Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Wondering about the Wanamingo Town Hall April 8, 2016

Wanamingo Town Hall, 112 view one

 

WOOD-FRAME TOWN HALLS aged by time hold a sense of history that always leaves me wondering.

The Wanamingo Town Hall, which I recently photographed in the ghost town of Aspelund in Goodhue County, is no exception. I thought a simple internet search would yield answers. It didn’t.

 

Wanamingo Town Hall, 113 view two

 

So I am left to wonder about this simple structure built during the Civil War and the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. Was this originally a schoolhouse as town halls often were? Is it still used for township activities? For 4-H meetings? As a polling place? I found a photo of a new pole shed style town hall online indicating this historic building is no longer used by township government.

I also learned some history of the area from the book, Minnesota Geographic Names—Their Origins and Historic Significance, written by Warren Upham and published by the Minnesota Historical Society in 1920. Wanamingo, the author writes, “settled in 1854, organized in 1858, is almost wholly occupied by prosperous Norwegian farmers” (page 209).

Today Wanamingo Township remains agriculture-based. And you can still see the strong Norwegian heritage in family surnames, in country churches, in business names and more. Is the area still occupied by primarily prosperous Norwegian farmers? That I can’t answer.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

More from Decorah, Iowa, my “new” favorite historic town July 26, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
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The Blue Heron Knittery is housed in this historic building.

The Blue Heron Knittery is housed in this historic building.

FOR SOMEONE LIKE ME who delights in historic buildings, the northeastern Iowa river town of Decorah offers an ideal destination for viewing an abundance of aged architecture.

If you're of Norwegian ancestry, which I'm not, you'll especially enjoy Decorah. Be ware the trolls and gnomes.

If you’re of Norwegian ancestry, which I’m not, you’ll especially enjoy Decorah. Be ware the trolls and gnomes.

But downtown Decorah is about so much more. It’s about Norwegians and shopping and a river town with a distinct personality. This weekend, July 25 – 27, Decorah celebrates its annual Nordic Fest. Click here to learn more.

That said, here’s Part III in my photo tour of downtown Decorah:

Numerous buildings feature sweet little balconies.

Numerous buildings feature sweet little balconies.

A side street off the main route through downtown.

A side street off the main route through downtown.

Lovely signage...

Lovely signage…

So much variation in building design and height.

So much variation in building design and height.

Love this original signage on the old screen door that bangs behind you at

Love this original signage on the old screen door that bangs behind you at La Rana, a charming restaurant.

Vanberia, where you can shop for all things Norwegian.

Vanberia, where you can shop for all things Norwegian.

Norwegian art in the entry to

This art, in the entry of the Westby-Torgerson Education Center, celebrates the Norwegian heritage.

I noticed Santa in this second story window.

I noticed Santa in this second story window.

Shopping for antiques in the basement of Eckheart Gallery.

Shopping for antiques and collectibles in the basement of Eckheart Gallery.

Windowboxes abound.

Windowboxes abound.

Look close for remnants of the past.

Look close for remnants of the past.

Sweet architecture.

Sweet architecture.

FYI: Click here to view a previous downtown post. Click here to view a post on Storypeople. And click here to see a local favorite ice cream spot, The Whippy Dip, which is near downtown.

Watch for more posts from Decorah.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reason number one to visit Decorah, Iowa: The historic architecture July 10, 2013

The architecture on the historic buildings is incredible.

The architecture on the historic buildings is incredible.

“MOM, YOU’LL LOVE DECORAH.”

Except for getting sprayed with soda while dining at an Italian eatery (and no amends made save a perfunctory “sorry”), my husband and I loved this northeastern Iowa river town.

Our daughter Miranda, who visited a college friend here last summer, was right. We delighted in Decorah’s historic architecture, natural beauty and small town ambiance.

That Norwegian museum we need to tour next time we're in Decorah.

That Norwegian museum we need to tour next time we’re in Decorah.

Home to Luther College and the world’s largest collection of Norwegian artifacts at the Vesterheim—The National Norwegian-American Museum and Heritage Center, Decorah definitely presents a college town feel and an ethnic bend toward Norwegians. Interestingly enough, we didn’t tour either Luther or the Vesterheim. Next trip, because we will return.

Blue Heron Knittery is housed in the lower level of this architecturally stunning corner building in downtown Decorah.

Blue Heron Knittery is housed in the lower level of this architecturally stunning corner building in downtown Decorah.

So what exactly did we see? Mostly, we simply strolled through downtown admiring the historic buildings and occasionally popping into charming shops in this city of some 8,000.

On a Tuesday morning, the streets were teeming with pedestrians, including this Amish man from southeastern Minnesota.

On a Tuesday morning, the streets were teeming with pedestrians, including this Amish man from southeastern Minnesota.

Decorah, with numerous one-way streets, plenty of stoplights, an abundance of benches, information kiosks, bike racks, and planters overflowing with vibrant flowers and vining plants, rates as an especially pedestrian friendly community. First impressions count and this Iowa town does a splendid job of making visitors feel welcome via the relaxed setting created in the downtown business district.

It's the details that count, that show a community truly cares like vibrant plants in windowboxes.

It’s the details that count in creating an inviting downtown shopping experience.

Join me as we begin our journey through Decorah, today with a peek at that historic architecture and other photo-worthy snippets in the downtown.

So much to see along Decorah's downtown city streets.

So much to see along Decorah’s downtown city streets.

You'll find an abundance of trolls/gnomes.

You’ll find an abundance of trolls/gnomes.

The Storypeople workshop exterior pops with vibrant colors and images. I'll tell you more about Storypeople in a future post.

The Storypeople workshop exterior pops with vibrant colors and images. I’ll tell you more about Storypeople in a future post.

Window displays and signs are equally as interesting as the architecture.

Window displays and signs are equally as interesting as the architecture.

A building needn't be ornate to impress. I love the strong simple lines of Cary's Fabrication.

A building needn’t be ornate to impress. I love the strong simple lines of Cary’s Fabrication.

If I had excess discretionary funds, I would have purchased the woodcut art of Lennis Moore sold at Eckheart Gallery.

If I had excess discretionary funds, I would purchase the woodcut art of Lennis Moore sold at Eckheart Gallery.

More great buildings...

More great buildings…

FYI: Check back for more posts from downtown and elsewhere in Decorah, Iowa, including images of the historic hotel where we stayed, a beautiful waterfall, Storypeople, an historic home and a fish hatchery. I promise that by the end of this photographic tour, you will add this community to your list of “must visit” towns.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Flat Ole wants my son to move to South Dakota April 14, 2011

ALMOST DAILY WHEN I pull open the mailbox, I reach inside to find another handful of letters for my son.

I dutifully toss them onto an end couch cushion, the one spot where he sits, with his laptop, and where he can’t miss his mail.

The stash of accumulating college information sent to my 17-year-old high school junior son.

Sometimes my high school junior opens the letters, but more often than not, he tosses them onto the middle couch cushion where they lie for a day or two or three before I scoop them up and jam them into a plastic shopping bag.

That bag bulges with letters and brochures from colleges across the country. Most arrive from the East Coast, including from some very prestigious colleges. But there are also letters from the West Coast and the in-between Midwest and down South.

I understand why my 17-year-old has stopped opening his mail, stopped reading the spiels about the best programs and students and campuses. After awhile, the pitches all begin to sound the same.

So what does it take for him to actually pause and open a piece of college mail?

For my computer geek teen, it’s all about grabbing his attention by presenting an eye-catching, out-of-the-ordinary, graphically well-designed mailing.

St. Olaf College in Northfield managed to attract the college-bound boy’s interest recently with a brochure that features little tabs to open. Who doesn’t like to see what’s hidden behind a closed door? An air of mystery sparks curiosity and…prompts us to investigate.

 

These five tabs each lift to reveal information about St. Olaf College in Northfield.

For each of five words—St. Olaf College Northfield Minnesota—the tabs lift to reveal a sentence. Behind the word door “St.,” for example, you’ll read this message: “You won’t literally find any saints here, but you will find students who ask big questions and take on big challenges.”

 

Under the word "Olaf," you'll learn that St. Olaf was founded by Norwegians.

And just in case the Minnesota winter may keep you from St. Olaf, think study abroad opportunities.

Honestly, this is, by far, my favorite college mailing that has arrived to date. So congratulations, St. Olaf marketing department, on some creative marketing that drew both my, and the teen’s, attention. Now, if you can show us some hefty scholarship money, we just may have a deal.

The second piece of noteworthy college literature didn’t exactly draw my eye initially. In fact, I almost threw Augustana College’s Go Viking magazine style publication into the recycling bin without a look. Its appearance suggested an alumni magazine rather than a college recruiting tool. But then, lucky for this Sioux Falls, South Dakota, college, I flipped through the pages and discovered—Flat Ole.

The folks at Augustana want potential students to cut out the picture of Flat Ole and take him on their travels. Photograph Flat Ole at famous landmarks, in exotic locales, in historic buildings, etc., and join his Facebook at facebook.com/flat.ole. This whole marketing gimmick, of course, plays off the Flat Stanley storybook character, with the Augie’s  irresistibly charming Viking mascot claiming to be Stanley’s Norwegian cousin.

 

You can clip Flat Ole out of the Go Viking magazine and take him on your travels. Or you can go to his website and download a Flat Ole cutout.

Except for that Flat Ole page, I didn’t read the rest of the magazine. So you judge whether Go Viking represents savvy college recruiting.

Finally, a third piece of college mail grabbed me primarily because of the word “geek,” which would certainly fit my computer brilliant teen. “Don’t be a geek out of water…dive into the G33KOSYSTEM.” I continued to read: “…at UAT, advancing technology will infuse every aspect of your education…the idea atmosphere developed by geeks for geeks…passionate about technology.”

 

Eye-catching words for any student who's in to technology.

And all the while I wondered, what is UAT? I flipped the brochure and read and reread, until I finally noticed the tiny logos in the corners with the miniscule writing, University of Advancing Technology. Still, that didn’t give me the location of the college. So, for that reason, even if this is a graphically-appealing mailing, I can’t give this brochure high marks. It’s important, really, really, really important, to make the college name pop.

 

Although the bright colors and graphic design grabbed my attention, I really had to look to find the name of the college on this UAT brochure.

By the way, my boy and I are not Norwegian. The fact that two “Ole” colleges scored well with me in the marketing area is pure coincidence.

HAVE YOU SEEN any college recruiting materials that stand out or fail in the marketing department? Why? Please share.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Preserving the past at the Old Stone Church, Kenyon, Minnesota June 29, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:41 AM
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As part of the restoration process, the limestone at the Old Stone Church was tuck-pointed. This shows the east side of the 1870s church located along Monkey Valley Road southwest of Kenyon, Minnesota.

I CAN’T PINPOINT specifically when old country churches became a passion for me. But sometime in recent years, I realized that these rural houses of worship and their often adjoining cemeteries reflect a history and art worth appreciating and preserving.

Such is the Old Stone Church built by Norwegian immigrants near Kenyon in the late 1870s and closed in 1902. A committee of four, whom I met at a Sunday morning worship service, is working tirelessly to preserve this historic church and cemetery for future generations. Already, some $100,000 has been invested in tuck-pointing the native limestone, replastering the interior and more.

These people genuinely care about the original gathering place for members of Hauge Free Lutheran Church, which celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2009. The congregation’s current center of worship stands in Kenyon.

“I wanted to see the old Hauge church come back to life,” says Glen Rud, whose Norwegian grandfather walked several miles from town to attend services here. He appreciates the peacefulness of this secluded location in Monkey Valley, where deer and turkeys range. Here, in this place of peace, lies Rud’s burial plot.

Likewise, preservationist Bob Dyrdahl possesses strong ties to this land. He was born in a nearby log cabin. He’s planted trees around the cemetery and with his sisters donated a historical marker. His daughter was married here two years ago.

Such devotion, respect and care for the Old Stone Church impress me.

Sunday morning as I join the descendants of Norwegian immigrants (and others) in prayer and song, I feel the kinship of faithful fellowship. I feel the very presence of those early settlers who sat upon these pews and raised their voices in their mother tongue. Today, more than a century later, this congregation still sings Ja, vi elsker, the Norwegian national anthem, with the conviction of a generation determined to remember their heritage.

A view from the balcony shows the choir seated next to the beautiful altar. The choir director speaks in Norwegian, then translates, "Stand up, that means." And all rise for the Norwegian national anthem.

This Old Stone Church altar intrigues me because I've never seen one similar. I wonder whether The Last Supper painting at the center of the altar is a cherished possession transported by ship from the homeland. I wonder why replica tablets of the 10 Commandments were chosen for the altar. And, finally, I appreciate the inscription of John 3:16 in Norwegian.

This photo gives a broad view of the sanctuary. I was seated in the chair to the right side of the balcony support post during worship services. As I take in my surroundings, I notice the knots in the back of the pew before me and the floor patched with a section of wood underneath the sandal of the woman seated next to me. And as my left shoulder brushes against the wooden column, I admire the workmanship and craftsmanship that surrounds me.

Bob Dyrdahl explains that the double-sided pew provided a place for mothers to sit with their babies next to the warmth of the wood-burning stove. Such concern, such love, for those early pioneer mothers touches me.

A steep narrow stairway, just inside the church's interior double doors, winds to the balcony. Even here, in this plainness, I can appreciate history and craftsmanship. At the bend in the stairway, is a band of stenciled wood.

A print of Hans Nielsen Hauge, a 1700s lay leader and reformist in the Lutheran Church of Norway, hangs in the entry of the Old Stone Church. Immigrants honored this lay preacher by naming their church after him. Calling the baptized in the congregation, who have wandered away from the Lord, back to repentance is a common preaching theme among "the Haugeans," current Pastor Martin Horn says.

This Norwegian plaque hangs in the Old Stone Church entry. Since I'm German and not Norwegian, I rely on Google translate to tell me this sign basically thanks God for food and drink.

Six shuttered windows span two sides of the limestone church. The shutters are thrown open for the once-a-year church service and then battened shut.

The Old Stone Church cemetery, a final resting place for generations past and for those yet to be buried upon this land in peaceful Monkey Valley near Kenyon, Minnesota.

FOR MORE INFORMATION and additional photos of the Old Stone Church, see my June 27 Minnesota Prairie Roots blog post.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling