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

 

“The day the music died” February 3, 2022

Portraits of the deceased musicians inside the Surf Ballroom. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2015)

SIXTY-THREE YEARS AGO TODAY, the music died. On February 3, 1959, three musicians—Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson—and a pilot died in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa. It was, and remains, a monumental moment in American music history.

A broad view of this massive ballroom which seats 2,100. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2015)

Today the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake still hosts a Winter Dance Party honoring the musicians who performed their final concert there on February 2, 1959. Early the next morning en route to Moorhead, Minnesota, the charter flight carrying the rock-n-roll musicians crashed in a field near Clear Lake in northern Iowa.

This display references “American Pie.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2015)

In 2015, Randy and I traveled an hour and 15 minutes south of Faribault along Interstate 35 to Clear Lake, where we toured the Surf. We were mere preschoolers when Holly and the others died. But the story of this tragedy imprinted upon us as teens, when Don McLean released his hit, “American Pie,” in 1971. How well I remember that tribute, the lyrics, the length of the nearly 8.5-minute song.

The ballroom stage. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2015)

While in Clear Lake on that May day seven years ago, we didn’t visit the crash site. Rain kept us away. But we certainly enjoyed our tour of the historic ballroom, site to many concerts from greats such as Duke Ellington, Lawrence Welk, the Beach Boys, the Doobie Brothers… The posters and photos, the aged booths, the stage and dance floor, all pay homage to the past, when ballrooms centered entertainment. The Surf, on the National Register of Historic Places and a designated National Historic Landmark, represents another time, another era, not simply a concert venue.

This sign summarizes the importance of the Surf. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2015)

Today I celebrate music and those who create it, past and present. Music enriches our lives beyond entertainment. Music, in many ways, writes like poetry into our hearts, souls and memories. And this February day, I honor the memories of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson, as I consider “the day the music died.”

#

TELL ME: Have you toured the Surf Ballroom or the crash site? Or do you have music memories of Holly, Valens and Richardson that you’d like to share?

FYI: To see more photos and stories from my visit to Clear Lake, Iowa, please click here.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In the heart of historic Cannon Falls November 1, 2021

Signage on the building housing Antiques on 4th, a bright, uncluttered shop with artfully-displayed merchandise and friendly shopkeepers. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

YOU CAN LEARN much about a small town by simply walking. And looking, really looking.

Two historic buildings in downtown Cannon Falls. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

On a recent day trip to Cannon Falls, I explored part of the downtown business district. Now on the National Register of Historic Places, the Cannon Falls Historic District includes 22 historically-significant structures.

Bold art on the side of the building identifies the local hardware store. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Given my love of historic architecture, and art, this Goodhue County community of 4,220 within a 40-minute drive of Minneapolis and St. Paul rates as a favorite regional destination.

Signage marks the popular winery in Cannon Falls. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Cannon Falls thrives with a well-known winery and bakery and an assortment of shops from antique to gift to hardware store. Toss in a mix of eateries, bars and a brewery and, well, there’s lots to see and do here. Plus, the town attracts outdoor enthusiasts who canoe the Cannon River and/or bike/hike the Cannon Valley Trail and Mill Towns Trail.

A mural at Cannon River Winery provides a backdrop for an outdoor space. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

During my mid-October visit, I popped into a few shops (including the bakery), discovered the lovely library and admired a new downtown mural. Because of COVID concerns, I skipped dining and imbibing. It was too early in the day and too cool to enjoy either outdoors.

Cannon Falls’ newest mural, a 2021 Youth Mural Arts Community Project, highlights geography, history and local interests. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Still, I found plenty to take in from the colorful new mural to the art inside the library to ghost signage.

Showing some love for Cannon Falls. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

I noticed, too, hometown pride in the I LOVE CANNON FALLS! tees in a storefront window.

I learn so much about communities by reading signs in windows. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

I noticed also notices taped in a display window, one of which alerted me to Mailbox Mysteries, which led me to the library around the corner which led me to sign up for this challenging endeavor. Now I’m trying to solve the “Gangster’s Gold” mystery with weekly clues snail mailed to me by the library.

Inside the library, I found this vivid “Once Upon a Time” mural. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Had I not done this walk-about through downtown Cannon Falls, I likely would have missed these nuances. The details which help define this community.

A scene in the center of downtown Cannon Falls reminds me of the town’s rural roots. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

As I meandered, I paused to watch a John Deere tractor roll through downtown pulling a wagon heaped with golden kernels of corn. This is, after all, an agricultural region.

A grain complex in Cannon Falls. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Later, Randy and I picnicked at Hannah’s Bend Park, the local grain elevator complex defining the nearby skyline. As we finished our lunch, a bald eagle soared overhead, wings spread wide. I expect the Cannon River drew the majestic bird here, to this small southeastern Minnesota town, this Cannon Falls.

#

FYI: Please check back for more posts from Cannon Falls and the surrounding area, including the Sogn Valley. Also enjoy my earlier post on Hi Quality Bakery by clicking here.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

So many reasons to visit Valley Grove, especially in autumn October 13, 2021

The artful gated entrance to Valley Grove. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

I EXPERIENCE SOMETHING SACRED in this place. This preserved parcel of land where two aged churches rise atop a hill in rural Nerstrand.

Looking down the driveway from the hilltop church grounds, a beautiful view of the valley below. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

This is Valley Grove, among my most treasured local natural spaces to seek solitude. Beauty. Peace. And a feeling of sacredness that stretches beyond spiritual.

The newer of the two Valley Grove churches. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, Randy and I sat on the front steps of the 1894 white clapboard church eating a picnic lunch. Bothersome bees hovered, drawn by the sweetness of Randy’s soda and fruit-laced yogurt and homemade chocolate chip cookies.

Photographed from a side of the clapboard church, the limestone church a short distance away. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

A stone’s throw away across the lawn sits the 1862 limestone church, constructed in the year of the U.S.-Dakota Conflict raging many miles away to the west.

The cemetery offers history, art and a place for quiet contemplation against a beautiful natural backdrop. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.
An in-process gravestone rubbing. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.
I find gravestone engravings especially interesting and often touching. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Valley Grove holds its own history as a community and spiritual gathering place for the area’s Norwegian immigrants. Walk the grounds of the cemetery next to the churches and you’ll read names of those of Norwegian ancestry. The cemetery remains well-used with new tombstones marking the passage of yet another loved one.

Information about Valley Grove is tucked inside a case on the side of the clapboard church. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

I have no personal connection to Valley Grove. But I hold a deep appreciation for the history, honored via the Valley Grove Preservation Society. That organization maintains and manages the church and grounds. And its a lovely, especially in autumn, acreage.

Farm sites and farmland surround Valley Grove. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Once I’d finished my turkey sandwich and other picnic foods, I set out with my camera to document. The views from this hilltop site are spectacular. Farm land and farm sites, the low moo of a cow auditorily reminding me of this region’s agrarian base.

Conservation and legacy are valued at Valley Grove. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.
Remnants of the Big Woods remain and can be seen from Valley Grove. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.
Following the prairie path back to the church grounds, just over the hill. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Tall dried prairie grasses frame nearly every view. Those who tend this land value its natural features of prairie and oak savanna. Paths lead visitors along prairie’s edge and onto the prairie to view distant colorful treelines, part of the Big Woods. The hilltop location offers incredible vistas.

On a mixed October afternoon of sun and clouds, a wildflower jolts color into the landscape. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

But up close is worth noting, too, especially the wildflowers.

An unexpected delight in the cemetery was an old-fashioned rosebush in full bloom. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

And in the cemetery I found an old-fashioned rosebush abloom in pink roses. Just like a rosebush that graced my childhood farm far away in southwest Minnesota where settlers and Native Peoples once clashed. I dipped my nose into blossom after blossom, breathing in the deep, perfumed, intoxicating scent.

Lots of wildflowers to enjoy. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Spending time at Valley Grove, even when church doors are not open, seems sacred. I feel the peace of this rural location. The quiet. My smallness, too, within the vastness of sky and land and spires rising.

High on the hill…Valley Grove churches. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

To walk here, to sit on the front steps of a church on the National Register of Historic Places is to feel a sense of gratitude for those who came before us. For those who today recognize the value of sacredness and continue to preserve Valley Grove. Who understand that the spiritual stretches beyond church doors. To the land. To the memories of loved ones. And to future generations.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A Minnesota northwoods experience: Climbing a fire tower (or not) October 6, 2021

Just a short distance from this roundabout by Pequot Lakes, you can see the Paul M. Thiede Fire Tower peeking through the treetops. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

Really high! Be careful and don’t climb if you fear heights or experience dizziness.

The warning sign and rules posted at the base of the fire tower. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

I heeded the warning and stayed put. Feet on the ground. Camera aimed skyward. Toward the 100-foot high Paul M. Thiede Fire Tower just outside Pequot Lakes in the central Minnesota lakes region. The top of the tower pokes through the trees, barely visible from State Highway 371. Turn off that arterial road onto Crow Wing County Road 11, turn left, and you’ve reached the fire tower park.

A little background on the park. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

The Paul M. Thiede Fire Tower Park (named after the county commissioner instrumental in developing this 40-acre park) offers visitors an opportunity to hike to, and then climb, the historic tower built in 1935 by the Civilian Conservation Corps. As one who prefers low to high, I was up for the 0.3 mile hike, but not the climb.

Lots of info packs signs in the outdoor interpretative area. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.
The iconic Smokey the Bear reminds us that we can prevent forest fires. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.
We are to blame for nearly all of Minnesota’s wildfires, according to this park sign. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

Before Randy and I headed onto the trail, though, we read the interpretative signage featuring information on the tower (which is on the National Register of Historic Places), Minnesota wildfires and other notable fire facts. This summer marked an especially busy fire season in the northern Minnesota wilderness. Those of us living in the southern part of the state felt the effects also with smoke drifting from the north (including Canada) and from the west (California). That created hazy skies and unhealthy air some days, unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.

Lots to read here, including Paul Bunyan’s fire tower story. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

We also read a bit of Paul Bunyan lore, a fun addition to the park located in the Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway area. This region of Minnesota is big on lumberjack stories about Paul and his sidekick, Babe the Blue Ox. The Pequot Lakes water tower is even shaped like Paul’s over-sized fishing bobber.

The pristine picnic shelter. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.
Signs point the way to the fire tower trail. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.
On the way to the tower, this large yellow mushroom temporarily distracted me. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

Once we’d finished reading, and then admiring the beautiful new picnic shelter, we started off on the pea rock-covered trail through the woods and toward the tower. Up. Up. Up.

When the trail gets especially steep, steps aid in the climb. I took this photo on the descent. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

After awhile, I began to tire, to wonder, how much farther? And just as I was about to declare myself done climbing steps, Randy assured me the tower was just around the bend. Yes.

Looking up at the tower, all of which I couldn’t fit in a photo, I determined I was not climbing that high. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

Once there, I stood at the base of the tower, reading the rules and warnings. I decided I best admire the ironwork from below. And I did. There’s a lot to be said for the 1930s workmanship of skilled craftsmen.

The underside of the tower shows layers of stairs. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

Randy, though, started up the layered steps leading to a seven-foot square enclosed look-out space at the top of the tower. At that height, fire watchers could see for 20 miles.

If you look closely, you can see Randy with only a few more flights to reach the top. At this point, he decided not to go any farther. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

As I watched, Randy climbed. Steady at first, but soon slowing, pausing to rest. “You don’t have to go all the way to the top,” I shouted from below. He continued, to just above treetop level, and then stopped. He had reached his comfort height level.

The tower is fenced at the base. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

I can only imagine how spectacular the view this time of year, in this season of autumn when the woods fire with color. We visited in mid-September, when color was just beginning to tinge trees.

Randy exits the tower, several flights short of reaching the top. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

Eventually, we began our retreat down the trail, much easier than ascending.

An incredibly vibrant mushroom thrives trailside. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

Occasionally I stopped to photograph scenery, including species of orange and yellow mushrooms. Simply stunning fungi.

Sadly…a carving on a birch tree along the trail. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

We also paused to visit with a retired couple on their way to the tower. They have a generational lake home in the area, like so many who vacation here. While we chatted, a young runner passed us. I admired her stamina and figured she’d face no physical challenges climbing the 100-foot tower.

The story of Sassy the bear is included in the interpretative area. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

Just like a domesticated black bear that once escaped and scampered up the tower. A ranger lured him down with a bag of marshmallows. That is not the stuff of Paul Bunyan lore, but of life in the Minnesota northwoods. This historic fire tower, which once provided a jungle gym for a bear and a place to scout for wildfires, now offers a unique spot to view the surrounding woods and lakes and towns. If you don’t fear heights or experience dizziness.

FYI: The Paul M. Thiede Fire Tower is open from dawn to dusk during the warm season, meaning not during Minnesota winters. Heed the rules. And be advised that getting to the tower is a work-out.

Right now should be a really good time to catch a spectacular view of the fall colors from the fire tower.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Minnesota mining disaster up close & personal at Milford Mine Memorial Park September 2, 2021

A peaceful and lovely scene at Milford Mine Memorial Park on a hazy July afternoon, rural Crosby. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

IN A BEAUTIFUL NATURAL SETTING, among the woods and water and wetlands, an American tragedy unfolded nearly 100 years ago on the Cuyuna Iron Range. In the late afternoon of February 5, 1924, water seeped into and then flooded the Milford Mine near Crosby, killing 41 miners in Minnesota’s worst mining disaster.

Information about the mine disaster is included in a traveling exhibit from the Minnesota Historical Society. I photographed this at the Steele County History Center in Owatonna several years ago. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Their deaths left 38 women without husbands. And 83 children without fathers.

This sign marks the gravel road entry to the memorial park. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

Today the memories of those 41 hardworking iron ore miners, and the seven who survived the mine collapse, are honored at Milford Mine Memorial Park. The Crow Wing County Park is located four miles north of Crosby, just off County Road 30. The Milford Mine Historic District is on the National Register of Historic Places, so important is this to the region’s mining history.

Those who died in the mine. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.
The first boardwalk lists the victims’ names, spaced along the path. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.
Signs along the trail honor each miner. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

This is truly a remarkable park that covers the history of this event in a deeply personal way. Through names on boardwalks and brief bios on signs, this park moves this disaster beyond statistics. Only then do we begin to understand, to feel the loss.

Honoring George Butkovich. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

George Butkovich, 29, an Austrian immigrant married to Anna Perpich (a well-known name to Minnesotans who remember our 34th and 36th governor, Rudy Perpich, a native of the Iron Range) died in the mine. He lived with Anna and their three children in Ironton.

A summary of the disaster. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

Emil A. Carlson, 29, from Finland, was the father of four and married to Elma. They lived in Crosby.

The bios of four who died in the mine. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

Nels R. Pitari, 37, also a Finnish immigrant, was married to Hilda. They lived in Brainerd and had four children, one only five months old at the time of his father’s death.

The park is not only a great place to learn about history, but also a great place to hike and enjoy nature.
Bold berries pop alongside the trail. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.
Not to be missed, the many wildflowers gracing this park. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

According to signage at Milford Memorial Park, the park “is an attempt to preserve the memory of those who gave their lives to pursue the American dream, provide for their families and build their community.” That’s necessary to understand given the importance of iron ore mining in this region. The high grade ore from the Milford Mine was used in the production of steel. This region of Minnesota was built around iron ore mining.

History honored and shared… Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

Many who came to this area arrived from across the US, Canada and the European continent. They were a diverse group, looking to better their lives, to raise their families in a new place, to build strong communities.

Site of the timber shaft. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.
What I presume to be iron ore. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.
The entry to the mine shaft is fenced around and over. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

In walking through the park, pausing often to read the history of this place and to view marked sites like the machine and blacksmith shops and the mine and timber shafts, I felt a sense of reverence, a sense of understanding of the loss connected to this land.

Originally named Lake Foley, the lake has since been renamed Milford Lake. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.
Water lilies in Milford Lake, Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.
A flower brightens woods’ edge near the lake. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

Investigators determined that pressure from Lake Foley, connected to adjoining wetlands, caused water to rush into the mine resulting in the collapse of the mine’s walls. Within 20 minutes of that occurrence, the 200-foot deep mine shaft filled to within 15 feet of the surface. That allowed only minimal time for the miners to attempt an escape. Only seven got out. They, too, are recognized at the memorial park on a survivors’ boardwalk: Carl Frals, Harry Hosford, Mike Zakotnik…

Lengthy memorial boardwalks curve into the park. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

As I walked the boardwalks and trails, I felt sometimes overwhelmed by the sheer tragedy of the Milford Mine Disaster. So much loss. So much grief and pain. So many father-less children. And it is that, perhaps, which touched me the most.

NOTE: Milford Mine Memorial Park is open daily from sunrise to sunset. I encourage you to visit, to experience this important part of Minnesota history.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Deerwood: Water tower on the range August 30, 2021

An historic 1914 water tower in Deerwood, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

A TIME EXISTED WHEN I PAID minimal attention to water towers. They all looked the same. Simple silver metal structures rising on leggy supports above prairie towns, dwarfed only by grain elevators.

Through the decades, those standard water towers have mostly vanished, replaced by more modern holding tanks. I understand the need to upgrade, to improve, to advance. Communities grow. Needs change. My city of Faribault is currently planning a new water tower, which will be visible from Interstate 35. If Faribault ever housed a simple metal tower, it was long before I moved here.

Community identifier. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

But in the small town of Deerwood in Crow Wing County, a vintage water tower still stands, by a city park with picnic shelter and splash pad, near an apartment complex, next to the fire station and across the street from the historic Deerwood Auditorium (city hall and police department).

Randy and I discovered the 1914 water tower when we stopped for a picnic lunch en route to a family lake cabin on a Saturday afternoon in July. Previous drives north, we drove right through Deerwood without pause. In a hurry to get to our destination.

That’s problematic. That word, hurry. By hurrying, we too often miss simple delights. Like the historic Deerwood water tower.

Looking up at the tower offers artistic and architectural angles. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

I grabbed my camera to photograph the tower, attempting to document it from multiple perspectives. Architecturally. Artistically. Historically.

Identifying construction information at the base of the Deerwood water tower. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

Upon later researching the Deerwood water tower, built by the Des Moines Bridge & Iron Co., I learned it is one of five such Cuyuna Iron Range water towers on the National Register of Historic Places. Added in 1980, the other towers are located in Crosby, Cuyuna, Ironton and Trommaid. They are known collectively as the “Cuyuna Range Municipally-Owned Elevated Metal Water Tanks.”

Just another underneath view. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

The towers, erected between 1912-1918, were of historical importance in development of the Cuyuna Iron Range. Tax revenue generated from the iron ore mines funded their construction.

Posted on a street corner by the water tower, a positive message. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

I appreciate that these five towns on the iron range valued their aged water towers enough to pursue and acquire historical designation. The water towers represent a time in Minnesota history. They represent, too, the architecture and art of yesteryear.

TELL ME: I’d like to hear of vintage water towers you’ve noticed and appreciate. Tell me, too, why you value them.

Please click here to read my previous post about the historic Deerwood Auditorium. And click here to read my post about the town’s deer sculpture in Elmer Park.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

About that auditorium in Deerwood August 27, 2021

Deerwood Auditorium, located a block from the water tower. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

THE STURDY STONE STRUCTURE anchoring a corner in Deerwood drew my photographic and historic interest during a recent stop in this central Minnesota community in Crow Wing County.

What craftsmanship in this stone-faced building. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

How could it not? Buildings like this with a fieldstone facing hearken from a bygone era, from days when intense hands-on labor factored in to construction. Workers hauled 800 tons of fieldstones from the site of the Cuyuna Country Club to build the Deerwood Auditorium between 1935-1936.

So many fieldstones harvested and used in construction of the auditorium. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

That’s a lot of rocks. I understand, not because I ever hauled that much stone anywhere. But, as a child, I spent many a summer plucking rocks from farm fields in southwestern Minnesota and tossing them into a wagon. Picking rock is hard work. Darn hard.

Imagine the time, labor and effort involved in constructing these walls. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

I admire the tenacity, determination and ingenuity of our forefathers. They relied on local natural resources to build buildings. And, in the case of the Deerwood Auditorium, materials also from the old Meacham Mine machine building to incorporate into the structure.

The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

Donations and Works Progress Administration funding and labor were also part of this project.

A side and rear view of the building. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

The completed building included village council chambers, a kitchen, locker rooms, library, space for fire fighting equipment and that all-purpose 38 x 80-foot gym with overlooking second floor balconies. Today the auditorium, on the National Register of Historic Places, serves as a community center and gathering spot for celebrations like weddings, birthdays and family reunions.

Another side view of the historic Deerwood Auditorium. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

Back during construction, locals aimed to have the building finished in time for the community’s annual fall lutefisk dinner. It was completed for the event, which drew an estimated 1,000 diners to feast on the lye-soaked cod of Norwegian culinary delight.

The front entry with identifying usage information. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

On the July Saturday I paused to photograph this WPA building, I knew none of these historical details. I couldn’t get inside the Deerwood Auditorium, today home to city hall, the police department and community center. Oh, how I wish I could step inside. To take in the history of this place. To imagine locals packed shoulder to shoulder forking down slippery, smelly lutefisk, their conversations creating a deafening din.

Once the library entry… Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

I settled instead for appreciating the exterior workmanship, the talent and strength required to build this remarkable building. The craftsmanship. The hours and hours of labor. That shows in a structure that exudes strength, that honors those who work with their hands, for their work endures.

Please check back next week for one final (of three) post from Deerwood.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

An architecturally historic bridge in Waterford Township November 9, 2020

NOTE: This post features photos from a mid-August stop at the historic Waterford bridge near Northfield, Minnesota.

The historic Waterford Bridge, located in Waterford Township in Dakota County, Minnesota.

 

TO THE MINNESOTA DEPARTMENT of Transportation, the historic Waterford Bridge some two miles northeast of Northfield is tagged as bridge number L3275. I suppose bridges, like roads, require such numerical identifiers.

 

This is truly an artful and unique bridge in southern Minnesota.

 

Much more than a name or number, this “140-foot, steel, riveted and bolted, Camelback through truss on concrete abutments” bridge, according to MnDOT, stands as an historic bridge spanning the Cannon River.

 

The new plain-looking bridge.

 

Rare in design here in Minnesota, the 1909 bridge closed to vehicle traffic in 2009 and was rehabilitated in 2014. A new, non-descript modern bridge replaced it.

 

Weeds, wildflowers and other plant growth surround the bridge.

 

I’ve long wanted to see the old bridge in Waterford Township as it reminds me of a similar truss bridge from my childhood. That bridge took US Highway 71/Minnesota State Highway 19 traffic across the Minnesota River near Morton. When my dad drove our family Chevy across the bridge en route to Minneapolis once a year to visit relatives, my siblings and I pounded on the interior roof to scare any trolls lurking underneath at water’s edge. That all seems silly now, reflecting as an adult. But, back then, it was great fun.

 

The narrow path to the bridge.

 

I stopped along the path to photograph a butterfly atop a thistle. I saw multiple butterflies.

 

Fast forward to today and my desire to see a similar-in-design bridge. Randy had actually driven across the Waterford Bridge at one time while doing some automotive repair work for a farmer in the area. So he easily found it. After parking, we set out to reach the bridge, weaving through a narrow pathway bordered by trees, thistles, goldenrod, wildflowers and other plants. Boulders blocked the deteriorating paved trail to motor vehicle traffic.

 

I hesitated, but only for a moment.

 

Upon reaching the bridge, I wondered if we should even venture onto it given the BRIDGE CLOSED—BRIDGE NOT SAFE NO TRESPASSING signage. But the deck looked safe…and many others had obviously been here before us.

 

In need of paint, or perhaps replacement.

 

The Waterford Bridge spans the Cannon River.

 

There’s lots of graffiti on the bridge.

 

Once on the bridge, I was surprised at its condition. Rusting metal. Flaking paint. Weathered boards. Graffiti. Vandalized signage. Cracked pavement.

 

Historical details on a sign posted high above the bridge deck.

 

As I walked, dodging dog poop, I considered the condition of the bridge built by the Hennepin Bridge Company with Dakota County Surveyor Charles A. Forbes leading the project design. His name and that of other government officials are listed on a plaque atop one end of the bridge which now appears abandoned to the elements. The bridge is also on the National Register of Historic Places.

 

Tubers exit the Cannon River near the new Waterford Bridge.

 

The new Waterford Bridge photographed from the old bridge with tubers in the distance at river’s edge.

 

A couple carries their kayaks along the narrow path leading to the historic Waterford Bridge.

 

Under that bridge, the Cannon River flows, muddy and brown, carrying tubers, canoeists and kayakers—we met two of them, saw others—to places eastward. We watched as one couple carried their kayaks along the narrow path to the bridge with plans to travel eight miles to Randolph, a journey they expected to take three hours.

 

The muddy Cannon River, a popular waterway for water sport enthusiasts.

 

It was a lovely summer day to be on the water. Or, like us, to walk across an historic bridge that, for me, bridges past to present via childhood memories.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Let peace & love guide us August 26, 2020

 

It’s truly timely. The message posted in windows spanning the front of an historic building in Dundas.

 

 

VOTE FOR OUR PLANET EARTH

VOTE FOR OUR DEMOCRACY

VOTE DEAR ONES VOTE

 

 

And then in the windows to the right side of the front door:

LET THE SPIRIT OF PEACE

AND THE POWER OF EVERLASTING LOVE

BE YOUR GUIDE

—JOHN ROBERT LEWIS

 

 

And then above the door:

BLACK LIVES MATTER

I spotted these powerful words while in this small southeastern Minnesota community on Saturday for a history cruise. And I felt compelled to stop and photograph the scene, to share this with you before continuing on to the tour.

As someone who grew up after and near the end of turbulent times—the Civil Rights movement (with its racial injustices) and the Vietnam War and an increasing awareness of environmental issues—I get it. The teenage me embraced the peace symbol, wrapped my wrist in a POW bracelet, wore Earth shoes. That was decades ago. Yet, it seems sometimes that little has changed.

 

 

And so those words resonate with me in their familiarity. I appreciate the gentleness of the selected words, yet the power behind them. Urging people to vote by calling them “dear ones” feels intensely personal and loving. Now, more than ever, we must exercise our right to vote. Men and women have died for our freedom, ensuring our democracy and the right to vote. Others have marched for the right to vote, including long-time Georgia Congressman and Civil Rights leader John Lewis, who died in July from cancer.

The quote from Lewis that peace and love should prevail is something we can all aspire to in this deeply divided nation in need of healing. I appreciate the positive message. The words uplift, rather than press down. They enlighten rather than oppress. They encourage rather than attack.

 

 

And, yes, black lives do matter. As does every life. I recognize the frustration, the anger, the desire for change. I don’t condone the violence, the looting, the destruction, which detract from the cause. Let peace and everlasting love be our guide.

John Lewis marched for voting rights for blacks across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma in 1965 and suffered a skull fracture at the hands of police. He organized voter registration drives and participated in lunch counter sit-ins. And here we are, so many decades later, with root cause issues unresolved, people still struggling, hurting, protesting.

 

 

If only we remember how “dear” we are to one another, how the words we choose, the actions we take, matter, affect others. Let peace and the power of everlasting love be our guide.

 

 

FYI: The building where these messages are posted was built of locally-quarried limestone in 1866 as the Ault General Store and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is the only remaining structure from Dundas’ original commercial district, which ran along Second Street. When the railroad came to town, businesses moved to the west side of the Cannon River near the new train station. That included the Ault Store.

The local newspaper, the Dundas News, was housed here from 1876-1979 as was the town’s first library on the second floor. Today the old store is in a residential neighborhood and a residence. But it still retains that feel of community, of centering knowledge and of expressing opinion.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling