from princess full lacy skirts to sleek and elegant simple satin designs. It was the plain gowns that held the most appeal for me, even though my own wedding dress from 40 years ago featured more lace than suits me now. But it was the style of the early 80s.

A floral backdrop lends a romantic feel to the bridal attire display. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

In a brief conversation with another museum visitor, also a native to the area but back from Nebraska, we discussed how styles always come back, although the popular strapless gowns were absent from long ago weddings. We agreed that we don’t particularly like that style.

Lovely floral and beaded detail on a bridal gown. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

But it really doesn’t matter what I like or don’t like. It is the bride who chooses her perfect dress. And this exhibit showcases the selections of southwestern Minnesota brides through the decades from the museum’s collection and on loan.

This image shows some bridesmaids’ dresses and wedding accessories. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

The exhibit also includes some bridesmaid’s dresses, suits, accessories and wedding portraits displayed in the small second floor conference room.

A lace and satin wedding dress. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I realize most of my readers won’t see this exhibit in person. But if you live near Marshall, I encourage you to peruse the display, which closes at 4 pm Saturday, September 17. It’s been up since June. I saw “The Wedding Collection” as part of an overall tour of the museum, an exceptional museum, in my opinion. I traveled some three hours on Tuesday specifically to see two of my rural-themed poems, included in an impressive “Making Lyon County Home” exhibit on the second floor. Plan on spending hours at the museum with three floors of exhibit space.

The bridal gowns span decades, some back to the early 1900s. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Interestingly enough, I last visited Marshall 40 years ago on my May wedding night. Randy and I stayed there before continuing on our way to the Black Hills of South Dakota for our honeymoon. So in many ways, seeing “The Wedding Collection” brought me full circle back to my own wedding. Four decades seem so long ago…

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FYI: I’ll take you back to the museum in Marshall in a future post to show you the exhibits including my poems and much more. Museum hours are 10 am – 4 pm Monday-Friday, noon to 4 pm Saturday and closed on Sunday.

Also, click here to view a much larger wedding exhibit I saw several years ago as the Steele County History Center in Owatonna.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

So much to appreciate about Northfield’s Bridge Square September 7, 2022

An overview of Bridge Square looking toward Division Street. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

BRIDGE SQUARE IN THE HEART of historic downtown Northfield holds a yesteryear appeal as a long-time community gathering spot along the Cannon River. Today its purpose remains as relevant as ever. I’ve observed festivals and concerts here, focused events like Earth Day and the Riverwalk Market Fair, read poetry here, heard music, watched college students chalk messages onto concrete. Individuals, too, pause here to enjoy the fountain sculpture and other art, to picnic, to simply embrace this beautiful spot.

A banner in downtown Northfield promotes the community’s annual celebration. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

This park centers Northfield, home to many home-grown shops and eateries and best-known perhaps for the September 7, 1876, attempted robbery of the First National Bank by the James-Younger Gang. This week Northfield honors the long ago townspeople and a heroic bank cashier who stood up to the outlaws. The town will buzz with activities and people, all here to celebrate Defeat of Jesse James Days. That runs September 7-11.

The Northfield Historical Society by Bridge Square once housed the First National Bank. The bank entry is around the corner and not shown here. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Weeks before this event I was in Northfield, first touring the Northfield Cemetery to view the gravesites of bank employee Joseph Lee Heywood and Swedish immigrant Nicolaus Gustafson, both shot and killed by the outlaws. Gustafson, at the time of the raid, was vending vegetables in, I believe, current day Bridge Square. The First National Bank is located around the corner.

The popcorn wagon has set up in Bridge Square since the 1970s. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Popcorn boxes lined up in the wagon. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

The popcorn wagon brings back memories of Vern’s Popcorn Stand in my hometown of Vesta. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

My focus on that afternoon was not on the historic robbery, but rather on Bridge Square. I noticed first the 1918 popcorn wagon which is open from mid-May to mid-September and operated by FiftyNorth, the local center for seniors. It was closed when I was there. But I could imagine the sound of popping kernels, the scent, the taste of buttery popcorn scooped into boxes. There’s something about a popcorn stand that hearkens to bygone days.

“How much for that doggie in the window?” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

And there’s something about an old-time barbershop such as Bridge Square Barbers with a barbershop pole and then, bonus, a doggie in the window. I spotted the dog lying on a fleece bed in a corner. Seemingly content, only lifting his head when I approached for a close-up photo.

Love this barbershop dog photographed through the window. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Earlier this year a sign in that barbershop window prompted me to write a story, “Barbershop Prompt,” which I submitted to a writing competition. My story earned second place in creative nonfiction and will publish in volume 31 of The Talking Stick, a northern Minnesota-based anthology. I also earned an honorable mention in fiction. Once the book publishes, I’ll share more.

Beautiful flowers circle an art installation in Bridge Square near the Cannon River. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

I also took in the art of Bridge Square. Northfield is big on the arts with an Artists on Main Street program, sidewalk poetry and other art installations in addition to the performing arts.

The historic Ames Mill sits along the Cannon River. Originally a flour mill, the mill later was used to produce Malt-O-Meal hot cereals and is today owned by Post Consumer Brands. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

And then there’s the history. Aged buildings like the riverside Ames Mill. The river running through is a real asset to the downtown, especially with a river walk behind buildings hugging Division Street.

Detailed top of the art installation. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

At the heart of all of it is Bridge Square—a place which melds history and art, land and sky and river, commerce and individuality. Most importantly, the village square brings peoples together to converse, to celebrate, to honor, to discuss, to disagree, to buy popcorn from the popcorn wagon, to simply be.

Bird in flight in the Bridge Square sculpture. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

TELL ME: Does your community have an outdoor gathering spot like Bridge Square?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Honoring those who defeated Jesse James in Northfield September 6, 2022

Posted on the First National Bank in Northfield, now the Northfield Historical Society. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

IF NOT FOR A QUICK-THINKING bank cashier and determined townspeople, things could have ended much differently for the community of Northfield on September 7, 1876, when the James-Younger Gang rode into town intent on robbing the First National Bank.

This is where it all happened. The bank is along Division Street in historic downtown Northfield near Bridge Square. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Markers ring supposed bullet holes on the building exterior. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

The James-Younger Gang re-enactors riding in the Defeat of Jesse James Days parade. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

That brave employee, Joseph Lee Heywood, stood up to the robbers who demanded cash from the bank vault. In the end, he lost his life, shot in the head. Likewise, Swedish immigrant Nicolaus Gustafson, unable to understand the outlaws’ commands to get off the street, was shot in the head and died four days later. Outlaws Clell Miller and William Chadwell, (also known as William Stiles) died, too, in the ensuing chaos as they attempted to escape.

A t-shirt displayed in the front window of the Northfield Historical Society (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Townspeople reacted to the bank raid by throwing skillets and bricks and aiming birdshot at the would-be robbers fleeing on horseback through the narrow streets of this river town. Their efforts, along with those of Heywood, effectively ended a long string of bank and train robberies across the country. The three Younger brothers were shot and captured in a gun battle near Madelia while Frank and Jesse James escaped to Missouri.

The Northfield Historical Society entrance by Bridge Square. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

That’s the summary backstory of “The Most Famous Bank Robbery in American History” as tagged by the Northfield Historical Society based in the bank building and with a permanent exhibit, “The James-Younger Gang Bank Raid.” I toured the exhibit in 2012 and highly-recommend it to learn the full story behind this event.

Posted just outside the NHS entrance. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

A toy horse is part of the front window display at the NHS. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

One of the many events during Defeat of Jesse James Days. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

This historic happening focuses Defeat of Jesse James Days, beginning Wednesday in Northfield. I’ve attended that, too, but mostly stay away given it’s one of the biggest community celebrations in Minnesota, meaning crowds. Honoring Heywood and the brave townspeople of 1876, the September 7-11 event includes a long list of activities like the popular bank raid re-enactments, an Outlaw Run, car and craft shows, an art festival, a rodeo, tractor and truck pulls, a parade and much more. Annually the Joseph Lee Heywood Distinguished Service Award is “given to a Northfield citizen who exemplifies a commitment to public service, which Heywood lived.”

This sign on a building marks the Northfield Cemetery. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

In the midst of all this, I’d suggest a visit to a place away from the crowds. The Northfield Cemetery. Here Joseph Lee Heywood and Nicolaus Gustafson lie buried. A few weeks ago I sought out their graves given my interest and my desire to honor these two men who lost their lives during the failed bank raid.

Joseph Lee Heywood‘s gravesite. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)
A portrait of Joseph Lee Heywood is posted in the Northfield Historical Society window. Although I’m not certain, I believe the other images are of his wife and daughter. He remarried after Mattie died. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Heywood’s marker up close. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

The bank cashier’s burial spot is decidedly prominent, his grave marker rising high within a squared off space. Mattie Buffum Heywood, who died in May 1873 at the age of 34, is buried by her 39-year-old husband.

A surprisingly new marker marks the grave of Nicolaus Gustafson. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Finding Nicolaus Gustafson’s grave took effort. Eventually I found it near the cemetery entrance next to the chain link fence along busy Division Street South. I expected an aged tombstone like Heywood’s, not the more modern granite marker with the postscript inscription, A SWEDISH IMMIGRANT SHOT BY ROBBERS. Gutafson, who had just turned 30, arrived in Northfield from neighboring Millersburg on the day of the robbery to sell produce with another Swedish immigrant. He was buried in Northfield because the Swedes did not yet have a church or cemetery. In 1994, the good people of Northfield installed the gravestone gracing his final resting spot. A historic marker at Christdala Church also honors Gustafson.

This marker in front of Christdala Church, rural Millersburg, honors Nicolaus Gustafson. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2020)

In all of this, there is something to be said for the strength of those who are now part of our history. Their actions, whether intentional or not, determined outcomes. For communities. For families. For the future. How many lives were saved because of Joseph Lee Heywood, because of those determined Northfielders, even because of a Swedish immigrant rushing to a street corner?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The creative side of a southern Minnesota farm show September 5, 2022

The Milk Shakes booth has a decidedly rural theme with Holstein cow art. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

AS A WRITER AND PHOTOGRAPHER, I view life through a creative lens. That means, even at a farm-themed event like the Rice County Steam and Gas Engines Show, I notice the artsy side.

Dancing in the music shed to the band Steam Machine Friday afternoon. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I attended the show in rural Dundas on Friday. While most attendees focus on the field of tractors, the multiple ag-related demonstrations, the flea market and more, I also focus on creative details within the all of it. Like hand-lettered signage, handcrafted items, music, and, yes, even the couple dancing to bluegrass tunes performed by Steam Machine.

Flea market attendees try out a vendor’s yard chairs. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

The arts, whether literary, visual or performing, enhance our lives, bringing joy, comfort, diversion, entertainment, introspection and much more.

Cute crocheted animals by Kay Dudley. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I value the talents of those who create. I create with words and with my camera. Put a paintbrush or crochet hook in my hand and I would be hard-pressed to make anything worthy of notice. But, gosh, do I admire creatives like Kay Dudley of Faribault who brought her crocheted animals to the flea market. Likewise, I admire the skill of the woodworker who built the sturdy yard chairs for sale.

Hand-embroidered linens. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

On the other end of the show grounds, I found more to appreciate in the 1912 farmhouse. Embroidered linens displayed in the kitchen caught my eye. I know how to embroider, although decades have passed since I picked up a needle, embroidery floss and a hoop to stitch a design into cloth. I really ought to resume that craft.

A vintage doll nestles in a quilt. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

In another room of the farmhouse, a doll laid upon a quilt, reminding me of my paternal grandmother who stitched endless quilts for her family, me included. I was quite the seamstress as a teen, sewing many of my clothes and dresses for Grandma, too. She could quilt, but she couldn’t make her own clothes. I always found that interesting. I haven’t touched my sewing machine in years.

An original painting of a country schoolhouse. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I was especially interested in the original painting of a rural schoolhouse scene propped on a table in the farmhouse. The vintage art, scored at a Goodwill store for $5, is exactly the type of art I collect.

David Terry hand-carved a 1920 threshing scene displayed inside a large case in the music building. This is just a portion of his work. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

In my collection is a North Dakota threshing scene painted by my father-in-law and among my most treasured pieces of original art. So when I saw a hand-carved threshing scene displayed in the music building at the Rice County Steam and Gas Engines Show, I was reminded of Tom’s painting. I display it this time of year atop the entertainment center in my living room.

A handmade sign identifies the owner of a vintage John Deere tractor. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Original paintings and other original art, including signs, always draw my appreciation. There’s just something about a handcrafted sign that makes me pause, take notice, remember. From signage on tractors to signage on buildings to signage among the food vendors, I noticed the creativity.

Loved this hand-drawn art posted by the food service window of El Tacazo Mexican Delights. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Every piece of art I spotted added to my enjoyment of this southern Minnesota farm-themed show. Certainly I value the ag and history aspects of this event. But I value, too, the creativity.

An anvil-shaped sign fittingly marks the Blacksmith Shop where attendees can watch blacksmiths at work. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

FYI: Click here to read my first general overall post on the 2022 Rice County Steam and Gas Engines Show. And click here to read my second post highlighting tractors.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Preserving yesterday at rural-themed show, rural Dundas September 2, 2022

Photo cut-outs just inside the entrance. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

BARELY INSIDE THE GATES of the Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Show mid Friday morning, I boarded a train. It was an unexpected ride, this double loop around the tracks while straddling a slightly swaying model train car. I thought these free train rides were only for kids. Not so, the crew assured me.

The model train carries all ages. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

On a train car, a mini Massey-Harris the featured tractor. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Riding the rails. Kids must be accompanied by an adult. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

When I disembarked, a preschooler sandwiched between two adults for his turn on the rails.

Photographed on a tractor, show stickers. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

What a fun way to begin my four hours at the show, which continues through Sunday at the event grounds south of Dundas, which is south of Northfield. This 47th annual gathering is about “Preserving a Bit of Yesterday for Tomorrow.” And that’s exactly what you will find here. Old. Aged. Vintage. Snapshots into the past. Farming as it was done back in the day. Agriculture/farming/rural life center the show.

Massey-Harris tractors all in a row. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
Conversation while leaning on a John Deere. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
A tractor made by Cockshutt and marketed by Gambles. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Vintage tractors are the focus with a field of tractors on display. This year’s featured brand is Massey-Harris. But brands ranging from the well-known John Deere, Allis Chalmers, International Harvester…to the rare Gambles line the grassy grounds.

The threshing crew. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Other farm machinery is also on-site, including a threshing machine, typically threshing oats, but under repair during my visit.

The blacksmith at work. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

There’s simply so much to see here, so much equipment to take in, so many demonstrations to watch. I observed blacksmithing and sorghum pressing. There’s also syrup making, corn shelling, flour milling, lumber sawing… Not all were up and running yet Friday morning.

The 1912 farmhouse. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Sorghum towers in a field. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
Delicious cookies made with sorghum. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

While demonstrations are a major draw, so are the aged farm buildings moved onto the grounds. Inside the 1912 Drentlaw farmhouse, my friend Ruth served cookies made with sorghum.

Pressing sorghum. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Across the way, two men fed sorghum stalks into a press, liquid streaming into a bucket.

A massive stove defines the farmhouse kitchen. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

As I walked upon the wood floors of the farmhouse, I felt immersed in the past. A wood-burning stove anchors the small kitchen where a water dipper rests in an enamelware bowl in the sink. Embroidered dish towels drape a drying rack.

The dining room table set for guests. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

In the dining room, with fine china set upon a lace-covered table, the morning breeze billowed lace curtains.

Rounding the corn crib… (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Outside the main house sits a summer kitchen with a corn crib and granary nearby. Replicating a farm site of yesteryear seems a goal. As a farm girl, I appreciate these efforts to preserve a bit of yesterday. Our Minnesota agrarian history needs to be shared at events like this which connect all ages to a way of life that is quickly vanishing.

My oddest find at this year’s flea market. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Even the flea market connects attendees to the past where old stuff mixes with crafts and an assortment of other merchandise. Every time here, I challenge myself to find oddities, weird whatever that makes me do a double take. This year’s vendors did not disappoint me.

A burger basket from the Northfield Knights of Columbus. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Nor did the food. Vendors offer an assortment of tasty food and beverages ranging from burgers and fries to Mexican food, milkshakes, lemonade, kettle corn, mini donuts and more. It’s all about food and conversation and watching the daily tractor parade at noon while seated at a picnic table in the Food Pavilion.

One of three musicians in the band Steam Machine performs Friday afternoon. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Over in the poleshed style music building, I listened to the bluegrass band Steam Machine. A couple danced across the cement floor, nearby hay racks piled with oats bundles. I photographed, then attempted to cool down after too much time in the heat and humidity.

A gigantic ear of corn made of milk jugs. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Another music appreciator stepped off her golf cart to show me a photo on her phone—an image of an over-sized ear of corn crafted from 1,000 gallon milk jugs by her cousin in Wisconsin and gifted to her. He’s made six. The corn art will be displayed at the 22nd Annual Corn Shredding Autumn Harvest Days on September 24 and 25 in rural Lake City.

A poster promotes the 2023 Credit River show. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I love how so many people care about our agricultural history. That includes the guys from the Credit River Antique Tractor Club who were selling raffle tickets for a 1952 Ford 8N tractor. Their annual show is set for July 14-16, 2023, in rural New Prague.

Teaching the younger generation about tractors. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

The Rice County folks will be back, too, in 2023, “Preserving a Bit of Yesterday for Tomorrow.” There will be a tractor parade, a Kids Pedal Pull, demonstrations, tractors galore and, oh, so much more at the Labor Day weekend show. Even train rides…

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FYI: Visit the Rice County Steam & Gas Engines website for more information. The show continues Saturday and Sunday from 7 am – 5:30 pm. Admission cost for the entire weekend is $10 with 12 and under admitted for free.

The club also hosts a Swap Meet and Flea Market on Memorial Day weekend and Minnesota Military Days in June.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Learning about the Wahpekute in Faribault

Signage marks an entry to Wapacuta Park near my Faribault home. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

FOR 38 YEARS I’VE LIVED in the same house, “the Swanson house,” along Willow Street in Faribault. Just below Wapacuta Park, blocks from the home of town founder Alexander Faribault. Wednesday evening I learned information about the park up the hill, about my neighborhood, which left me feeling unsettled and troubled, but newly-informed.

This shows just a small section of Wapacuta Park, shelter in the distance. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

The park atop the hill, according to Susan Garwood, executive director of the Rice County Historical Society, was used by the Wahpekute, one of the seven “Council Fires” of the Dakota Nation, for honoring their dead. Not for final burial of their loved ones in this place which now houses a picnic shelter, playground, disc golf course and basketball courts, but rather for the construction of scaffolding to temporarily hold the deceased. Letters and other documents verify the placement of the scaffolding in Wapacuta (incorrectly spelled) Park.

I had no idea. No idea at all that this hilltop land held such importance in the lives, and deaths, of these Indigenous Peoples who called Rice County home long before French Canadians and others settled here.

Peace Park, where Wahpekute were buried, is located near Buckham Memorial Library in the background. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

The monument in Peace Park honors those who served in WW II. There is no mention that this slice of land is a Wahpekute burial site. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
The WW II monument at Peace Park. That’s Willow Street running aside the park. The area across the road is being cleared for apartments and senior housing. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

But Garwood shared even more unknown-to-me information. After a year, the bodies of the Wahpekute were removed from the scaffolding to a nearby burial spot. That’s the current day Peace Park, located near the intersection of Minnesota State Highway 60, Division Street and Willow Street by Buckham Memorial Library. The site, she said, is considered a cemetery, confirmed many decades ago by the discovery of bones wrapped in bark and hide. There were 14 burial mounds and sacred sites in the county, according to Garwood, who said this is closely-guarded information known to historians.

To learn all of this proved enlightening and left me wondering how many others are unaware. And what can be done to raise awareness and respect? Garwood asked the same question during her public presentation on “The Indigenous History of the land that is now Rice County, Minnesota.” She was the first presenter in a new endeavor, the Faribault Diversity Coalition Speaker Series, which will introduce those who call/called Faribault home through these monthly speaking events at the Paradise Center for the Arts.

This was part of an outdoor art installment at Bridge Square during Northfield’s Earth Day celebration. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2022)

Near the end of her hour-plus-long talk followed by questions and comments, Garwood encouraged attendees to remember and acknowledge the Wahpekute, who are still here. She referenced a Land Acknowledgment Statement and “Eagle Relatives” sculpture now in place in neighboring Northfield. She also mentioned efforts underway to honor the culture, history and places of the Wahpekute in Faribault. She encouraged all of us to become informed, to educate ourselves, to listen to the stories of Indigenous Peoples.

These first peoples lived in harmony with nature, with the land, Garwood noted. Life changed when fur traders came to the area and a dependency grew as the Wahpekute traded for goods that would make their lives easier. The US-Dakota War of 1862, centered to the west in Redwood, Renville and Brown counties, brought more change, including the loss of life, land and relocation for Indigenous Peoples. That aspect of Garwood’s talk was familiar to me given I grew up in Redwood County.

This sculpture of Alexander Faribault with a Dakota trading partner stands in Faribault’s Heritage Park near the Straight River. Faribault artist Ivan Whillock created this artwork gracing the Bea Duncan Memorial Fountain. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

She talked, too, about Alexander Faribault and Bishop Henry Whipple and how they befriended and helped the Dakota. Faribault, after the 1862 war, offered land he owned (today River Bend Nature Center and the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind) as an “Indian Camp,” Garwood said. Sixty-five Wahpekute from 12 families lived there.

Peace Park is located at a major Faribault intersection. The Alexander Faribault house can be seen in the background, just to the right of the red-roofed gas canopies at the local co-op and behind the hedge row. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Garwood focused primarily on the Wahpekute, the first people of Rice County, the “Shooters Among the Leaves.” They were, she said, hunters and gatherers who did not work the land but rather moved from place to place to find food, to sustain themselves. Every lake in the county was home to a Wahpekute village, she said. Rivers, too. Teepee Tonka Park along the banks of the Straight River in Faribault was among their riverside homes. Not far from Peace Park. Not far from Wapacuta Park. Near my home.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Celebrating Faribault’s brewing history with Fleck’s Travaganza! August 19, 2022

The event promotional created by Jeff Jarvis of West Cedar Studio.

MY COMMUNITY WILL CELEBRATE a rich history of brewing this weekend at the Fleck’s Travaganza!, an event honoring Fleckenstein Brewery. The brewery, opened in 1856 and producing assorted beverages for 108 years (until 1964) in two locations along the Straight River bluffs in Faribault, has long garnered local interest.

A historical themed bench outside the RCHS summarizes the Fleckenstein family’s brewery history in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Cheers to Fleck’s beer. This photo is featured on a bench outside the RCHS. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Even more history on a bench by the RCHS. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

The Rice County Historical Society (RCHS) features the brewery in its museum. Local historian Brian Schmidt collects Fleckenstein items and memorabilia. And the State Bank of Faribault displays a sizable collection of brewery items.

The 1946 Fleck’s delivery truck, pre-restoration, in the July 2016 Faribault Car Cruise Night. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2016)

But this weekend all eyes will focus on a restored 1946 Fleckenstein Brewery delivery truck. That truck will lead a parade of vehicles through Faribault (click on link for the route) beginning at 5:30 pm Friday at the RCHS. The parade follows major routes through town, including past my house on Willow Street, and ends along Central Avenue for the Faribault Car Cruise Night.

A building in Faribault’s downtown historic district bears the Fleckenstein name. I took this photo, featured several years ago on the cover of the Faribault tourism magazine, during the July 2016 Car Cruise Night. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

The beer delivery truck will also be parked along Central Avenue on Sunday morning during an invitation only RCHS event for volunteers.

A downtown Faribault mural featuring Fleck’s beer. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

The bank exhibit will be open Friday evening during the Car Cruise in the heart of historic downtown Faribault and also from 9 am – noon Saturday. Just across the street from the bank, a mural features the brewery.

This shows a section of the park, which includes a playground, picnic area and shelter and a river overlook. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2022)

Saturday brings more events with the 10 am dedication of Fleckenstein Bluffs Park along the Straight River in downtown Faribault.

Faribault artist Rhody Yule created this oil painting of the Fleckenstein Brewery in 1976. The building, and the brewery, no longer exist. The 20-foot Fleck’s beer bottle on the right side of the painting sat near the brewery entrance. Children often had their pictures taken here when their parents took a brewery tour. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo January 2011)

At 1 pm, “Fleckenstein Brewery, a History” will be presented by collector and historian Schmidt at the RCHS. Special guest is Al Fleckenstein. Following that, at 3 pm, Schmidt leads a tour of the Fleckenstein Brewery ruins site on the campus of Shattuck-St. Mary’s School. Attendance is limited to 50 for the packaged, ticketed events with reservations via the RCHS highly-recommended. Cost for both is $20.

Stacked inside the RCHS Harvest and Heritage Halls are these crates from Fleckenstein Brewing. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2015)

If you want to take home a bit of memorabilia, a commemorative bottle of grape pop is available for $5. Specially-made by Spring Grove Beverages in southeastern Minnesota, the soda comes with an original Fleck’s grape pop cap attached. Proceeds from the soda sales benefit the historical society.

I found this Fleck’s beer bottle at LB Antiques in Jordan in February 2017. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Now, the only thing missing—and this comes from someone who appreciates and enjoys craft beers—is Faribault-brewed craft beer. Perhaps some day…

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling