Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

What I’m drawn to photograph in rural Minnesota January 7, 2020

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One of my favorite Minnesota barns is this especially well-maintained one along a back county road west of New Ulm.

 

I FIND MYSELF, all too often in my on-the-road rural photography, focusing primarily on barns. My eyes gravitate toward these agricultural icons that I fear will vanish within the next 50 years, fallen to abandonment and/or replaced by nondescript cookie cutter metal polesheds. That saddens me. But it is the reality of the times, of the decline of the family farm.

 

Massive polesheds have replaced traditional barns on some farms, including this one along Interstate 90 in southeastern Minnesota.

 

I will continue to photograph these beloved landmarks, symbols of a bygone era of farming. Barns hold personal value to me as a farmer’s daughter. I grew up working in the barn—feeding cows, bedding straw, shoveling manure, lugging pails of still warm milk from cow to bulk tank and much more.

 

An abandoned farmhouse near Morristown, Minnesota.

 

A tiny, colorful house in Morristown, Minnesota.

 

Just blocks away in Morristown, newer homes cluster in a housing development. A tornado hit this area in 2018, destroying and heavily damaging houses.

 

While documenting these centers of farm life, I’ve mostly neglected to photograph the homes of rural Minnesota. They vary from abandoned houses with broken windows to modern-day structures.

 

In southwestern Minnesota, an aged farmhouse so familiar to me.

 

It is the decades-old farmhouses that appeal to me most, no matter their conditions. My childhood home until my early teens was a cramped three-bedroom 1 ½-story house without a bathroom. A hulking oil burning stove in the living room heated the structure. A trap door in the kitchen opened to stairs leading to a dark dirt-floored cellar where salamanders lurked. Mom stashed the bounty of her garden in fruit jars lining plank shelves.

 

A southwestern Minnesota farmhouse.

 

I am thankful to have grown up in a minimalist house, in a poor farm family. We may have been poor materialistically. But our family was rich in love. I never realized until I became an adult that I was raised in near poverty. Because of that background, I’ve never needed the most, the best, the newest.

 

In Kenyon, Minnesota, a brilliant turquoise makes this house stand out.

 

On recent road trips, I intentionally aimed my camera lens at houses. Both in small towns and in the countryside. These are not just houses. They are homes. Or memories of homes. Worthy of preserving with my camera as part of rural Minnesota history.

 

A home in the small town of Morristown, Minnesota.

 

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Frank Lloyd Wright’s imprint upon Mason City October 7, 2014

CONSTRUCTED WITHIN MY HOUSE of memories, I see my mother paging through floor plans in booklets picked up at the local lumberyard. She dreamed of a new house for her large and growing family.

She bulged heavy with child in 1967, the year relatives and contractors built the house of her dreams and the August she birthed her final of six babies.

By the Christmas holidays, we had abandoned our cramped wood-frame farmhouse for the walk-in basement rambler across the driveway. We welcomed a bathroom, a basement with a cement floor and plenty of closet space. And the warmth of a central heating system.

I attribute my appreciation and interest in architecture to those pre-teen memories of Mom sifting through house plans and of watching Dad unfurl blueprints for our new home. Vivid, too, are the earthy scent of sawdust, the open two-by-fours nailed into rooms, the grind of the cement mixer.

To this day, I study the lines of houses, consider their architecture, often wish I could step inside.

A Prairie School house in the Glen Rock neighborhood of Mason City, Iowa.

A Prairie School house in the Rock Glen neighborhood of Mason City, Iowa.

So on a recent visit to northeastern Iowa, I was thrilled to discover the greatest concentration of Prairie School architecture (eight homes, a bank and hotel, by my count) in the upper Midwest in Mason City.

Martha Pettigrew's "American Architect," a portrait of Frank Lloyd Wright, stands permanently in Central Park. The famous Prairie School style architect designed a house, hotel and bank in Mason City.

Martha Pettigrew’s “American Architect,” a sculpture of Frank Lloyd Wright, stands permanently in Mason City’s Central Park, across the street from the bank and hotel he designed and which were completed in 1910.

Frank Lloyd Wright himself imprinted his Prairie School architecture upon Mason City with the design of the Park Inn Hotel and City National Bank, both listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and of the Stockman House, built for Dr. George Stockman and his family.

Frank Lloyd designed this house, moved to 530 First St. N.E. and today open to the public as an interpretative center, for Dr. George Stockman.

Frank Lloyd designed this house, moved to 530 First St. N.E. and today open to the public as an interpretative center, for Dr. George Stockman. I did not tour the home during my visit to Mason City.

Today the Stockman House is open to the public as a showcase of Wright’s work. You can also tour the historic hotel and former bank.

A Prairie School neighborhood snapshot.

A Prairie School neighborhood snapshot.

A walk through the Rock Crest/Rock Glen neighborhood reveals more Prairie School homes designed by students of this definitively first American style of architecture. I don’t pretend to be an expert in architecture. But Prairie School homes are easily recognizable with their primarily flat and looming rooflines, rectangular windows, plainness, imposing strength and sense of privacy.

Not just any old street corner in any old neighborhood.

Not just any old street corner in any old neighborhood.

Enjoy this tour of Prairie School homes in Mason City. Now if only I could have toured the interiors, I’d have been especially pleased.

 

 

Prairie School 3

 

Prairie School 4

 

Signs embedded in the sidewalk identify some, if not all, of the Prairie School houses.

Signs embedded in the sidewalk identify some, if not all, of the Prairie School houses.

 

An entry to the 1915 Hugh Gilmore House designed by Francis Barry Byrne. It's located at 511 E. State Street.

An entry to the 1915 Hugh Gilmore House designed by Francis Barry Byrne. It’s located at 511 E. State Street.

 

A stunning car port on a Prairie School style house.

A stunning car port on a Prairie School style house.

 

The E.V. Franke House at 507 East State Street, designed by Francis Barry Byrne in 1917.

The E.V. Franke House at 507 East State Street, designed by Francis Barry Byrne in 1917.

 

Prairie School 5

 

A view of the 1915 Sam Schneider House at 525 E. State Street and designed by Walter Burley Griffin.

A view of the 1915 Sam Schneider House at 525 E. State Street and designed by Walter Burley Griffin.

 

The 1920 George Romey House was designed by J.M. Felt & Co. with Prairie School influence.

The 1920 George Romey House was designed by J.M. Felt & Co. with Prairie School influence.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Feeling at home, wherever you live May 16, 2014

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This colonial style home atop a hill along Wisconsin Highway 21 in Arkdale always catches my eye.

This lovely Colonial style home atop a hill along Wisconsin Highway 21 in Arkdale always catches my eye.

DO YOU PICTURE a dream home in your mind?

There is something sweet and endearing about the simplicity of this country home near Redgranite, Wisconsin. Perhaps it's the porch, the setting...the welcoming style.

There is something sweet and endearing about the simplicity of this country home near Redgranite, Wisconsin. Perhaps it’s the porch, the setting…the unassuming bungalow style.

Or are you living in your dream house?

A sturdy farmhouse near Redgranite, Wisconsin.

A substantial farmhouse east of Redgranite, Wisconsin.

I’ve always wanted to live in a big white two-story farmhouse with a front porch. Rather like the farmhouse where my Uncle Glenn and Aunt Elaine and cousins lived near Echo, Minnesota.

Open front porches, like this one on a home in Redgranite, Wisconsin, encourage neighborliness

Open front porches, like this one on a home in Redgranite, Wisconsin, encourage neighborliness and sitting outside on a beautiful afternoon or evening. Love the curve of the porch roofline and the stone front and steps.

The house, as I remember it, featured lots of dark woodwork with a built in buffet and that coveted porch.

A stunning Cape Cod style home constructed from locally quarried stone near Redgranite, Wisconsin.

A stunning Cape Cod style home constructed from locally quarried stone near Redgranite, Wisconsin.

But then again, I also appreciate the Craftsman and Cape Cod styles of architecture.

A well-kept farmhouse between Redgranite and Omro, Wisconsin, has likely evolved through the years with numerous additions.

A well-kept farmhouse between Redgranite and Omro, Wisconsin, has likely evolved through the years with numerous additions. I appreciate the enclosed porch and the Victorian detailed scrollwork near the roofline.

I’ve always preferred old over new, although sometimes I think living in a modern home would equal fewer maintenance worries.

This cheery yellow house is located along Wisconsin Highway 21 in Redgranite. A welcoming holiday banner still graces the front door three months after Christmas.

This cheery yellow house is located along Wisconsin Highway 21 in Redgranite. Christmas lights and a welcoming holiday banner still grace this home three months after Christmas.

In the end, though, I’ve concluded that no matter where you live, it’s not the walls or design or age or style that truly define a home. It is simply being content where you’re at, with the people you love.

NOTE: These images were taken on a late March trip to eastern Wisconsin when snow still covered the ground. Not any more.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling