Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Appreciating historic downtown Owatonna March 2, 2022

National Farmer’s Bank of Owatonna rates as particularly important architecturally. Designed by Louis Sullivan in the Prairie Architecture School style, it features stained glass windows, gold leaf arches, nouveau baroque art designs and more. This “jewel box of the prairie” was built between 1906-1908. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

STRIPPING IMAGES OF COLOR lends an historic context to several aged buildings I recently photographed near Central Park in downtown Owatonna. It’s easier for me to see the past, to appreciate these long-standing structures through the lens of time when I view them in black-and-white.

Love this corner historic building which houses A Taste of the Big Apple, serving pizza, soup, sandwiches and more, including a Tater Tot Hot Dish special on March 3. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

First, I feel such gratitude that these buildings still stand. A time existed when the thought was that new is better. Out with the old, in with the new. I’m not of that camp and I’m thankful for the shift in attitudes.

Firemen’s Hall, constructed 1906-1907 for $19,643, sits just across the street from Central Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Twelve city blocks in Owatonna’s downtown define the community’s designation as a National Register Historic District. Three of the 75 “contributing buildings” within that district are on the National Register of Historic Places: the National Farmer’s Bank, the Steele County Courthouse and the Firemen’s Hall.

This home-grown bookstore anchors a downtown corner, directly across from Central Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

On a recent visit to Owatonna’s Central Park, I pivoted to observe those key historic buildings and others in a downtown of multiple core business streets.

A sign in Central Park provides information about the community stage. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

The park, with a replica of the 1899 community stage, serves as the “town square,” the physically identifiable point of focus and gatherings. Here folks gather for concerts, the farmers’ market and other events. Music and the undeniable human need to socialize connect the past to the present.

The replica community stage/bandshell. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

I feel inspired now, via my recent stop in Central Park, to return to downtown Owatonna and further explore its history and architecture. Sure I’ve been here before, but not in awhile and not with a focused purpose of intentional appreciation for and photographic documentation of this historic district.

Strip away the color and appreciate the stark beauty. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

I encourage each of you, wherever you live, to pause. Strip away the color to black-and-white. See the basics, uncolored by time or attitudes or that which detracts. Observe how the past and present connect. Value the “good” in your community. Appreciate the place you call home.

TELL ME: What do you appreciate about your community?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A photo essay: Life on a Saturday in southern Minnesota September 8, 2013

IF EVER I DOUBT carting my camera with me nearly everywhere, I need only consider the photos I snapped on Saturday in rural Minnesota. The images show snippets of everyday life, of moments and places that seem not extraordinary at first pause, but which are extraordinary for the stories they tell. This is life.  These are the moments of our days, the Main Streets of our towns, the way we live.

And I delight in all of it, in this place I call home, this southern Minnesota.

Mid-morning Saturday, while I was watering my flowers, a mini tractorcade puttered past my Faribault home. By the time I realized what I was seeing and retrieved my camera from my office, I

Mid-morning Saturday, while watering flowers, a mini tractorcade puttered past my Faribault home. By the time I realized what I was seeing and retrieved my camera from my office, I was able to photograph only the tail end of the line. Lesson learned: Grab my Canon before going outside to water flowers.

Over in Owatonna in the afternoon, I shot this signage in the heart of downtown. Walt the Barber. I expect he could spin a story or ten.

Over in Owatonna in the afternoon, I shot this signage in the heart of downtown. Walt the Barber. I expect he could spin a story or ten.

Perhaps Owatonna's best-known historic building,

Perhaps Owatonna’s best-known historic building, the old National Farmer’s Bank Building, considered by some to be “the most beautiful bank in the world.” I’ve toured it previously and can vouch for the accuracy of that description. Chicago architect, Louis Sullivan, designed the bank, built in 1908. It’s a must-see.

On the opposite side of the street from the bank, I spotted this cooler of fresh sweetcorn outside of Party-Plus of Owatonna.

On the opposite side of the street from the bank, I spotted this sign in the front window and this cooler of fresh sweetcorn outside of Party-Plus of Owatonna. My husband had already purchased sweetcorn earlier in the day for more money, so we didn’t need any. If you’re looking for anything party related, this store offers a great inventory of products.

I stopped at family-owned Owatonna Shoe and snapped 40 photos, the best of which I will share in a later post. For now you'll have to settle for this exterior shot.

I stopped at family-owned Owatonna Shoe and snapped 40 photos, the best of which I will share in a later post. For now you’ll have to settle for this exterior shot with that delightful OPEN TODAY til 5:00 postscript. I’ll also feature photos from “Steele County: Butter Capitol of the World,” an exhibit at the Steele County History Center and my reason for visiting Owatonna on Saturday.

I love beautiful historic architecture. Driving by Kristi's Clothing in downtown Owatonna, I zipped down the window and shot this image of one splendid detailed building.

I love beautiful, historic architecture. Driving by Kristi’s Clothing in downtown Owatonna, I zipped down the window and shot this image of one stunning building. Look at that sweet balcony and the detailed art.

Instead of bar hopping, this bridal party stopped at an Owatonna ice cream shop for sweet treats. I captured this scene as my husband and I were leaving the downtown area.

Instead of bar hopping, this bridal party stopped at an ice cream shoppe. I captured this scene as my husband and I were leaving downtown Owatonna and heading back to Faribault via County Road 45. No Interstate 35 for us due to road construction.

The Congregational United Church of Christ posted this sign on its message board along the main drag through Medford.

The Congregational United Church of Christ posted this message in the heart of Medford. I love these faith-based messages because they always cause me to reflect. Mini sermons, I call them.

Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A historic bank and White Buffalo Calf Woman June 23, 2011

SET ME IN FRONT of an architecturally-stunning historic building and I’m in history heaven.

Just look at the lines, the colors, the window leading, the carvings…of the Old First National Bank of Mankato building, now a Verizon Wireless Center reception hall.

I didn’t step inside the former bank, didn’t even try a door. I was content last Saturday afternoon to view the exterior with its Prairie School style architecture.

“It’s like that bank in Owatonna,” my husband said as we gawked at the building built of brick, Mankato limestone and terra cotta along Civic Center Plaza in downtown Mankato.

He was, of course, referring to Chicago architect Louis Sullivan’s “jewel box,” National Farmer’s Bank in Owatonna, a brick building with terra cotta accents, splendid for its stained glass windows, arches and other architectural details.

The Mankato building features Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired stained glass and detailed ornamentation along the roof line.

And now it also showcases a bronze sculpture of White Buffalo Calf Woman by South Dakota artists Lee Leuning and Sherri Treeby as part of Mankato’s City Art Walking Sculpture Tour.

 

If you peer at the woman’s face, examine her beaded moccasins and the trim on her buckskin dress and pouch, you’ll notice how the colors mimic those of the historic bank building. Whether this Native American sculpture’s placement was planned or accidental, I don’t know, but it fits seamlessly with the historical vibe of the locale, enhancing the whole art viewing experience.

The city of Mankato, apparently named after a varied translation of the Dakota word Mahkato, meaning “blue earth,” owns a place in Minnesota and national history for the mass hanging of 38 Dakota here on December 26, 1862. Three hundred warriors were accused of killing civilians and soldiers and of other crimes during the U.S.-Dakota Conflict. After a public outcry, President Abraham Lincoln commuted the sentences of all but 38. Certainly, Mankato is not proud of this moment in history. But efforts have been made to honor the Dakota at monuments in the city.

And now sculptures like White Buffalo Calf Woman also help heal and educate the public about the Native American culture. According to information on the sculpture placard, this prophetess is the only religious icon accepted by all Native American tribes. She “brings a message of healing, hope and peace among the races to all the people.”

More than just art, I also got a history lesson along a Mankato city street on a Saturday afternoon in June.

PLEASE VIEW MY JUNE 20 post for more photos and information about the Walking Sculpture Tour. Additional images will be forthcoming.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling