Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Snapshotting Northfield on a Sunday afternoon in April April 25, 2017

 

THE TEMPERATURE ON THE FIRST National Bank of Northfield sign flashed 68 degrees. Sixty-eight glorious degrees on a Sunday afternoon as sunny and beautiful as they come in southern Minnesota in April.

 

Unhooking a fish and fishing in the Cannon River by Bridge Square in the heart of Northfield’s downtown.

 

Daffodils, accented by curly willow, make a simple art statement in planters scattered throughout the downtown area.

 

Lots of downtown Northfield restaurants offer outdoor dining, including here at The Hideaway.

 

Everywhere people ranged in this river city. Bikers, outdoor diners, walkers, anglers, an auburn-haired child navigating across grass sprouted with dandelions, a woman smoking a cigarette in a doorway, an elementary-aged boy drawing an owl in a sketchbook, a line of families waiting outside a dance studio, college co-eds walking in pairs…

 

Poetry is imprinted in downtown sidewalks, this poem across a side street from Bridge Square.

 

Randy and I meandered the river walk, pausing to talk with a biker couple from Hartland asking about Froggy Bottoms, a riverside eatery. We chatted with the red-haired toddler’s mom who admired my camera and shared her passion for photography. She does the social media photos for her and her partner’s BlueNose Coffee in neighboring Farmington. We traded business cards and wished each other a good day and I thought how warm and friendly this young woman with the beautiful baby girl.

 

MakeShift Accessories is one of my favorite downtown Northfield shops given its creative uniqueness.

 

In all the times I’ve visited Bridge Square in downtown Northfield, I’ve never noticed the Civil War Monument topped by this eagle. This time the adjacent fountain was turned off, shifting my focus to the memorial and not to the water.

 

Handwritten notes on business doors always amuse me.

 

Reaching the end of the river walk, Randy and I circled to Division Street, slipping into the occasional business to peruse gifts, antiques and art. As we strolled, I paused to snap photos of whatever caught my eye. A haphazard collection of images.

 

Toys were corralled in a wagon outside a downtown Northfield antique shop.

 

The James-Younger Gang robbery of the First National Bank draws many visitors to Northfield. The original bank now houses the Northfield Historical Society and sits across the street from the current bank.

 

On the side of the historic bank building are holes ringed in black, supposedly marking bullet holes made during the bank raid.

 

Had a company party not drawn us indoors to a pizza and sports bar, I would have lingered longer outdoors, gathering with my camera those details, those Northfield scenes that perhaps remain unnoticed by too many.

 

BONUS PHOTOS:

The window of a barbershop across from Bridge Square.

 

One of two murals on the Northfield Union of Youth building.

 

Another mural on The Key (youth center) building caught my eye.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Part V from La Crosse: A final look at downtown March 29, 2017

 

IN ONE FINAL PHOTO sweep through downtown La Crosse, I present a collage of images.

 

 

I am drawn to signs and architecture, to distinct characteristics which define a town’s personality.

 

 

 

 

La Crosse is a river town, storied in history. You can see that in the aged buildings which flank streets that bend, like the Mississippi River. History holds a place of honor within this downtown.

 

 

 

 

Yet, this Wisconsin city is not stodgy, existing only in the past. Rather, La Crosse is like a sometimes flamboyant relative claiming attention with loud colors and signs and messages. I doubt I’ve ever seen more vivid and unique signage in a small Midwestern city.

 

 

 

But that does not surprise given La Crosse’s considerable number of downtown drinking establishments. Wisconsinites love their booze. And this is a college town. Visit in the daytime or early evening and you can avoid that whole bar scene, although remnants of night life may linger the morning after with beer in a glass outside a bar door. (True sighting.)

 

 

 

 

La Crosse seems, too, part big city urban yet rooted in rural. Somehow the blend works in a downtown that draws all ages.

 

 

FYI: Please check back for one more post in this “From La Crosse” series as I take you to one of the city’s most notable natural landmarks.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part IV from La Crosse: Applauding this city’s entertaining visuals March 27, 2017

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DOWNTOWN LA CROSSE, WISCONSIN presents a visual delight that requires spotlight focus to view every detail.

 

 

 

 

Colorful signs compete for attention along storefronts that are themselves architectural attractions.

 

Stained glass art displayed in the front window at Vision of Light Stained Glass, 129 S. Fourth Street.

 

A vintage department store box showcased in a window display.

 

Shoppers enter Antique Center, which presents an inviting window display.

 

Creative window displays draw more interest.

 

 

From almost any place, you hold a ring-side seat to pedestrians and vehicles performing should I cross/should I stop theatrics.

 

Buzzard Billys serves fantastic Cajun-Creole food. Be forewarned that it’s a busy place.

 

This riverside town rates as a must-see destination for anyone who delights in entertainment. Actual entertainment and the kind of entertainment that comes from being a watcher, an observer, an appreciator of a city with a visual character all its own.

 

The Starlite Lounge, a 1950s style cocktail lounge, is located on the second floor of Buzzard Billys. It was closed during the time frame I visited La Crosse. But I saw the lounge on a previous visit and hope to photograph it next time I’m in town.

 

La Crosse performs well under the scrutiny of my camera lens, earning my applause for a place that draws my photographic and personal interest.

TELL ME: Have you visited La Crosse? If, yes, what do you like about the city? If not, would you visit and why?

FYI: Please check back as I continue my “From La Crosse” series.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part I from La Crosse: The historic downtown through my camera lens March 22, 2017

Crossing the Mississippi River from La Crescent, Minnesota, into La Crosse, Wisconsin.

 

WITH MY APPRECIATION of historic buildings, La Crosse, Wisconsin, has become a favorite occasional destination. This Mississippi River town bordering Minnesota is about a half-way meeting point between my Faribault home and my second daughter’s home in eastern Wisconsin. We recently met there for a Saturday afternoon of dining and exploring.

 

Nearing downtown La Crosse.

 

I love shopping in La Crosse. Mostly photoshopping. While the rest of the family focuses on getting from one shop to the next, I am constantly distracted by the endless photo opportunities. “Go ahead, I’ll catch up,” I repeat.

 

Entering the historic downtown.

 

Signage painted on buildings draws my eye.

 

Some communities restrict signage on historic buildings. But in downtown La Crosse, anything seems to go, creating a visually diverse landscape of signs that pop color and interest into the streetscape. It works, adding character to this downtown.

 

Then I stand and swing my camera lens upward to photograph architectural details, vintage lettering on buildings and the many colorful and creative signs that landmark downtown businesses.

 

Downtown La Crosse is one busy place. On-street parking is a challenge to secure. However, four parking ramps are situated in the downtown and offer free parking on weekends. Same goes for street parking. The downtown features lots of one-way streets.

 

Everywhere you look, there’s something to catch a photographer’s eye.

 

Bridesmaids head for an ice cream treat at The Pearl Ice Cream Parlor, a must-stop ice cream shop and more along historic Pearl Street. Love The Pearl’s homemade ice cream.

 

Or I keep my camera at street level, capturing streetscapes. This downtown pulses with people and traffic.

 

Outside Kroner True Value Hardware store.

 

The day after St. Patrick’s Day, I spotted this cup of green beer on a window ledge in a bar. I also saw a glass of beer outside a bar entrance. Downtown La Crosse is packed with bars, I believe the highest per capita of any U.S. city, according to numerous online sources. (Google it.)

 

The ultimate (in my opinion) “I’m from Wisconsin” t-shirt showcased in the window of The Cheddarhead Store on Pearl Street.

 

Occasionally I direct my lens down to at-my-feet details or toward window scenes.

 

This colorful signage welcomes downtown visitors to Historic Pearl Street West.

 

I photographed this barge on the Mississippi River which edges downtown La Crosse.

 

The dining options in La Crosse are many, including Big Boar Barbecue. No, I haven’t eaten there. Yet.

 

Downtown La Crosse truly rates as a photographer’s/visitor’s dream—if you love historic river towns with aged, detailed architecture; colorful signage; character; diverse dining and drinking options; and a variety of unique shops.

FYI: Please check back for more posts from La Crosse.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Road trip stories: A brief tour of beautiful Baldwinsville, a New York river town September 21, 2016

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Near Syracuse in central upstate New York.

Near Syracuse in central upstate New York.

FOLLOWING A SPRING-TIME 3,029-mile road trip from Minnesota to Massachusetts and back, I hold a deep appreciation for warm and welcoming hotel employees. Especially those who direct you to local restaurants.

On the list of dining options, Suds Factory River Grill.

On the list of dining options, Suds Factory River Grill.

Also on the list, Sammy Malone's Pub.

Also on the list, Sammy Malone’s Pub.

A desk clerk at the Comfort Inn Fairgrounds in Syracuse, New York, handed me a three-page print-out of seven homegrown eateries in neighboring Baldwinsville, complete with addresses, websites, phone numbers and directions, after I inquired about “a good place to eat.” Now that’s what I call outstanding customer service.

A walking path along the Seneca river in the heart of downtown Baldwinsville.

A walking path along the Seneca river in the heart of downtown Baldwinsville.

When my husband and I landed at the Comfort Inn in central upstate New York, I was exhausted. The second leg of our journey began that morning 516 miles to the southwest in Angola, Indiana. Except for 1 ½ hours lost in Buffalo, New York, while unsuccessfully searching for Niagra Falls, we’d driven strong and steady along the Interstate. We were in need of food and a place to stretch our legs before turning in for the night.

Welcome to Baldwinsville.

Welcome to Baldwinsville.

The village of Baldwinsville, population around 7,300, proved the ideal setting to unwind. Located on the Seneca River, it’s a lovely town that reminds me of Northfield, Minnesota, marketed as “A Classic American River Town.” Baldwinsville fits that definition, too, but uses the tag “Lock Into an Experience.” That plays off the Erie Canal’s Lock 24 located in Baldwinsville, I learned after our visit.

An example of the historic architecture downtown. Lovely.

An example of the historic architecture downtown. Lovely.

Historic buildings fill the downtown. Restaurants border the river. Nature and commerce mesh in an inviting way.

Fishing the Seneca River on a Friday evening late May.

Fishing the Seneca River on a Friday evening.

In the waning light of a lovely late May Friday evening, Randy and I followed the river, dodging both geese and their droppings. We crossed a bridge to check out the restaurant options and to simply walk. The area teemed with people. Dining. Walking. Fishing. Baldwinsville has a this-is-the-place-to-be vibe.

Pedestrians, including me, covered our ears as a fire truck screamed through downtown.

Pedestrians, including me, covered our ears as a fire truck screamed through downtown.

In their busyness, though, folks paused when a fire truck rumbled through town, siren piercing the evening ambiance and shaking the bridge upon which I walked.

Strong brick buildings like this grace the downtown.

Strong brick buildings grace the downtown.

 

This mural at Muddy Waters Kitchen and Bar plays on the New Orleans BBQ and soul food served there.

This mural at Muddy Waters Kitchen and Bar plays on the New Orleans BBQ and soul food served there.

Had I not been so hungry and weary, I would have checked out the church shown here.

Had I not been so hungry and weary, I would have checked out the church shown here.

Another mural at Muddy Waters.

Another mural at Muddy Waters.

I admired the aged brick buildings with arched windows, the steepled church half a block away, the murals at Muddy Waters Kitchen and Bar. I wished I had more time to explore Baldwinsville.

The B'Ville Diner was packed with customers waiting to be seated.

The B’Ville Diner was packed with customers waiting to be seated.

Eventually we ended up at B’Ville Diner, an old-fashioned 1950s style diner that’s been around since 1934. Recommended by hotel staff, the eatery, at least for us, proved more about the experience than the food. We needed an affordable meal. B’Ville offered that in a nostalgic diner car setting.

Definitely a 50s vibe in the diner.

Definitely a 50s vibe in the diner.

Randy had a little fun with the waitress, asking for a Beef Commercial—beef between two slices of white bread topped with mashed potatoes and gravy—rather than the Beef Pot Roast sandwich listed on the menu. She looked at him with zero recognition. He explained that in Minnesota, we call this a Beef Commercial. He was disappointed in the dish—clearly not homemade gravy or potatoes. My cheesy chicken sandwich laced with green peppers tasted fine.

The liquor store is across the street from the diner.

The liquor store is across the street from the diner. And, no, we didn’t stop there.

Refueled and refreshed, we headed back toward the Comfort Inn to settle in for the night before beginning the final five-hour leg of our journey east the next morning.

FYI: Periodically, I will feature more posts from my cross country Minnesota to Boston and back road trip in mid-May. Click here to read my earlier posts from Somerville and Medford, Massachusetts.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Stopping in Iowa September 15, 2014

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THERE ARE STOPLIGHTS and then there are stoplights.

Stoplights in Dubuque, red

I could not believe the number of stoplights at this intersection in Dubuque, Iowa. Crazy.

You better know where you’re headed when you encounter this intersection in this major metro area just across the Mississippi River from Illinois.

Stoplights in Dubuque, green

We were aiming for the downtown, one you will definitely want to visit if you appreciate historic architecture.

Love, love, love this old river town, which my husband and I explored on a recent get-away. I know, who goes to Iowa, you ask, especially if you are a Minnesotan. We did, on our way to our final destination in Galena, Illinois, another historic river town.

Iowa presented some sweet moments and interesting discoveries, all of which I will share in upcoming posts. Our southern neighbor may bill itself as offering “fields of opportunities.” But, thankfully, this state presents more than fields. Even this prairie farm girl tired of all the corn and demanded finding a faster four-lane route aiming east toward the river and hills.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

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

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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