Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Celebrating the Fourth of July for 125 years in North Morristown July 2, 2017

The popular bluegrass band, Monroe Crossing, performed twice at North Morristown in 2016. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

 

IN RICE COUNTY, the Fourth of July and North Morristown are synonymous. For in this rural spot of corn, soybean and alfalfa fields, farm sites, and a country church and school, folks gather every Independence Day to celebrate. This July Fourth marks 125 years of patriotic and family togetherness.

 

Vehicles line county roads leading to the festival grounds and also filled parking areas in this Minnesota Prairie Roots photo from July 4, 2016.

 

You won’t find North Morristown by looking for a water tower or anything that resembles a town. Rather, head northwest of Morristown to 10500 215th St. West and the festival grounds across the road from Trinity Lutheran Church and School, North Morristown.

 

The vintage car ride for kids. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

Although I did not grow up in this part of Minnesota, I’ve lived here 35 years now and have celebrated many July Fourths at this rural location. I love the folksy simplicity of an event which began 125 years ago as a picnic. Today the celebration includes a 5K run/walk, parade, patriotic program, medallion hunt, silent auction, BINGO, musical performances (including the popular Twin Cities based Monroe Crossing), kids’ carnival style rides, fireworks shot over farm fields and more.

 

The homemade pies are a popular food choice. Buy your pie early for the best selection. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

And then there are the food and beverages: homemade pies, fresh-squeezed lemonade, ice cream, pork sandwiches, burgers, beer and more. This food is basic country at its best, served by volunteers who work tirelessly to feed the masses.

 

The bingo callers in 2013. I entered this image in a photo contest and won first place. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

Most who attend know each other. They either grew up here, married into a local family or have connections to the area. North Morristown on the Fourth of July is like a big family reunion. But even if you have zero connections to this place, you will feel comfortably welcome on the grassy, tree-filled festival grounds packed with friendly people.

 

By late afternoon last July 4, the crowd began thinning a bit. Festivities began at 9 a.m. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

 

As much as I’d like to attend, I may not this year due to the crowds and uneven walking surfaces. A friend, who is one of the grand marshals of this year’s 10 a.m. parade, expressed disappointment upon learning of my shoulder fracture. He was apparently counting on me to photograph the day’s events as I have many times in the past. Sorry, Al.

 

The old-fashioned barrel train draws lots of riders. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

 

Click here to view my previous coverage of North Morristown’s Fourth of July celebration. From my photographic perspective, you can see why this event has endured for 125 years. It doesn’t get much more grassroots basic Americana than North Morristown on the Fourth.

FYI: Click here to reach the North Morristown July Fourth Facebook page.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

NOTE: I am taking a break from further blogging this week. Please check back because I’ll be back.

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Celebrating the Fourth of July the old-fashioned way in rural North Morristown July 5, 2016

The popular bluegrass band, Monroe Crossing, performed twice at North Morristown.

The popular bluegrass band, Monroe Crossing, performed twice at North Morristown.

NORTH MORRISTOWN on the Fourth of July is grassroots Americana. It is also Minnesota’s longest running celebration of our nation’s birthday.

Vehicles lined county roads leading to the festival grounds and also filled parking areas.

Vehicles lined county roads leading to the festival grounds and also filled parking areas.

By late afternoon, the crowd began thinning a bit. Festivities began at 9 a.m.

By late afternoon, the crowd thinned a bit.

In 2015, Mathea, now one, was recognized as the youngest in attendance. Fest planners also honor the eldest in attendance and those who travel the greatest distance.

In 2015, Mathea, now one, was recognized as the youngest in attendance. Fest planners also honor the eldest in attendance and those who travel the greatest distance. I didn’t stay for that 5 p.m. announcement. My husband noted a sign up sheet showing a 9-day-old baby there as well as visitors from both coasts.

For 124 years, through generations of families, folks have gathered here in the farmland of southwestern Rice County on July 4.

The old-fashioned barrel train draws lots of riders.

The old-fashioned barrel train draws lots of riders.

Kids love the barrel train.

Kids love the barrel train complete with bicycle horns to toot.

The homemade carnival rides have been around forever.

The homemade carnival rides have been around forever.

Iolla, in her 70s, remembers coming here as a child, riding some of the same kids’ rides still operating today. Jen, in her 30s, remembers too and now brings her children, including the youngest, only two months old.

A fest-goer left this vintage wooden folding chair sitting behind the ice cream stand. In the background you can see Trinity Lutheran Church and School across the road.

A fest-goer left this vintage wooden folding chair sitting behind the ice cream stand. In the background you can see Trinity Lutheran Church and School across the road.

On July Fourth, this spot in the middle of farm fields, edged by several building sites and across the street from Trinity Lutheran Church and School, draws thousands.

The winners of the medallion hunt are introduced and presented with a $100 check.

A member of Monroe Crossing introduces the winners of the medallion hunt and presents them with a check for $100.

Players packed the bingo hall inside a poleshed style building.

Players packed the bingo hall inside a poleshed style building.

Even Superman rode the barrel train.

Even Superman rode the barrel train.

They come for the mid-morning parade, the patriotic program, the medallion hunt, the food, the music, the carnival rides, the bingo, the fireworks and much more. And they come for the reunion with family and friends. Many grew up in the area. But many didn’t. Like me.

This food stand serves tasty BBQ pork and beef sandwiches and other food.

This food stand serves tasty BBQ pork and beef sandwiches and other food. The stand was already out of roast beef when I arrived at around 1 p.m. However, several hours later the supply had been replenished.

My husband enjoys his cheeseburger.

My husband enjoys his cheeseburger.

There was always a line for the ice cream.

There was always a line for the ice cream.

That matters not. I’ve lived in nearby Faribault for 34 years now, enough to know a lot of people. When my husband and I walked onto the North Morristown festival grounds early Monday afternoon aiming for the food stands, it took us awhile to get our pork sandwich, burger, onion rings and fresh-squeezed lemonade. Not because service was slow. Rather, we ran into a lot of friends.

Ice cream to eat and ice cream to

Ice cream to eat and ice cream to go.

Signs mark the various food booths.

The pie shop is always popular given the homemade pies.

The barrel train engineer was so busy that he had to eat on the job.

Marlin the barrel train engineer was so busy that he had to eat his sandwich on the job.

North Morristown was the place to be this Fourth of July as organizers reported record crowds. I don’t have stats to share, only knowledge that food stands were running out of or low on food. That’s a good problem to have given more people equals more income for Trinity Lutheran School, the beneficiary of this annual fest.

North Morristown will be celebrating its 125th Fourth of July in 2017.

North Morristown will be celebrating its 125th Fourth of July in 2017.

There’s something about this rural celebration that is uniquely charming and appealing in the sort of old-fashioned way that makes you want to return every summer. Nothing really changes much.

These vintage plastic jumpy horses were repurposed decades ago into a carnival ride.

These vintage plastic jumpy horses were repurposed decades ago into a carnival ride.

The food stands and kids’ rides seem from another era.

No fancy bingo cards here.

I wonder how many generations have used these vintage bingo cards.

Even the bingo cards feature sliders rather than daubers.

By the time I decided I needed a slice of pie, the selection was dwindling. However, I enjoyed a slice of blueberry-peach.

By the time I decided I needed a slice of pie, the selection was dwindling. However, I enjoyed a slice of blueberry-peach.

The pies are still homemade. The oily scent of crispy onion rings drifts through the air, drawing crowds to the hamburger stand. Polka bands still play in the beer shed.

Musicians performed throughout the afternoon and into the evening.

Musicians performed throughout the afternoon and into the evening. The names imprinted upon the boards (the stage backdrop) are of past parade grand marshals.

Music blasts a bluegrass beat.

Looking toward the festival site among farm fields.

Looking toward the festival site among farm fields.

It is an idyllic place to celebrate the Fourth of July, in the heart of rural Minnesota.

FYI: Check back for a second post on North Morristown’s July 4, 2016, celebration.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Minnesota Faces: The musicians of Monroe Crossing July 3, 2015

Portrait #30: Monroe Crossing

Monroe Crossing musicians photographed during a 2013 performance at North Morristown.

Four of five Monroe Crossing musicians photographed during a 2013 performance at North Morristown.

They’re in the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame. They’ve recorded 14 CDs to date. Twice they’ve appeared at Carnegie Hall in New York City. And in 2016, they will become the first Minnesota bluegrass band ever to perform in South Korea.

They are Monroe Crossing, a group of five musicians who rank as one of Minnesota’s favorite bluegrass bands.

On Saturday the performers, as they have many times in the past, take the stage at the oldest Fourth of July celebration in Minnesota, now in its 123rd year. That would be in North Morristown, a country church and school and a few homes clustered west of Faribault in the middle of farm fields.

The Trinity Lutheran Church and School festival grounds is the perfect setting for these musicians who present foot-stomping down-to-earth songs. They perform at 1:30 p.m. and then again at 4 p.m. And it’s free, although donations are accepted in on-grounds donation boxes.

Plan to arrive well in advance of Monroe Crossings’ concerts. The July Fourth celebration begins at 9 a.m., when food stands and games open. Yes, there’s plenty of great food including homemade pies, barbecued pork sandwiches, burgers and more. You can play bingo, hunt for a medallion, observe a flag-raising, bid on auction items, throw horseshoes, attend a parade (at 10 a.m.), listen to other musicians (The Jolly Huntsmen Polka Band, Sawtooth Brothers, Benson Family Singers and Downtown Sound), drink beer and more.

There’s also plenty of visiting. Old-fashioned handcrafted rides are available for the kids. This rural celebration is about as Americana grassroots wholesome goodness as you’ll find anywhere in Minnesota on the Fourth of July.

Ending it all is a 10 p.m. fireworks display.

FYI: Click here to reach the North Morristown Fourth of July website page for a schedule of events and directions.

You can also check out the event Facebook page by clicking here.

Click here to view a photo essay from the 2013 celebration.

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The Minnesota Faces series is featured every Friday on Minnesota Prairie Roots.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Going strong for 122 years: Good old-fashioned Fourth of July fun in North Morristown July 1, 2014

JULY FOURTH in North Morristown is like a step back in time, a true grassroots celebration in the heart of rural southern Minnesota farm land.

A large crowd enjoys a free afternoon concert by Monroe Crossing.

A large crowd enjoys a free afternoon concert by Monroe Crossing on July 4, 2013. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Since 1892—that’s 122 years if you’re counting—Trinity Lutheran Church and School have observed our nation’s birthday, giving it the distinction as the oldest Fourth of July celebration in Minnesota.

The country church and school, and a cluster of several farm sites, are North Morristown, set among fields of corn and soybeans in Rice County west of Faribault.

The event is held at the North Morristown picnic grounds in southwestern Rice County.

The Fourth of July celebration is held at the North Morristown festival grounds, pictured here, in southwestern Rice County. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

At 9 a.m. on July 4, stands and games open at the festival grounds across from Trinity. The grounds remain open until after the 10 p.m. fireworks.

This is an event which offers a day of good old-fashioned fun and memory-building for all ages, including the 10 a.m. parade that runs a block, or maybe two.

An overview of the novelties shoppe and games and rides building.

An overview of the novelties shoppe and games and rides building. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

I can’t recall how many times I’ve been to North Morristown on the Fourth. But enough that I’d recommend this celebration to anyone, especially those seeking a sense of simplicity, community, history, patriotism and Americana. All define the Fourth of July here.

A peek inside the ice cream shoppe.

A peek inside the ice cream shoppe. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

From the parade to the flag raising to the patriotic program, medallion hunt, bingo, music, kids’ games and rides, silent auction and, let’s not forget the delicious homemade food, you’ll find it all.

Enjoying a pork sandwich and a beer.

Enjoying a pork sandwich and a beer at the 2013 Fourth of July celebration. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

The homemade pies are to die for as are the BBQ pork and hot beef sandwiches.

Blueberry pie.

Homemade blueberry pie. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

Just a tip. Don’t wait too long to order your slice of pie or you may not get the type you want. Pie sells quickly.

The vintage car ride for kids.

The vintage car ride for kids. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

I love everything about this celebration, but especially the kitschy kids’ rides that appear to have been around forever. I expect second and third generations are riding these rides. This event is definitely family-oriented.

The bluegrass band, Monroe Crossing, has performed at North Morristown the past seven years, presenting two concerts at the celebration.

The bluegrass band, Monroe Crossing, has performed at North Morristown the past seven years, presenting two concerts at the celebration. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

Music comprises a major part of the festivities. The well-known bluegrass band, Monroe Crossing, is slated to perform at 1 p.m. and again at 5 p.m. on the main stage. Also on the main stage will be the Roe Family Singers at noon and 4 p.m. and the Mountain Lake Gospel Singers at 7 p.m. There will also be music in the beer garden.

Zinghoppers, a band focused on entertainment for the preschool and elementary-aged crowd, performs at 2:30 p.m.

The bingo callers.

The bingo callers. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

To see a complete schedule of the day’s events (because I can’t possibly list them all here), for directions to North Morristown and more, click here.

Visitors stopping by the ice cream shop can drop donations for the entertainment into a drop box.

Visitors stopping by the ice cream shoppe could drop donations for the entertainment into a drop box at last year’s celebration. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

Just a few other things you should know: Parking and entertainment are free, although I’d suggest you buy a $1 celebration button and/or donate monies to support the festival. Bring a lawn chair, just in case. There are picnic tables and bleachers but those can fill quickly.

Hot pork and beef sandwiches and cold beverages are served from this stand.

Hot pork and beef sandwiches and cold beverages are served from this stand. Burgers and other foods are also available.

Keep your food and alcoholic beverages at home as they are not allowed onto the church or festival grounds. There’s plenty of great food and drink available for purchase. Lock your vehicles. This may be in the middle of nowhere, but…

Homemade pies and ice cream are served from the pie building.

Homemade pies and ice cream are served from the pie building. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

And did I tell you to order a slice of pie?

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling