Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Memory in flight January 23, 2020

The fighter jet sculpture located at The Owatonna Degner Regional Airport. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo January 2020.

 

SOME MEMORIES REMAIN, decades after the event, forever seared into our minds. But often they stay in the subconscious, surfacing only when triggered by something heard, seen, smelled, tasted, thought.

I hadn’t thought in a long time about the plane. Until I researched the story behind an airplane sculpture at The Owatonna Degner Regional Airport. I photographed the trio of T-38 Talon Thunderbirds while passing by on Interstate 35 as day broke on a recent Sunday morning.

My mind didn’t shift then to the afternoon decades ago when a fighter jet roared over my childhood farm outside Vesta in Redwood County in southwestern Minnesota. Rather, my thoughts focused on my mom. We were en route to visit her at a care center in Belview.

But now, weeks later, I sorted through photos taken on that 2.5-hour drive and remembered a summer afternoon in the 1960s. I was outside when the fighter jet flew low and fast over the farmyard, causing me to dive under the B Farmall tractor and the cattle to escape their fence. The sight and sound of that plane terrified me. We seldom saw planes, mostly just the trails of invisible or barely visible slivers of silver jets.

To this day, I don’t know from whence that mystery plane came or why the pilot chose to fly at such a low altitude. I can only speculate that he was on a training mission. And why not conduct that in a sparsely-populated area? Never mind the people or livestock.

That experience resurfaced as I sought out info about the three fighter jets artfully positioned at the Owatonna airport. Initially, they stood outside nearby Heritage Halls Museum, now closed. Museum founder and local businessman and pilot, R.W. “Buzz” Kaplan, led efforts to bring the retired U.S. Air Force jets to the area. Eventually the planes would land permanently at the airport, highly-visible to those traveling along the interstate.

Kaplan, on June 26, 2002, died at this very airport after the plane he was piloting, a replica WW I JN-4D “Jenny” biplane, crashed shortly after take-off. This airport has been the site of several fatal crashes, including one in 2008 which claimed eight lives. I hadn’t thought about that crash either, one of the worst in Minnesota, in a long time.

It’s interesting how the split-second decision to photograph a sculpture of three fighter jets along an interstate can trigger-roll into more than simply an image.

Life is that way. Memories, rising in unexpected moments, connecting to today.

TELL ME: Do you have a long ago memory that sometimes surfaces? I’d like to hear your stories and why that memory remains and others don’t.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Minnesota: So this is spring? April 10, 2019

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My neighborhood Wednesday evening.

 

CLOSED SCHOOLS. Closed Interstate. Crashes and back-ups. All were the result of a winter storm that socked parts of Minnesota today, my community included.

Officials shut down Interstate 35 between Faribault and Medford for hours on Tuesday afternoon into evening following multiple vehicle crashes. Thirty-five, I heard. True? I don’t know. Then the detour route onto a county road was closed after a semi hit a railroad bridge, according to one report I read.

 

My snowy backyard photographed early Wednesday afternoon as the snow fell.

 

What a day. Ambulances and police cars screaming by my house along with all that detoured traffic. Snowplows scraping snow that fell at a rapid pace. Snow layering to six inches.

 

I photographed these crocuses in my front yard flowerbed just days ago. Now they are buried under six inches of snow.

 

Randy and I just got back inside after clearing heavy wet snow from our driveway and sidewalk and that of a neighbor. This is heart attack snow, thus I paced myself. I’ve had it with winter. Only days ago spring seemed here. Temps in the sixties. Sunny. Lawns hinting at green.

 

My backyard shortly after the snow began falling Wednesday morning.

 

And now this, this storm set to linger into Friday. Already winds are picking up. Cold. Biting. Nothing like spring.

 

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Minnesota blizzard closes interstates, creates difficult or impossible travel February 24, 2019

Red circles mark road closures in Minnesota as of late morning Sunday. Source: MnDOT 511 website

 

GOOD MORNING, DEAR READERS,

Here we are, in the midst of another winter storm in southeastern Minnesota. The good news from Faribault: Our snowfall total this morning was not nearly what I expected. About six inches instead of ten. Yahoo. Snow started falling around 6:30 p.m. Saturday and ended sometime early this morning.

I live in town, in a valley. That means my home is sheltered from the brunt of winds that will reach 50 mph this afternoon. Friends who drove into Faribault from the country for 8 a.m. church reported some drifting, but overall decent roads for the weather we’re experiencing.

I expect that to change as the day progresses and wind speeds increase to create drifts and white-out conditions. A blizzard warning remains for southern Minnesota.

Our governor has declared states of emergency in Steele (the neighboring county to my county of Rice) and Freeborn counties.

One look at the Minnesota Department of Transportation website and the severity of this storm and the resulting impossible travels conditions are clear. Every red circle on the map represents a road closure. That includes Interstate 35 from Owatonna to the Iowa border. For awhile the interstate was closed beginning at Faribault. Interstate 90 along the Minnesota-Iowa border. Closed. U.S. Highway 14. Closed. State Highways 60, 30, 15… Closed. I can’t possibly list all of the road closures.

Here’s the deal. Just stay home. It’s not worth risking your life to travel today (outside of city limits) anywhere in southern Minnesota. End of sermon.

TELL ME: If you live in Minnesota, what are conditions like in your area today? Share your weather stories.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Winter photo poetry February 18, 2019

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A WINTER LANDSCAPE IN RURAL Minnesota can, at first glance, seem visually unappealing. White upon white upon white.

But then a moment happens. A curtain opens in the mind to reveal a scene that holds spectacular beauty.

Stubble pokes through snowy fields. A farm site stands isolated, yet strong, in all that winter vastness. And then, a layer of golden light slips between land and clouds.

The light. The textures. The immensity of the scene. All collide before my eyes, to create a winter photo poem. Beautiful in its complexity. Beautiful in its simplicity. Winter.

 

I photographed this scene along Interstate 35 somewhere north of Faribault around sunset Saturday.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Managing an especially cold & snowy Minnesota winter February 15, 2019

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My neighbor across the street moved and put his house on the market several months ago, but has yet to sell it. Now he’s clearing snow from two properties. If you’re looking for a house to buy in Faribault and want to be my neighbor…

 

THE SNOW KEEPS PILING up here in Minnesota in storm after storm after storm. And when snow isn’t falling, brutal cold settles in. This weather is taking its toll, physically and mentally.

 

The snow piles continue to grow in Faribault, here at a gas station along Minnesota State Highway 60/Fourth Street.

 

We long for warmth and sunshine and a day without snow removal. As snow mountains obscure vision at the ends of driveways, sidewalks and street corners, clearing the snow becomes more taxing.

 

Special snow removal equipment works on the Cedar Avenue bridge over the Minnesota River on Wednesday afternoon.

 

This snow-filled truck and snow blowing tractor creep along Interstate 35 in Burnsville Wednesday afternoon.

 

During lulls between storms, snow removal crews work to widen roadways, clear snow from bridges and shoulders.

 

Ice dams and icicles on our house.

 

And then there are those ice dams forming along rooflines. I’ve never seen anything like it, the length of some icicles extending to the ground. Randy has yet to tackle the task of shoveling snow from our house and garage roofs. He can barely keep up with clearing snow from our place and that of a neighbor after a long day of work.

 

Passersby stopped to help push my elderly neighbor’s car up her snowy driveway during a recent storm. Randy warned her of the ice underneath, but…

 

A recent commute home from Northfield took him nearly an hour rather than the usual 22 minutes due to treacherous roads in a snowstorm. As an automotive machinist, he doesn’t have the option of working from home. If he doesn’t work, he doesn’t get paid.

Schools across the state closed an unprecedented number of times in past weeks.

 

On a day when highways were clear, Randy and I came upon a five-vehicle crash on Interstate 35 in Burnsville. Vehicles in ditches and endless crashes have marked this winter.

 

Any plans are tentative, based on weather and road conditions. Travel during bad winter weather and you risk going in the ditch, getting in an accident, becoming stuck in metro gridlock or stranded in a rural area. No, thanks. I’ll stay home and read a book.

 

Snow blows from the top of a semi tractor trailer Wednesday afternoon along Interstate 35 north of Faribault.

 

All of these challenges make winter sometimes difficult to navigate. But then I read something that causes me to pull my head out of the snowbank and smile. Like the story in the Faribault Daily News about local high school teacher Dave Wieber whose physics students video recorded kindergartners sledding. With the video data collected, they determine how fast the average student slides down the hill. How fun is that? I love when teachers get creative, make learning fun and exciting.

 

The scene exiting Interstate 35 into Faribault onto Minnesota State Highway 21 from the north.

 

And I love when a community celebrates winter with an event like last weekend’s Faribault Flannel Formal. Although I didn’t attend, I’ve seen enough photos to know this is exactly the type of event Minnesotans need in February. Flannel attire, music, drinks, contests, conversation. And hotdish.

 

A neighborhood near my home, along Fourth Avenue.

 

When I think about it, fun and creativity help many of us manage winter. New York state songwriter Linda Bonney Olin, in her song Praise God From Whom All Blizzards Flow, is a great example. She uses humor to write her “doxology for those blessed with wintry weather and a sense of humor.” It’s well worth your read. Click here and be thankful for shovels, gloves and plows. And the ability to still smile in this longest of winters.

 

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Scenes along the interstate in Minnesota May 8, 2017

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Driving toward downtown St. Paul along Interstate 35-E.

 

YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT you’ll see while traveling the interstate. Too many motorists engage in risky behavior like tailgating, weaving from one lane to the other, texting, talking on their cells when their full attention should be on the roadway and more. It’s a crazy driving world out there.

 

I admire these MnDOT responders who aid motorists, here in the thick of interstate traffic near downtown St. Paul. It appears a mighty dangerous job.

 

I’m no fan of heavy traffic or travel in the Twin Cities metro. But then I suppose many people aren’t. Rural roadways can be just as unsafe.

 

Is the tanker actually carrying coffee or simply advertising it? Photographed northbound on I-35 toward the Twin Cities metro.

 

What’s the final destination of this outdoor enthusiast headed eastbound on I-35E?

 

How does the boss drive?

 

All of that aside, I always spot interesting scenes along the interstate. Interesting to me, anyway.

 

Southbound into St. Paul along I-35E.

 

TELL ME: What have you observed while traveling along the interstate?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

On the Road: About patriotism &, um, Zombies February 13, 2017

WHEN MY GIRLS were little—which would have been about 25 years ago—stickers were all the rage. Kids filled mini sticker books with page after page after page of stickers. Puppies and kitties and…, for my equine loving second daughter, horses.

I didn’t understand the rationale behind transferring stickers from one piece of paper to another. But the girls loved their sticker collections and paging through them.

 

patriotic-zombie-stickers-on-vehicle-5

 

That memory flashed through my mind Saturday afternoon when I spotted a mobile sticker collection on a vehicle heading north toward the Twin Cities on Interstate 35. At first glance, I thought the stickers purely patriotic: Home of the Free, Support Our Troops, Land of the Free Because of the Brave.

 

patriotic-zombie-stickers-close-up-3

 

But then, after examining the photos I shot of the vehicle, I discovered these stickers: Zombie Outbreak Response Team and Deep Inside We All Want a Zombie Apocalypse. Uh, no we don’t. Except perhaps in Illinois. Lawmakers in the House last week approved October as “Zombie Preparedness Month.” You just can’t make this kind of stuff up. The legislators aren’t really talking zombies here, but rather preparation for natural disasters, according to media reports.

But then again, who knows? The license plate on the patriotic zombie vehicle reads Illinois.

TELL ME: What do you think of any of this? The stickers? The legislation?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reclaiming an appreciation for winter through photography February 2, 2017

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winter-landscape-12-treeline

 

IN THE DAYS OF MY YOUTH, I embraced winter. I saw potential in every snowfall. Snow caves and tunnels. Snow forts. Sledding.

 

winter-landscape-14-sky-field

 

Snow pushed to the edge of the farmyard and rock-hard snowdrifts formed a mountain range, a seasonal anomaly on the southwestern Minnesota prairie. It was the ideal setting to role-play the Royal Canadian Mounted Police or to challenge siblings in King of the Mountain.

 

winter-landscape-9-farm-site-2

 

I can’t reclaim those carefree days lingering now only in memories. But I can still appreciate winter, an attitude I’m relearning. That is easiest accomplished through the lens of my camera.

 

winter-landscape-7-interstate-35

 

Heading out of Faribault last Sunday afternoon for Owatonna along Interstate 35, I felt the sun radiating warmth through the van windows. And I noticed, too, the blueness of the sky scuttled by white clouds. I welcomed the blue after too many grey January days.

 

winter-landscape-6-farm-site

 

Aiming my camera to the west toward farm fields layered in a thin coating of snow, I was nearly fooled into thinking I was back on my native prairie. The land appeared familiar in the winter commonality of bare trees and open fields. And I found comfort in that—in the uncluttered landscape, in the simplicity of lines, in the visual vulnerability the earth shows in winter.

 

winter-landscape-10-trees

 

TELL ME: What do you most appreciate about winter, if you appreciate it? If you don’t, why not?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Hot Sam’s Part I: Art, antiques & oddities in rural Lakeville August 15, 2016

A vintage van becomes a work of art at Hot Sam's.

A vintage van becomes a canvas for art at Hot Sam’s.

HOT SAM’S ANTIQUES, rural Lakeville, defies a singular definition. It’s unlike any place I’ve ever toured.

You'll see lots of vintage vehicles scattered throughout the property.

Vintage vehicles are scattered throughout the property.

There are weird and quirky surprises seemingly everywhere.

Weird and quirky surprises are seemingly propped everywhere.

Behind the sunflower and the fanciful treehouse are a log cabin and other buildings housing antiques for sale.

Atop the hill, behind the sunflower and the fanciful treehouse, are a log cabin and other buildings housing antiques and collectibles for sale.

It’s part photo park, theme park, artist’s haven, junkyard, antique shop. It is undeniably unique. And how you perceive this place depends on your individual preferences. If you like the odd, unusual and quirky, you’ll appreciate Hot Sam’s.

Posted at the entry to Hot Sam's located along Pillsbury Avenue just off Interstate 35, Lakeville exit.

Posted at the entry to Hot Sam’s located along Pillsbury Avenue just off Interstate 35, Lakeville exit.

The lovely and friendly Kathy poses for a quick portrait with the on-site pooch.

The lovely and friendly Kathy poses for a quick portrait with the resident pooch.

The Avon Freeway is new since my last visit to Hot Sam's several years ago. Avon collectible vehicles line this log along the driveway.

Avon collectible vehicles line a log along the driveway. A hodgepodge of items decorate the fence.

I first visited this attraction just off Interstate 35 south of the Twin Cities several years ago, returning on a drizzly Saturday afternoon in early June. Things had changed a bit. I couldn’t simply pull out my camera and start photographing the vignettes created by owner Jake Hood and his artist friend Barry. I had to check in with Kathy Sakry, Jake’s partner. With a bit of prompting, she remembered me and then waived the usual photographer’s fee, a necessity, Kathy says, to cover expenses.

The narrow gravel road into Hot Sam's leads to a quirky world of art and finds.

The narrow gravel road into Hot Sam’s leads to a quirky world of art and finds.

Geese wander the shore of the on-site pond.

Geese wander the shore of the on-site pond.

Looking toward a section of the beach, the setting for many water-themed vignettes.

Looking toward a section of the beach and the pond, the setting for many water-themed vignettes.

With Kathy’s OK, I threaded, camera in hand, down the puddled gravel driveway toward the sandy beach. I kept a watchful eye on the overcast threatening sky.

Sand is hauled in to help stage the beach scenes like this cabanna, added since my last visit.

Sand is hauled in to stage the beach scenes like this recently-added cabana.

An inviting tropical scene...

An inviting tropical scene…

Jake visits with a guest.

Jake visits with a guest.

The beach-side cabana, turtle-topped sand dune and dune buggy scene is Jake’s latest project. Thatch materials came from a now-closed business at the Mall of America. No surprise. Jake hints at connections to junkyards/scrappers/other sources from Minnesota to the coasts. You clearly need those ties to create an attraction like Hot Sam’s.

My husband obliges my request to sit for a photo.

My husband obliges my request to sit for a photo.

Butt bar stools, for example, come from some place in Vegas. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. There’s a certain mystique that envelopes Hot Sam’s, although if you had the time, Jake would likely share detailed stories.

This guitar sculpture and other sculptures are perched atop a hill along Interstate 35 south of Lakeville.

This guitar sculpture and other sculptures are perched atop a hill along Interstate 35 south of Lakeville.

Jake and I talk before he takes me and my husband into a hidden paradise.

Jake and I talk before he takes my husband and me into a hidden paradise.

Entering Hot Sam's tropical paradise. This is the only view you'll get of this place tucked into the woods. Maybe Jake will show you if you ask. But then again maybe he won't.

Entering Hot Sam’s tropical paradise. This is the only peek you’ll get of this place from me. Maybe Jake will take you there. But then again maybe not.

As it was, he invited my husband and me to board his golf cart for a short drive into a hidden section of the property. I hung on as Jake twisted the cart through the woods, down a hill, around a curve and into a recreated island-themed paradise. This party spot is most often frequented by musicians drawn to Hot Sam’s by an over-sized guitar sculpture visible from Interstate 35, Jake tells me.

If you've seen this shark and other hillside sculptures from Interstate 35 south of the Lakeville exit, then you've seen Hot Sam's art.

If you’ve seen this shark and other hillside sculptures from Interstate 35 south of the Lakeville exit, then you’ve found Hot Sam’s. Take the Lakeville exit and go east a short distance before turning south onto Kenrick Avenue.

For years, sculptures have been positioned roadside atop Hot Sam’s hill. For years, I’d seen the art and never bothered to exit the Interstate. I expect many other motorists have done the same.

A scene outside a building filled with antiques and collectibles.

The front porch of a building filled with antiques and collectibles.

That’s the thing. We drive by, just drive by. And then one day, if we have the time and/or inclination, we stop. And then we discover a place that defies easy definition, a place that showcases creativity, a place that everyone should tour. At least once. Or twice. When we’re always in a hurry, we miss the Hot Sam’s of the world. And that is our loss.

You never know what awaits you if you only take the time to stop at a place like Hot Sam's.

You never know what awaits you if you only take the time to stop at a place like Hot Sam’s.

TELL ME: Have you ever toured Hot Sam’s? Or have you visited a place just as interesting and unique? I’d love to hear. Check back tomorrow for one final photo look at this south of the metro area attraction.

FYI: To get to Hot Sam’s Antiques from Interstate 35, take exit 81 near Lakeville and go east on Dakota County Road 70 about half a mile to the stoplight. Then turn south onto Kenrick Avenue/County Road 46. Continue approximately 1 1/2 miles on Kenrick, which turns into Pillsbury Avenue. Hot Sam’s is located on the west side of the road at 22820 Pillsbury Avenue South, Lakeville. You’ll see a sign.

Open from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. weekdays (except closed on Thursday) and Saturday and from noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday. I recommend calling in advance to confirm hours.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Faribault is about blankets, beer, blue cheese & a whole lot more April 28, 2016

Faribault's new promotional billboard, visible while traveling southbound along Interstate 35 near the city. Faribault is about a half hour south of the Twin Cities metro.

Faribault’s new promotional billboard, visible while traveling southbound along Interstate 35 near the city. Faribault is about a half hour south of the Twin Cities metro and about an hour from the Iowa border. Perfect for a day trip.

MY COMMUNITY OF FARIBAULT could easily fall into that grey space of endless towns perched along Interstate 35 from the Texas-Mexico border to Duluth in northeastern Minnesota.

But Faribault, pronounced fair-uh-boh, because it’s a French name, isn’t just any other community. This is a city of some 23,000 with a strong sense of history. Drive a few miles off I-35 to see the aged buildings along and branching off Central Avenue and scattered throughout town. We have historic churches (like the Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour) and the historic Shattuck-St. Mary’s School and wonderful old houses.

A new billboard along I-35 hints at what you’ll discover in this southeastern Minnesota community named after founder and fur trader Alexander Faribault.

Let’s zoom in on billboard details:

Strolling along Central Avenue in historic downtown Faribault late on a Saturday afternoon in December 2011.

This remains one of my all-time favorite shots of Faribault’s Central Avenue, our Main Street. It showcases the aged buildings and beauty of our historic downtown. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, December 2011.

HISTORIC DOWNTOWN: Aged buildings, most beautifully restored, border Central Avenue for several blocks. If you appreciate old architecture, history and home-grown businesses, then you’ll enjoy our downtown.

Award-winning Amablu Gorgonzola from Caves of Faribault.

Award-winning Amablu Gorgonzola from Caves of Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

BLUE CHEESE: Award-winning blue and Gorgonzola cheeses are produced and aged in Faribault, in sandstone caves along the Straight River. I’m crazy about AmaBlu, St. Pete’s Select and AmaGorg cheeses. All are sold at The Cheese Cave, a Central Avenue retail shop that also serves up a limited menu of soup (seasonal), sandwiches, salads, pizza and more. The fresh cheese curds, flavored and plain, are a must-try. Iowa-based Swiss Valley Farms now owns the once locally-owned retail shop and cheese company.

We wanted to sample all of the beers on tap, so we ordered a flight.

Samples from a flight of F-Town beer. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

BEER: F-Town Brewing Company opened in the downtown historic district, just a half-block off Central Avenue, last summer. It’s a great addition to our community, continuing a tradition of early beer brewing in Faribault by the Fleckenstein brothers.

Perusing merchandise at the recently reopened Faribault Woolen Mill retail store.

Perusing merchandise at the Faribault Woolen Mill retail store. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

BLANKETS: The historic Faribault Woolen Mill has been weaving blankets for some 150 years. Visit The Mill Store (open daily except Sunday) and/or tour the mill (every Friday or the second Saturday of the month) along the banks of the Cannon River. This business produces quality made blankets, throws, scarves, etc., in the time-honored tradition of hands-on looming by employees who’ve been around for a long time.

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BILLBOARDS SHOWCASE only a quick visual of what any place offers. So here are additional personal recommendations from my favorites and must-see list of Faribault attractions:

This restored 1915 clock was installed on the Security State Bank Building, 302 Central Avenue, on Saturday.

This restored 1915 clock was installed in 2015 on the Security State Bank Building, 302 Central Avenue. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

ART: Stop at the Paradise Center for the Arts, a restored theater, to peruse the galleries and gift shops or to take in a show.

Admire the recently-restored Security Bank Building clock at 302 Central Avenue.

At the south end of Central Avenue, at its intersection with Division Street, admire the art throughout Buckham Memorial Library. Don’t miss the Charles Connick stained glass window, the Greek murals or the exterior clock tower.

Throughout the downtown area are numerous murals depicting scenes from Faribault history. I love this concept of combining art and history in such a highly-visible public way.

While I’ve never toured Whillock Studio, home to woodcarver Ivan Whillock, I’d suggest a visit. Locally, his work can be seen in churches, at the library and more. Noted woodcarver Marv Kaisersatt also calls Faribault home. Kaisersatt keeps a low profile. But I was lucky enough to visit his second floor downtown studio (not open to the public) several years ago when penning a magazine article.

Folks waited in line for these cupcakes.

Folks waited in line at last summer’s Faribault Farmers Market for these cupcakes from Bluebird Cakery. The business now has a storefront location at 318 Central Avenue, Suite 101. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

FOOD: Hands-down, The Signature Bar & Grill serves the best thin crust (or any) pizza in town. I always order the Italian sausage. The old-fashioned bar area is reminiscent of Cheers.

The Depot Bar & Grill, housed in an old train depot, is always a good dining choice. Warm weather outdoor dining is available on a patio next to the railroad tracks. It’s a thrill to feel the power of a train roar past only feet away.

Faribault offers many ethnic dining choices ranging from Mexican to Somali to Chinese, Thai, etc. Gran Plaza Mexican Grill downtown is a local favorite.

Fairly new to downtown Faribault is Bluebird Cakery, specializing in cupcakes (plus other sweet treats) and assorted coffees, etc. I’ve been there several times and each time it’s been super busy. Choosing cupcakes proves difficult given all of the enticing flavors.

I’m not a fan of fast food or fast food chains. But for an authentic American fast food dining experience, Faribault’s A & W still offers car hop service during the warm months. And I do love a frosty mug of A & W root beer.

New to Faribault, and hidden away in the Faribo West Mall, is Smoqehouse Restaurant. I’ve been there once and will definitely be back as I love pulled pork and other savory smoked meats. The smokey smell alone is enough to draw me in. Take note that if you want to eat here after the mall closes on say a Saturday evening, you need to use the back entrance across from the Walmart Auto Center.

Burkhartzmeyer Shoes, a family-owned shoe store along Central Avenue in Faribault.

Burkhartzmeyer Shoes, a family-owned shoe store along Central Avenue in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

SHOPPING: I’m not much of a shopper. But I do like thrift stores–you’ll find Good Will, the Salvation Army, All Seasons Community Services Thrift and Jan’s Thrift Shop in Faribault along with some used clothing shops.

Third-generation family-owned Burkhartzmeyer Shoes is a Faribault staple offering full shoe-fitting services (yes, they measure your feet and put the shoe on your foot) and shoe repair. This place is reminiscent of a bygone era when outstanding personal customer service mattered. I know nearly everyone who works here and these are salt-of-the-earth wonderful people. Shoe boxes are tied with a cotton string and you’ll even get a sucker if you want one.

We also have gift shops, antique stores, an architectural salvage business and more in our historic downtown.

Tables packed with colorful flowers fill the Faribault Garden Center.

Tables packed with colorful flowers fill the Faribault Garden Center. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

FOR THE GARDENER:

Farmer Seed and Nursery, in an aged building along Minnesota State Highway 60/Fourth Street, is a fun place to poke around for anything plant and garden related. This business has provided American gardeners with plants, bulbs, seeds, etc. for more than 120 years through its mail order catalog (also now online) business. It’s especially fun to tour during the holidays when themed Christmas trees pack the store.

Donahue’s Greenhouse is open for the season, drawing gardeners from all over to this massive family-owned greenhouse/retail shop at 420 SW Tenth Street. After a long winter, this feels like walking into summer. I get a bit overwhelmed with all of the choices at Donahue’s, thus I often shop at the smaller Faribault Garden Center or Northstar Seed & Nursery.

Twiehoff Garden & Nursery on the east side is another great choice for plants and then fresh produce throughout the growing season. Housed in a no-frills pole shed style building which lends an earthy authenticity, this 52-year-old business is operated by the friendly Twiehoff family. It’s one of my main sources for local fresh seasonal produce along with the Faribault Farmers Market.

Biking through River Bend Nature Center.

Biking through River Bend Nature Center. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

NATURE: One of my favorite places for an in-town get-away is River Bend Nature Center. Faribault also has an extensive trail system for biking and walking.

City View Park, on the east side by the water tower, offers a beautiful overlook of Faribault.

The restored Tilt-A-Whirl sits in downtown Faribault, just two blocks from Buckham Memorial Library.

The restored Tilt-A-Whirl sits in downtown Faribault next to Burkhartzmeyer Shoes, just two blocks from Buckham Memorial Library. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

HISTORY: It’s everywhere in Faribault. In the architecture of old buildings. On murals. In the Rice County Historical Society Museum. In our churches, especially The Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour. In the historic Hutchinson House Bed & Breakfast. Even in a restored Tilt-A-Whirl car located on the corner by Burkhartzmeyer Shoes. Yes, the Tilt-A-Whirl originated in Faribault and, up until a few years ago, was still made here.

I love Faribault. I’ve lived here more than half my life now. I don’t have the connection of family roots. But I do have the connection to place. Faribault is home.

DO YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS about Faribault? If so, ask away and I’ll try to answer.

FYI: Chambers of Commerce and tourism centers in Faribault, Owatonna and Northfield have joined in promoting visits to their communities through a Minne-Roadtrip venture. All three cities lie along the I-35 corridor, with Faribault in the middle. Click here to learn more about this promotion. I’ve explored all three communities; they are definitely worth your visit.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling