Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

So much to do this weekend in the Faribault area September 16, 2022

Performers at the 2019 Hispanic Heritage Celebration in Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2019)

IF EVER THERE WAS A WEEKEND packed with community activities, especially in Faribault, this is the weekend. Here’s a summary list of events, most of which I’ve attended through the years.

Let’s start with Friday, September 16:

The artsy front of a Ford Torino at a past car show. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

The final Faribault Car Cruise Night of the season takes place from 6 – 9 pm in the parking lot of Faribault Harley-Davidson. Besides vintage vehicles, there will also be food vendors and music.

Moving to Saturday, September 17:

Goats were a popular draw at Family Day in 2019. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2019)

Start out early by shopping the Faribault Farmers’ Market, which opens at 7 am in Central Park and closes at noon. But this isn’t any ordinary market day. This is Family Day with farm animals, a bounce house and more for kids. That starts at 9 am and continues til noon.

Flea market vendors set up shop on the grounds of the Rice County Historical Society during a past market. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Blocks away to the north, the Rice County Historical Society hosts its popular Fall Flea Market from 8 am – 2 pm in the parking lot and on the grounds.

At 11 am, until 2 pm, Harry Brown’s is hosting a Car Show at the fairgrounds.

Riding her Harley during a June 2020 Car Cruise Night. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo June 2020)

Meanwhile, way across town, Faribault Harley-Davidson celebrates an Anniversary Bash from 9 am – 10 pm as the motorcycle dealer marks 45 years in business. There will be a bike show and ride, music and food vendors.

At Divine Mercy Catholic Church on the south edge of Faribault, folks will gather from 4 – 9 pm for the annual Spirit Fest. That features food, music, an auction, bake sale, hay maze, drive-in movie, fireworks and much more.

Out-of-town events on Saturday, September 17:

The Montgomery Arts & Heritage Center, 206 First Street North on the north end of downtown. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo August 2020)

The Arts & Heritage Center of Montgomery has a morning full of activities that include a book-signing by Barbara Marshak of New Prague, author of Painted Skies, beginning at 10 am. Sister Anita Smisek presents on “Minnesota’s Big Woods Musicians” at 11 am. Guests can also view the work of wildlife artist Tom Miller, current exhibitor, and see the Czech dancer topiaries created by Meghan Petricka. The arts center opens at 9 am and closes at noon.

Dancers perform at the 2019 Hispanic Heritage Celebration. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2019)

From 11 am – 6 pm at Central Park in Northfield, Hispanic Heritage Celebration 2022 is happening. That event features food vendors, arts and crafts activities, dance and art, all themed to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month.

One more nearby event, on Sunday, September 18:

Wagon rides are part of the country social. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

The Valley Grove Preservation Society hosts the Valley Grove Country Social from 1 – 4 pm at its hilltop location near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. This is the site of two historic churches. The event includes an organ recital at 2 pm, Scandinavian music performed outdoors, prairie and cemetery walks, horse-drawn wagon rides, rope-making and more.

There you go. Rain, unfortunately, or fortunately since we need moisture, is in the forecast for Friday and Saturday…

For detailed information on all of these events, please search online.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Loving home-grown ice cream shops like The Blast September 14, 2022

A sign points to the Blast’s location in downtown Northfield, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

THERE’S STILL TIME. Still time to indulge in a sweet treat before winter closes in and home-grown ice cream shops shutter for the season here in Minnesota.

The Blast walk-up window is located at the end of the “tunnel” to the left. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

On an August weekday afternoon in Northfield, Randy and I popped into The Blast, an ice cream shop in an out-of-the-way spot just west of the library, off Division Street and down the sidewalk toward the Cannon River. The walk-up window is located inside a “tunnel” wedged between buildings and labeled “The Nutting Block, Est. 1893.”

A steady flow of customers kept this employee busy taking ice cream orders. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

We happened upon this business a previous summer Saturday, but left after seeing the lengthy line of customers. This time, on a Wednesday, there was no waiting. Rather, the friendly teen behind the window waited patiently for us to choose from a wide array of treats.

A Red Raspberry Sundae. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

I opted for the limited specialty Puppy Chow Flurry while Randy chose a Red Raspberry Sundae. Puppy Chow is a snack made from Chex cereal covered first in melted chocolate and peanut butter, then coated in powdered sugar.

Lots of choices at The Blast. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Selections at The Blast are vast and deciding isn’t easy when the choices in smoothies, slushies, shakes, malts, floats, frosties, flurries, sundaes and cones seem nearly endless.

A group orders ice cream treats on an August weekday afternoon. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

We both enjoyed our soft-serve ice cream treats at a riverside picnic table on a perfect summer day. There’s something about summer and ice cream that go together, especially soft-serve ordered at a walk-up window.

Through the order window, I spotted this portrait. Anna drew multiple portraits and hid them around the shop, her co-worker told me. A fun discovery. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

The Blast has adjusted hours now that school is back in session and days are shorter. Current hours are 3:15 – 8 pm Monday – Friday and 11 am – 8 pm Saturday and Sunday.

As soon as I saw this sign, I knew I would order the Puppy Chow Flurry. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

As with the limited edition Puppy Chow Flurry, The Blast continues to offer seasonal or limited edition specialty flavors. Like the current pumpkin spice and apple crisp, oh, so fitting for fall in Minnesota. This time of year we crave those flavors.

The Puppy Chow Flurry. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

My appreciation for home-grown ice cream shops with creative offerings runs deep. I’m all in when it comes to trying something new, something different, something decidedly cold and yummy and all about summer here in southern Minnesota.

This sandwich board sign along Division Street directs customers down the sidewalk toward the river, to The Blast. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

TELL ME: Do you have a favorite home-grown ice cream shop? What’s your ice cream treat of choice? The Blast also has a location in Owatonna, where I’ve found another terrific ice cream place, The S’Cream.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The poetry of the Cannon River in Northfield September 13, 2022

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A portion of the Poem Steps descending to the River Walk in Northfield, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

WELCOME TO THE RIVER starry-eyed…

The historic Ames Mill, on the far side of the bridge, hugs the Cannon River. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

Thus begins a poem authored by 17 Northfield area poets and gracing steps leading to the River Walk in the heart of this historic southeastern Minnesota community.

The backs of buildings along the river. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

Like the poets drawn to the river to create these inspirational Poem Steps, I, too, feel drawn to the river that runs through Northfield. Every time I’m downtown, I aim first for the path that traces the Cannon River behind the mostly aged buildings lining Division Street.

A section of the river-themed poem up close. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

There’s something simply magnetic about a river. Listen to the words of these speaking waters. I can almost hear the stories—of the Indigenous Peoples, here first, of the settlers who followed and harnessed the water to mill flour, of the poets and others who today listen to these speaking waters.

Flowers fill planters on a riverside balcony. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

The Cannon in Northfield, as it has for generations, brings people to water’s edge. To angle for fish, to dine, to gather as community, to celebrate the arts, to simply be in the river’s presence.

A flower-edged pedestrian bridge spans the Cannon River. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

I appreciate how this community recognizes the historic, poetic and natural beauty of the river and shares that via the River Walk. It’s such a beautiful walk, beauty enhanced by potted flowers and hanging baskets that jolt vibrant hues into the landscape. A pedestrian bridge provides a middle-of-the-river perspective.

Lush flowers spill from a planter on the River Walk. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

Listen. The river tells us where it needs to go.

Historic buildings define downtown Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

And so I follow the river path, then loop up to the fronts of businesses along Division Street. Yet, the essence of the river remains, her poetry inspiring me.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

So much to appreciate about Northfield’s Bridge Square September 7, 2022

An overview of Bridge Square looking toward Division Street. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

BRIDGE SQUARE IN THE HEART of historic downtown Northfield holds a yesteryear appeal as a long-time community gathering spot along the Cannon River. Today its purpose remains as relevant as ever. I’ve observed festivals and concerts here, focused events like Earth Day and the Riverwalk Market Fair, read poetry here, heard music, watched college students chalk messages onto concrete. Individuals, too, pause here to enjoy the fountain sculpture and other art, to picnic, to simply embrace this beautiful spot.

A banner in downtown Northfield promotes the community’s annual celebration. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

This park centers Northfield, home to many home-grown shops and eateries and best-known perhaps for the September 7, 1876, attempted robbery of the First National Bank by the James-Younger Gang. This week Northfield honors the long ago townspeople and a heroic bank cashier who stood up to the outlaws. The town will buzz with activities and people, all here to celebrate Defeat of Jesse James Days. That runs September 7-11.

The Northfield Historical Society by Bridge Square once housed the First National Bank. The bank entry is around the corner and not shown here. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Weeks before this event I was in Northfield, first touring the Northfield Cemetery to view the gravesites of bank employee Joseph Lee Heywood and Swedish immigrant Nicolaus Gustafson, both shot and killed by the outlaws. Gustafson, at the time of the raid, was vending vegetables in, I believe, current day Bridge Square. The First National Bank is located around the corner.

The popcorn wagon has set up in Bridge Square since the 1970s. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Popcorn boxes lined up in the wagon. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

The popcorn wagon brings back memories of Vern’s Popcorn Stand in my hometown of Vesta. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

My focus on that afternoon was not on the historic robbery, but rather on Bridge Square. I noticed first the 1918 popcorn wagon which is open from mid-May to mid-September and operated by FiftyNorth, the local center for seniors. It was closed when I was there. But I could imagine the sound of popping kernels, the scent, the taste of buttery popcorn scooped into boxes. There’s something about a popcorn stand that hearkens to bygone days.

“How much for that doggie in the window?” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

And there’s something about an old-time barbershop such as Bridge Square Barbers with a barbershop pole and then, bonus, a doggie in the window. I spotted the dog lying on a fleece bed in a corner. Seemingly content, only lifting his head when I approached for a close-up photo.

Love this barbershop dog photographed through the window. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Earlier this year a sign in that barbershop window prompted me to write a story, “Barbershop Prompt,” which I submitted to a writing competition. My story earned second place in creative nonfiction and will publish in volume 31 of The Talking Stick, a northern Minnesota-based anthology. I also earned an honorable mention in fiction. Once the book publishes, I’ll share more.

Beautiful flowers circle an art installation in Bridge Square near the Cannon River. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

I also took in the art of Bridge Square. Northfield is big on the arts with an Artists on Main Street program, sidewalk poetry and other art installations in addition to the performing arts.

The historic Ames Mill sits along the Cannon River. Originally a flour mill, the mill later was used to produce Malt-O-Meal hot cereals and is today owned by Post Consumer Brands. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

And then there’s the history. Aged buildings like the riverside Ames Mill. The river running through is a real asset to the downtown, especially with a river walk behind buildings hugging Division Street.

Detailed top of the art installation. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

At the heart of all of it is Bridge Square—a place which melds history and art, land and sky and river, commerce and individuality. Most importantly, the village square brings peoples together to converse, to celebrate, to honor, to discuss, to disagree, to buy popcorn from the popcorn wagon, to simply be.

Bird in flight in the Bridge Square sculpture. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

TELL ME: Does your community have an outdoor gathering spot like Bridge Square?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Honoring those who defeated Jesse James in Northfield September 6, 2022

Posted on the First National Bank in Northfield, now the Northfield Historical Society. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

IF NOT FOR A QUICK-THINKING bank cashier and determined townspeople, things could have ended much differently for the community of Northfield on September 7, 1876, when the James-Younger Gang rode into town intent on robbing the First National Bank.

This is where it all happened. The bank is along Division Street in historic downtown Northfield near Bridge Square. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Markers ring supposed bullet holes on the building exterior. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

The James-Younger Gang re-enactors riding in the Defeat of Jesse James Days parade. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

That brave employee, Joseph Lee Heywood, stood up to the robbers who demanded cash from the bank vault. In the end, he lost his life, shot in the head. Likewise, Swedish immigrant Nicolaus Gustafson, unable to understand the outlaws’ commands to get off the street, was shot in the head and died four days later. Outlaws Clell Miller and William Chadwell, (also known as William Stiles) died, too, in the ensuing chaos as they attempted to escape.

A t-shirt displayed in the front window of the Northfield Historical Society (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Townspeople reacted to the bank raid by throwing skillets and bricks and aiming birdshot at the would-be robbers fleeing on horseback through the narrow streets of this river town. Their efforts, along with those of Heywood, effectively ended a long string of bank and train robberies across the country. The three Younger brothers were shot and captured in a gun battle near Madelia while Frank and Jesse James escaped to Missouri.

The Northfield Historical Society entrance by Bridge Square. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

That’s the summary backstory of “The Most Famous Bank Robbery in American History” as tagged by the Northfield Historical Society based in the bank building and with a permanent exhibit, “The James-Younger Gang Bank Raid.” I toured the exhibit in 2012 and highly-recommend it to learn the full story behind this event.

Posted just outside the NHS entrance. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

A toy horse is part of the front window display at the NHS. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

One of the many events during Defeat of Jesse James Days. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

This historic happening focuses Defeat of Jesse James Days, beginning Wednesday in Northfield. I’ve attended that, too, but mostly stay away given it’s one of the biggest community celebrations in Minnesota, meaning crowds. Honoring Heywood and the brave townspeople of 1876, the September 7-11 event includes a long list of activities like the popular bank raid re-enactments, an Outlaw Run, car and craft shows, an art festival, a rodeo, tractor and truck pulls, a parade and much more. Annually the Joseph Lee Heywood Distinguished Service Award is “given to a Northfield citizen who exemplifies a commitment to public service, which Heywood lived.”

This sign on a building marks the Northfield Cemetery. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

In the midst of all this, I’d suggest a visit to a place away from the crowds. The Northfield Cemetery. Here Joseph Lee Heywood and Nicolaus Gustafson lie buried. A few weeks ago I sought out their graves given my interest and my desire to honor these two men who lost their lives during the failed bank raid.

Joseph Lee Heywood‘s gravesite. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)
A portrait of Joseph Lee Heywood is posted in the Northfield Historical Society window. Although I’m not certain, I believe the other images are of his wife and daughter. He remarried after Mattie died. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Heywood’s marker up close. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

The bank cashier’s burial spot is decidedly prominent, his grave marker rising high within a squared off space. Mattie Buffum Heywood, who died in May 1873 at the age of 34, is buried by her 39-year-old husband.

A surprisingly new marker marks the grave of Nicolaus Gustafson. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Finding Nicolaus Gustafson’s grave took effort. Eventually I found it near the cemetery entrance next to the chain link fence along busy Division Street South. I expected an aged tombstone like Heywood’s, not the more modern granite marker with the postscript inscription, A SWEDISH IMMIGRANT SHOT BY ROBBERS. Gutafson, who had just turned 30, arrived in Northfield from neighboring Millersburg on the day of the robbery to sell produce with another Swedish immigrant. He was buried in Northfield because the Swedes did not yet have a church or cemetery. In 1994, the good people of Northfield installed the gravestone gracing his final resting spot. A historic marker at Christdala Church also honors Gustafson.

This marker in front of Christdala Church, rural Millersburg, honors Nicolaus Gustafson. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2020)

In all of this, there is something to be said for the strength of those who are now part of our history. Their actions, whether intentional or not, determined outcomes. For communities. For families. For the future. How many lives were saved because of Joseph Lee Heywood, because of those determined Northfielders, even because of a Swedish immigrant rushing to a street corner?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Blanketing veterans with compassion July 6, 2022

Jodi Frederick of the Minneapolis VA, left to right, and Jane Larson, Sharon Babcock and Lori Clausen of the Northfield-based DAR. (Photo courtesy of the DAR)

IT’S ONE THING TO EXPRESS gratitude to veterans with the words, “Thank you for your service.” It’s quite another to match those words with actions.

A patriotic-themed fidget blanket created by Sharon Babcock. (Photo courtesy of the DAR)

For a Northfield, Minnesota-based women’s service organization, caring for veterans, specifically those with disabilities, extends to doing something. Members of the Josiah Edson Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) created 80 fidget blankets for veterans and others struggling with Alzheimer’s or other disabilities. Most of the blankets were recently donated to the Minneapolis VA Medical Center with the rest given to area care facilities.

Fidget blanket crafted by Jane Larson. (Photo courtesy of DAR)

As the daughter of a Korean War veteran who spent time at the VA and as the daughter of a mother who lived many years in a care center, I feel personal gratitude to this group of compassionate seamstresses—Ellen Blume, Jackie Hunt, Jane Larson, Sharon Babcock, Sue Rew, Vicki Kline and Jean Nelson’s students in Indiana. They donated materials, time and talent to craft these lap-sized blankets which will help calm fidgety hands. They care.

Fidget blanket created by Ellen Blume. (Photo courtesy of DAR)

Individuals with Alzheimer’s experience restlessness and anxiety, often expressing that in constant hand movement. Fidget blankets provide sensory therapy, a way to keep hands occupied in a safe and soothing way with zippers, ribbons, ball fringe, buttons, lace, Velcro pockets and more.

A hearts full of love fidget blanket crafted by Sue Rew. (Photo courtesy of DAR)

At at time when I need, more than ever, to learn of the goodness of others, I feel uplifted by what this group has done, especially for our veterans. Members of the DAR, 185,000 members strong in 3,000 chapters across the U.S., focus on projects promoting historic preservation, education and patriotism. All members can trace their lineage to an individual who contributed to securing American independence during the Revolutionary War.

The Northfield chapter is two years into their fidget blanket project with plans to continue. I deeply appreciate their efforts, how their care and compassion extend beyond words into actions.

TELL ME: Are you familiar with fidget blankets? Are you part of a creative team that does something to help others? I’d like to hear.

Note: A special thank you to Jane Larson, member of the Josiah Edson Chapter of the DAR, for sharing this information and photos with me.

 

Northfield tunnel art features spring in the Big Woods & more May 11, 2022

Hidden Falls at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park is featured in a public mural by Adam Turman. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

IN THE UNLIKLIEST of places—in the underpass tunnels of a roundabout—bold, nature-themed murals flash color onto concrete in Northfield. I love this public art created by renowned Minneapolis muralist Adam Turman in the pedestrian and biking underpasses at the intersection of Minnesota State Highway 246 and Jefferson Parkway.

The rare Dwarf Trout Lily grows in only several places in the world, including at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

The art is unexpected. It’s vibrant. And it honors the ecologies of the Northfield area with four focused themes: Nerstrand Big Woods, the Cannon River, Oak Savannas and Prairie.

The recreational trail leading to one of the underpasses. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

With the exception of winter, the paintings also cover three of Minnesota’s four distinct seasons.

An overview of the Nerstrand Big Woods underpass mural. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

Because it’s spring, I’ll start by showing you the spring-themed art depicting nearby Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. The park proves a popular hiking spot with attractions like Hidden Falls, the rare Minnesota Dwarf Trout Lily and, in the autumn, spectacular colors.

A rare Dwarf Trout Lily up close. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

Seeing these murals for the first time calls for a thoughtful pace of studying the art, appreciating it and reflecting on how beautiful the natural world in and around Northfield.

Wild geraniums grace the Big Woods mural. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

Vehicles may be passing overhead, but inside those underpasses the quiet beauty of nature prevails.

Adam Turman’s painting of Hidden Falls at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

This roundabout came about because of a need for improved pedestrian safety and traffic flow along stretches of roadway used by commuters and kids/families going to and from school. I expect the roundabout, once people adjusted to it, has achieved its goal.

Stepping stones and rock cairn in the Big Woods. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

And then to have that bonus art beneath, well, what a welcome addition to an otherwise utilitarian project. The public art in Northfield brings to mind another such space that would work well for a nature-themed mural. That’s the tunnel under Highway 371 in Nisswa, a small, but busy, tourist town in the central Minnesota lakes region. Last time I walked through the 371 underpass from downtown Nisswa to Nisswa Lake Park, chalk art marked walls. I can envision Adam Turman’s bold graphic murals brightening this pedestrian and biking route with scenes depicting nature or perhaps Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox of Minnesota northwoods lore.

The artist’s signature. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

“Up North” themes more work done by Turman, who tags himself as an artist, muralist and screen printer. In my community, he’s created, loon, Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness and S’mores art for throws and pillowcases crafted at Faribault Mill (formerly Faribault Woolen Mill). He’s created for many other entities throughout Minnesota and the world. Target. Duluth Trading Company. The Minnesota State Fair. And many more.

Into Nerstrand Big Woods State Park via an underpass mural. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

For now, I appreciate seeing Turman’s work here in southern Minnesota, in neighboring Northfield.

PLEASE CHECK BACK for posts featuring the other three themed art tunnels in Northfield.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflections from Redwood & Rice counties on NATIVE LIVES MATTER May 2, 2022

Part of a temporary public art installation at Northfield’s Earth Day Celebration. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

IN THE GEOGRAPHICAL BACKGROUND of my childhood, I knew of the “Indian Reservations” to the northwest near Granite Falls and then to the east near Morton. My hometown of Vesta sits between the two, no longer referred to as “reservations” but as the Upper Sioux Indian Community and the Lower Sioux Indian Community.

A Dakota man and Alexander Faribault are depicted trading furs in this sculpture at Heritage Park near the Straight River and site of Faribault’s trading post. Ivan Whillock created the sculpture which graces the Bea Duncan Memorial Fountain in my community of Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2012)

Today I live 120 miles to the east in Faribault, next to Wapacuta Park. Rice County is the homeland of the Wahpekute (not Wapacuta), a tribal band of the Dakota.

The Earth Day art carried two messages: NATIVE LIVES MATTER and CLIMATE JUSTICE. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

A temporary public art installation at the recent Earth Day Celebration in neighboring Northfield prompted me to reflect on Indigenous people in southern Minnesota. Growing up in Redwood County, my knowledge of area Native Americans focused primarily on “The Sioux Uprising.” History teachers then used that term, rather than the current-day “US-Dakota War of 1862,” which should tell you a thing or ten about how biased that perspective back in the 1970s. How thankful I am that my awareness and understanding have grown and that attitudes are shifting to better reflect all sides of history.

The message grows, blossoms in the Earth Day art. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

The NATIVE LIVES MATTER message bannering the art installation at Northfield’s Earth Day event reinforces a Land Acknowledgment Statement adopted by the City of Northfield in November 2020. That reads as follows:

We stand on the homelands of the Wahpekute and other Bands of the Dakota Nation. We honor with gratitude the people who have stewarded the land throughout the generations and their ongoing contributions to this region. We acknowledge the ongoing injustices that we have committed against the Dakota Nation, and we wish to interrupt this legacy, beginning with acts of healing and honest storytelling about this place.

NATIVE LIVES MATTER fits the spirit of the Land Acknowledgment Statement. Those three words caused me to pause, to think, to consider what I’d been taught all those decades ago and how my thinking has shifted as I’ve aged, opened my mind and learned.

Dakota beadwork displayed and photographed at the Rice County Historical Society Museum, Faribault, in 2010. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2010)

The Rice County Historical Society, which exhibits a collection of Native American artifacts in its Faribault museum, shares a statement similar to the City of Northfield’s on its website:

We acknowledge that the land that is now Rice County, MN, was their (Dakota) homeland and for many tribal members today, it is still their home.

In all of this, I feel a sense of gratitude regarding increasing public recognition of the land history and contributions of Indigenous People in Minnesota. In my home area of Redwood County, nearly 1,000 individuals from the Mdewakanton Band of Dakota call the Lower Sioux Indian Community home. To the east in Yellow Medicine County near Granite Falls, nearly 500 individuals from the Dakota Oyate call the Upper Sioux Indian Community home.

Words on a marker in Reconciliation Park in Mankato where 38 Dakota were hung on Dec. 26, 1862. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2012)

I hope educators in my home area are today teaching students about the local Dakota and even bringing elders into classrooms. I graduated, after all, from Wabasso High School, the name Wabasso coming from a Native word meaning “white rabbit.” I would then go on to attend college in Mankato, site of the largest mass execution in the US with 38 Dakota killed in a public hanging on December 26, 1862.

I would be remiss if I did not share that, during the US-Dakota Conflict of 1862, family members on my mom’s side fled their rural Courtland farm for safety in St. Peter. They later put in a claim to the US government for crop loss.

Details on a sign outside the Cathedral of our Merciful Savior in Faribault. Bishop Henry Whipple, who served here, advocated for the rights of Native Americans and had a strong friendship with them. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2020)

Now, 160 years after that event in my ancestors’ history, I continue growing my knowledge, widening my understanding of Minnesota history and of the Indigenous people who first called this land home.

A graphic of Minnesota is painted on the back of the art installation. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

FYI: Please click here to read previous posts I’ve written on the US-Dakota War (also called Conflict) of 1862.

Also, I suggest you read an article on the Minnesota Public Radio website about efforts to change the Minnesota State flag. The flag depicts, among other details, a Native American in the background riding off into the sunset while a settler focuses the foreground, hands on a plow, rifle nearby. I agree that change is needed. But, as too often happens, the issue has become politically-charged.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The Archer House, once brick strong April 29, 2022

The Archer House River Inn in Northfield, following a devastating November 2020 fire. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2020)

ONCE UPON A TIME, three little pigs built three houses from assorted materials in an effort to keep the Big Bad Wolf from gaining entry. They soon discovered that houses constructed of straw and of sticks were easily blown over by a huffing, puffing, determined wolf. But, oh, the last house—the one built of bricks—stood strong. When the wolf attempted to gain entry through the chimney, he fell into a kettle of boiling water and that was the end of him. The pigs had anticipated his plan when they started a roaring fire in the hearth.

The fire began here, in the Smoqe House. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2020)
Shortly after the fire, the front entry to the historic Archer House River Inn. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2020)
The fenced lot where the Archer House River Inn once stood in downtown Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

In real life, stories involving fire typically don’t end fabulously either. Such is the story of the historic 1877 Archer House River Inn. Today only a fenced, vacant lot marks the location of this iconic downtown Northfield landmark on the National Register of Historic Places. A November 2020 fire, which started in a commercial smoker inside Smoqehouse (a BBQ restaurant), resulted in the eventual total loss of the brick building. Water and weather, along with the original fire, took their toll. Portions of the structure eventually collapsed as time lapsed.

Much of the sprawling building complex remained following the initial fire. But, in the end, it couldn’t be saved. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2020)

For the community of Northfield, losing the Archer House was about more than losing a building which housed a riverside inn, restaurants and shops. It was about losing a lovely sprawling space that anchored the downtown along Division Street. The Archer House was the place of stories, of history, of memories. And so much more.

Debris from the Archer House inside the fenced lot. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Now bricks salvaged from the Archer House will be sold to benefit the Northfield Historical Society. The Archer House Brick Sale happens from 9 am – 4 pm Saturday, April 30, at the NHS Museum Store. That’s located just across from Bridge Square, a community gathering spot downtown by the Cannon River, and just blocks from the fenced Archer House lot.

A side view of the former Archer House site. (Minnesota Prairie Roots photo February 2022)

Since this is a fundraiser that also allows access to a bit of history, the bricks are priced accordingly. Half a brick will cost $10. A complete brick, $20. Discounts are offered with three bricks for $50 and seven bricks for $100. A trailer load of bricks will be sold, the size of that trailer not noted.

The exterior of the Northfield Historical Society, 408 Division Street, Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2012)

In the end, there’s a bit of good in such immense community loss. Monies from the brick sale will go toward preservation of the Scriver Building, which houses the historical society. It was formerly the First National Bank, where the James-Younger Gang failed in an attempted bank robbery in September 1876.

Photographed from the library across the street shortly after the fire. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2020)

There’s a sequel to this tragic fire tale. Rebound Partners, the Northfield firm which owned the Archer House, plans to rebuild. Rebound promises to honor the history and riverside location in a mixed use building. It will never be the same as the historic Archer House. But Rebound’s past projects show their respect for history and for community. And that says a lot. The Big Bad Wolf, as in the story of The Three Little Pigs, cannot destroy a building built of bricks, at least not in memory and in history.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

UPcycleMN: From jeans jackets to Boomerang Bags April 27, 2022

The label that tags UPcycleMN products. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

REDUCE. RECYCLE. REUSE. Those three verbs theme an environmentally-conscious business established by a retired Northfield children’s programming librarian. Kathryn Ness, “CEO & Head Scrounger,” who holds degrees in Fiber Arts and Art History, champions those 3 Rs in UPcycleMN.

The UPcycleMN tent at Northfield’s Earth Day Celebration showcases jackets crafted from blue jeans. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

I met Ness at Northfield’s recent Earth Day Celebration at Bridge Square. A bold SAY NO! PLASTIC BAGS sign initially drew me to her vendor tent. There I admired blue jean jackets stitched together from used jeans. And I saw a basket filled with Take-n-Sew kits for Boomerang Bags. Ness was also giving away those cloth bags.

Kits to create Boomerang Bags. ((Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

A brief conversation with this artist revealed that she introduced the Boomerang Bags project (which originated in Australia) to the area while working at the library. At one time libraries in the Southeastern Libraries Cooperating system bagged patrons’ books in plastic bags. Today the libraries use locally-made cloth bags. In Northfield, volunteers have sewn 4,000 Boomerang Bags from donated fabric, according to the UPcycleMN website.

A jacket crafted from upcycled wool. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

Ness wants to eliminate single use plastic bags and also bring awareness to plastic and fabric waste in Northfield. But she’s not just making a statement. She’s doing something. Thus her UPcycleMN business focusing on taking a new or used item and creating something else from it to keep it out of the landfill. She collects fabric, upholstery remnants, curtains, old blue jeans and more to craft jackets, Fab-baskets, table runners, bags, totes…

Artsy fabric incorporated into a jacket crafted from blue jeans. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2022)

She brings her artistic background and talents to her work, assisted by her daughter, Krista Ness Mullen. Her interest in the arts stretches back to junior high school art classes, where she learned batik, macrame’ and weaving.

A Boomerang Bag at my library in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2018)

Today, with a focus on upcycling and the environment, Ness is stitching a message of reduce, recycle, reuse into the fabric of the Northfield community. And beyond.

FYI: You’ll find Ness marketing her UpcycleMN products and her environmental-friendly message at places like Northfield’s Riverwalk Market Fair, the Rustic Mamas’ Market in Owatonna and the Northfield Garden Club Tour. Visit her website for more information.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling