THERE ARE MANY REASONS to appreciate Plainview. It’s small town Minnesota friendly. It offers a variety of home-grown shops. It centers agriculture in Wabasha County. It was the boyhood home of noted Minnesota author Jon Hassler. Its downtown features some beautiful old brick buildings. That’s the short list. I expect if you’ve visited, or live here, you could add to Plainview’s positive qualities.
During my brief mid-May stop in this southeastern Minnesota community of 3,340 just northeast of Rochester, I found so many things to love about Plainview. And I wrote about those in a series of blog posts over the past several weeks. Today I end that series with a photo focus on some of the historic buildings I saw downtown.
My appreciation of aged buildings runs deep. I live 60 miles from Plainview in Faribault, which boasts a downtown filled with architecturally-interesting, historic buildings.
In Plainview, I saw a collection of mostly well-kept brick buildings, too, and felt inwardly grateful to those who understand their value. I realize it takes money, time and effort to invest in maintaining these aged structures. But it’s so important to do, to maintain the character and history of a community.
Could more be done? Certainly. That applies to both Plainview and Faribault. Again, I understand financial limitations, especially in these times of high inflation. At the core, I see that locals care about keeping these historic buildings. That is a reason to celebrate. They are helping retain community character in a way, which if destroyed, can not be rebuilt or replaced.
Thank you for joining me on my tour of Plainview. Even if you never visit this southeastern Minnesota community, I hope I’ve given you reasons to appreciate it and to appreciate all those small towns that, together with our cities and farms, create the fabric of America.
I remember the mural from my last visit here in 2013. I appreciate this public art now as much as I did then, for art can reveal much about a place.
While Plainview has lost some of its “arts” character with closure of the Jon Hassler Theater and Rural America Arts Center, it will always claim title (along with Staples) as the boyhood home (s) of noted Minnesota writer Jon Hassler. He moved to Plainview with his parents at the age of 10, remaining there until shortly after his 1951 high school graduation.
Hassler, one of Minnesota’s most-beloved authors, focused his fiction on small town life. That includes Grand Opening, a novel based on Plainview. As in real life, the main character’s parents buy a run-down grocery store in rural Minnesota.
While I have not yet read Grand Opening, I just finished Days Like Smoke, A Minnesota Boyhood. This is Hassler’s memoir, a manuscript published by Afton Press in 2021, many years after the author’s 2008 death. Edited by friend Will Weaver, another well-known Minnesota writer, this slim volume offers insights into Plainview, into Hassler’s experiences there and how that shaped his writing. He credits his parents’ Red Owl Grocery Store as the training grounds for his writing, the place where he acquired the latent qualities necessary to the novelist. In that grocery store, Hassler stocked shelves, ground coffee, interacted with and observed customers, and more.
This sentence in Hassler’s memoir is so telling of the influence Plainview had on his writing: I see the villagers passing along the checkout counter like the cast of characters they eventually turned out to be in my novel about this village in the corn. I love that phrase, “village in the corn,” for it fits agriculturally-based Plainview. The community is home to food processors, Plainview Milk Products Cooperative and Lakeside Foods, and celebrates Corn on the Cob Days each summer. Farming centers the local economy.
It’s the people, though, including the characters, who truly define community. And Hassler shares plenty from Plainview, where he lived across from the stockyards for awhile, tried to derail a train, played high school football for the Gophers, watched endless movies at the Gem Theater, bloodied the nose of a third grader, sat at the bedside of his dying 11-year-old friend, biked to the bluffs along the Whitewater River to camp and fish, served as an altar boy…
In his memoir, Hassler remembers St. Joachim’s Catholic Church and Immanuel Lutheran Churchstanding as sentinels of the soul at opposite ends of Main Street. That’s such an insightful visual. Hassler valued his Catholic upbringing and faith throughout his life. But he also admits in his memoir to the strong current of religious animosity running under the surface of daily life in the village of my youth between Catholics and Lutherans. This comes as no surprise to me, growing up in rural Minnesota with the same denominational tension.
It was that undercurrent—specifically the defeat of Hassler’s father in a school board election—which ultimately caused Hassler’s parents to leave Plainview and return to Staples. He writes: I, newly graduated from high school, loved Plainview too dearly to follow them.
Hassler’s love for Plainview endured, long after he left to attend college, then to teach, then to write and then to retire in 1997 after 17 years as writer-in-residence at Saint John’s University. Visit Plainview today and you get a strong sense of the place that shaped this writer. While businesses and people have come and gone, at its core, this remains “the village in the corn.”
TELL ME: Have you read any of Jon Hassler’s 12 novels or his nonfiction? I’d love to hear your take on his writing and what books you recommend.
Please check back for more posts from Plainview next week.Be sure to read my previous posts on Plainview published this week.
Here kids bike along the main drag through town, passing by homegrown shops and other businesses. Here friendly shopkeepers engage in easy conversation that made me feel incredibly welcomed. And connected.
This is a rural community through and through. Home to the Plainview Milk Products Cooperative. Surrounded by farm fields. And, at its essence, home to residents rooted in rural life. Noted Minnesota author Jon Hassler, who penned novels about small town life, grew up here (and in Staples). His parents owned the local Red Owl grocery store.
At The Shop on Broadway, relative newcomer to the area and co-proprietor Sonia spoke about a recently-purchased rural property.
At the variety store, the clerk and I exchanged histories of growing up on dairy farms.
Plainview, in many ways, surprised me. I’d been here previously, nearly 10 years ago when a wrong turn led Randy and me to this small town some 20 miles northeast of Rochester. During that brief stop, we popped into the Jon Hassler Theater/Rural America Arts Center. The theater closed soon after and the arts center followed. But both impressed me. This return trip to Plainview revealed a new side, a thriving business district of welcoming, one-of-a-kind shops.
Not all were open on the Saturday of my mid-May visit. But I perused enough to get a feel for what this community offers. As cliché as it sounds, Plainview seems an undiscovered gem with its independently-owned shops staffed by friendly folks with time to chat. I felt unrushed in uncrowded stores. Browse at my own pace. Take in the setting and merchandise and down-home feel of being in the moment in rural Minnesota.
That comes from someone who is not a shopper, who easily tires of mass-produced whatever in Big Box stores. But I didn’t feel that here in Plainview. Inside The Shop on Broadway and J.T. Varieties & Toys, I found nostalgia. Antiques and collectibles in The Shop. And at the Variety store, I stepped back in time, into a mercantile akin to the Ben Franklin or Woolworth’s of my youth. I eased down narrow aisles jammed with merchandise—ran my hand across beautiful cotton fabric layered on shelves, eyed endless knick knacks, appreciated the Little Golden Book storybooks for sale.
At Young Love Floral & Finds, historic photos, a vintage Mallard Seeds sign (the seed company was once housed here as was a bank) and the First National Bank vault (now a storage space) revealed more about this community. I love this little shop owned by floral designer/creative Shantelle Speedling. The biggest surprise here: wood flowers. Speedling uses them in her floral designs and they are unbelievably beautiful.
Another surprise came in finding The Magnolia Cottage Boutique. If this had not been my last shop stop, I may have tried on some of the clothing therein because I loved the styles. But I was tired and it takes a lot for me to try on clothes. The shop also sells home décor, gifts, flowers and more.
Next door, Cakes Etcetera was closed, so no cupcakes for me on this Saturday afternoon.
A few doors down, I spotted a vintage sign for Gopher Lanes Bar & Grill. The bowling alley is closed—for the summer. But that didn’t keep me from admiring the sign which is, oh, so Minnesotan. Before Plainview schools merged with Elgin and Millville, their mascot was the Gophers. And just some 10 miles to the southwest of Plainview, the town of Viola celebrates the lowly pocket gopher with an annual community celebration, the Viola Gopher Count. The 148th annual festival is scheduled this week on June 15 and 16. That’s another story and Viola, another place to visit. Just like Plainview.
PLEASE CHECK BACK for more posts from Plainview. I’ll take you inside shops, show you signs, art and more discovered on a Saturday afternoon along Broadway. I’m sure I missed a lot of what Plainview offers. So if you are from this town, or have visited, I welcome your insights on places to check out.
It’s not like I live a great distance (60 miles) from Plainview, home of the Jon Hassler Theater and Rural America Arts Center. But I’d never been to this rural town 20 miles northeast of Rochester until recently. A wrong turn on a Sunday afternoon drive led my husband and me into this Wabasha County community of some 3,300.
In the heart of the community, the Jon Hassler Theater and Rural America Arts Center.
And there we discovered the old farm implement dealership building turned arts center—complete with theater, art gallery, bookstore and writers’ retreat center.
Dean Harrington showed me copies of Green Blade, the annual literary journal produced by writers who gather here.
I wished right then and there that I was seated in the theater, belly laughing at/with Ole and Lena. But it was near intermission, much too late to join the audience.
Words & Afterwords Book Store features more than 4,000 used and selected new titles.
Instead, I settled for poking about the gallery and bookshop and snapping a few photos and thinking, how grand to have a place like this in Plainview that embraces the arts. A return trip for a more in-depth look at this community and theater is definitely needed. Maybe next time with play tickets in hand.
I’ve had the above ACT I in my draft posts for a few weeks. I never expected to be penning an ACT II. But in a story reported Thursday on Minnesota Public Radio (quoting the Rochester Post-Bulletin), I learned that the Jon Hassler Theater is closing at the end of 2014. I didn’t see that coming. Dean Harrington offered no hint of the theater’s tenuous situation when we spoke briefly a few weeks ago.
But apparently the audience just isn’t there to continue supporting a theater in Plainview. Plans are to keep the self-supporting bookstore, the art gallery and the writer’s retreat open.
Just two days ago I received an email from the Jon Hassler Theater inviting me to a reading and Q & A by Northfield writer Scott Dominic Carpenter, author of Theory of Remainders and This Jealous Earth. Carpenter will be the Third Wednesdays guest reader at 7 p.m. on November 20.
And now this, this news about the theater’s closing comes. Before I’ve even seen the curtain rise in the Jon Hassler Theater, I’ve seen it fall. Anytime a rural community loses local access to the arts, it’s not good.
I’m fortunate to live in a community with a strong theater presence (Paradise Community Theatre and The Merlin Players) at the Paradise Center for the Arts in historic downtown Faribault. I don’t have to, and don’t want to, drive to the Cities to see great theater. Yet, I know many local residents who’ve never set foot inside the Paradise, but who regularly travel to the Cities for their arts fix. It’s this type of ambivalence and lack of local support, in my opinion, that lead to an outstate theater’s demise.
Apparently the audience numbers weren’t there in Plainview and now this small town is losing its theater.
Here are a few more photos of that inviting bookstore inside the Rural America Arts Center and of downtown Plainview.
Theater books for sale.
A cozy bookstore nook.
Loved this bookstore signage by the coffee pot up front.
Across the street from the arts center.
Meaningful mural details.
The back of Auto Value. If you walk up the sidewalk, cross the street and go left, you will find the arts center.
A birth announcement in the front window of a downtown business, edited to photocopy black-and-white so it’s readable.
YOU CAN TAKE A PUMPKIN and carve or paint it all fancy schmancy for Halloween.
But sometimes it’s the simplest form of creativity which most impresses:
May the force be with you this Halloween.
Now, I cannot recall ever viewing a Star Wars movie for I am not a fan of sci-fi and/or fantasy. But even I can appreciate this stick drawing created by some devoted fan in Plainview, Minnesota, and set outside the entry to a downtown business a half block from the Rural America Arts Center/Jon Hassler Theater.
The Jon Hassler Theater and Rural America Arts Center in downtown Plainview.