Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Random bits of autumn from southeastern Minnesota October 11, 2017

I love Hill’s Hardware Hank in Wabasha, especially in autumn decor. A photo similar to this hangs next to the hardware exhibit in the “Our World” play area at the Minnesota Children’s Museum in St. Paul. Hill’s inspired the exhibit. I am honored to have my photo hanging in the museum.

 

WITH OCTOBER NEARING mid-month and days until winter here in Minnesota dwindling, I feel a sense of urgency to observe and experience every nuance of autumn. That often means ignoring outdoor fall chores for a road trip or a walk in the woods or a stop at the apple orchard.

 

Among the many inviting autumn scenes staged in Wabasha.

 

This past Sunday took Randy and me east toward the Mississippi River town of Wabasha, one of my favorite southeastern Minnesota communities. This city knows how to welcome visitors via two months of celebration, coined SeptOberfest. I’ll share two aspects of Wabasha’s focus on fall in upcoming posts. But for today, here’s a photo peak at those nuances of autumn which so endear me to this season in Minnesota.

 

The beauty of rural Minnesota in autumn along a county road east of Bellechester and heading toward Wabasha.

 

I love the vistas of drying corn and soybean fields sweeping across the land.

 

A farm site viewed from Minnesota State Highway 60 in the Zumbro Falls area.

 

I love the flashes of red farm buildings in a muting landscape.

 

My sister Lanae, a floral designer in Waseca, created this autumn scene in her backyard.

 

I love the fall décor that infuses townscapes and gardens.

 

One of several seasonal boutiques in Wabasha. Barton’s Brickhouse Boutique is located across from the VFW.

 

I love the seasonal boutiques offering handcrafted gifts and the scent of pumpkin and apple crisp.

 

We didn’t find fall colors in Wabasha; we were too early. But we spotted beautiful colors in this treeline at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park on our drive back to Faribault.

 

In our many years of day trips in southeastern Minnesota, Randy and I have found some of the best fall colors in Rice County. This scene was shot from Rice County Road 84/Falk Avenue. The gravel road parallels Rice County Road 20, which is considered the “back road” between Faribault and Northfield. This scene is near the intersection of CR 84 with 154th street.

 

I swapped on my telephoto lens for a closer look at the distant treeline as seen from CR 84. Other places to view wonderful fall colors in Rice County are west of Faribault around the lakes and also in Faribault along residential streets in old neighborhoods, at River Bend Nature Center and from City View Park. I think we have some of the best autumn hues in southeastern Minnesota.

 

I love the hillsides of trees transitioning from green to yellow, orange and red.

 

I shot this image and the four following at River Bend Nature Center late Sunday afternoon.

 

 

I love, too, the individual leaves that wave color in the wind.

 

 

I love drying milkweed pods bursting with seeds.

 

 

There’s so much to love about October, except the prospect of winter edging closer.

 

TELL ME: What do you like most about autumn? Feel free to share details about favorite fall destinations.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Dresbach & Dakota, that would be in Minnesota June 27, 2017

Following Interstate 90 along the Mississippi River bluffs in southeastern Minnesota.

 

IN THE MANY YEARS I’VE TRAVELED Interstate 90 along the Minnesota/Wisconsin border in southeastern Minnesota, I’ve never exited to explore Dresbach or Dakota.

That changed this past spring when Randy and I were returning from a day trip to La Crosse, Wisconsin. Time allowed for the pull off onto Riverview Drive which passes through unincorporated Dresbach and Dakota, population 323 or thereabouts.

 

We pulled off Riverview Drive and curved the van to a small riverside park in Dresbach where I took this photo of the Mississippi.

 

Traffic signs in Dresbach.

 

Leaving Dresbach, I noticed this lengthy, leaning retaining wall.

 

We did a drive through with thoughts of returning again to poke around more. Both villages sit along the western bank of the Mississippi River between La Crosse and Winona, in Minnesota. The river setting is scenic, beautiful, worthy of a second look when the weather warms and river traffic increases.

 

A welcoming sign outside a business in Dakota. That’s quite a name, Trynowski.

 

Holy Cross Church in Dakota.

 

A well-preserved former corner gas station in Dakota that I found absolutely charming.

 

I snapped a few quick photos from the van and called it good. While both villages deserve more of my photographic study, this is a start.

TELL ME: Have you ever driven through/visited Dresbach or Dakota? If yes, what should I see the next time I’m in either community.

If anyone can provide information about any of the places photographed here, please share.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Observing the Minnesota harvest October 25, 2016

A farm site between Kenyon and Faribault.

A farm site between Kenyon and Faribault.

ALONG GRAVEL ROADS and across fields, farm machinery kicked up dust, shrouding rural southeastern Minnesota in pockets of hazy grey.

Somewhere southeast of rochester.

Somewhere southeast of Rochester.

Dust sometimes trailed plumes behind tractors.

All American Co-op in Stewartville Saturday afternoon.

All American Co-op in Stewartville Saturday afternoon.

The elevator in Hayfield.

Grain bins in Hayfield.

In small towns, tractors pulling grain wagons and trucks loaded with corn or soybeans waited at local elevators.

Bees wings accumulating along Main Street in Hayfield.

Bees wings (chaff from corn cobs) accumulate along Main Street in Hayfield.

And bees wings drifted, tinting Main Street and sidewalks red.

Near Root River County Park in Olmsted County.

Near Root River County Park in Olmsted County.

Near Wanamingo...

Near Wanamingo…

In township after township after township, I observed farmers gathering in the crops and working the land on Saturday. A good drying day. Sunshine and crisp temps. Perfect to finish the harvest.

A cluster of bins near Hayfield.

A cluster of bins by Hayfield.

A day trip drive this time of year requires patience as combines, trucks and tractors clog roadways, slowing traffic. But that’s OK. Sometimes we need to creep along, to simply appreciate this land and the farmers who plant, tend and gather in the crops.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Minnesota: A welcome weekend weather break from winter February 1, 2016

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Just outside of Faribault driving south on Interstate 35 toward Owatonna early Sunday afternoon.

Just outside of Faribault driving south on Interstate 35 toward Owatonna early Sunday afternoon.

WINTER EXITED MINNESOTA this weekend, ushering in a glimpse of spring. And it was glorious—this temporary respite from cold and snow.

 

Interstate 35, 6 driving south toward Owatonna

 

Temps rose above forty degrees. The sun shone. Cardinals shrilled. Snow melted into slushy puddles. And I walked across parking lots in a sweater rather than winter coat.

 

Interstate 35, 7 driving south toward Owatonna

 

I needed a weekend like this drenched mostly in sunshine, blue streaking through clouds, patches of blue sky pushing away clouds.

 

To the west of Interstate 35, clouds billow above snow-washed fields.

To the west of Interstate 35, clouds billow above snow-washed fields.

As my husband and I drove south toward Owatonna early Sunday afternoon, I couldn’t get enough of the sky.

 

Interstate 35, 11 driving south toward Owatonna

 

I’m holding onto those images now that the weather is about to change with a strong winter storm predicted for Tuesday. My county of Rice is under a Winter Storm Watch while counties to the south and west are under a Blizzard Watch.

 

Large swatches of blue sky prevailed to the west of the Interstate.

Large swatches of blue sky prevailed to the west of the Interstate.

I knew this weekend’s spring-like weather wouldn’t last.

Blue skies accentuate fighter jets at Owatonna Degner Regional Airport along the Interstate.

Blue skies accentuate fighter jets at Owatonna Degner Regional Airport along the Interstate.

It never does here in Minnesota in January.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Winona, Part II: A Prairie School Style office building at J.R. Watkins Co. January 7, 2016

The JR Watkins complex of buildings is on the National Register of Historic Places as noted by this marker.

The J.R. Watkins complex of buildings is on the National Register of Historic Places as noted by this marker.

AH, TO WORK in such a splendid place of marble and gold and Tiffany stained glass windows.

Greenery outside the Watkins' office building.

Greenery outside the Watkins’ office building.

That’s the setting for employees at J.R. Watkins, a Winona company that sells health remedies, baking products and much more; it’s especially known for its vanilla. Office workers labor inside a monumental building designed by noted Prairie School style architect George W. Maher of Chicago.

Chiseled above the main entry into the administrative building.

Chiseled above an entry into the administrative building.

The sprawling building features a 70-foot high rotunda dome coated with 24-carat gold leaf.

The sprawling building features a 70-foot high rotunda dome coated with 24-carat gold leaf.

On a September visit to this Mississippi River community, I toured the 1912 office building which anchors a corner on the edge of downtown. It’s an unexpected gem, this stone structure that resembles a government building or art museum rather than the headquarters of a business.

Even the door handles are exquisite.

Even the door handles are exquisite.

My husband and I couldn’t just walk inside. Rather, we phoned for access and then signed in.

Inside, looking toward the front doors.

Inside, looking toward the front doors and the Tiffany stained glass window featuring a rendition of Sugar Loaf.

The Sugar Loaf window up close.

The Sugar Loaf window up close.

Looking toward a mini-museum display of Watkins items, including the Watkins wagon.

Looking toward a mini-museum display of Watkins items, including a Watkins wagon.

The building features 224 stained glass skylights.

The building features 224 stained glass skylights.

Skylights up close.

Skylights up close.

And, as you would expect, the space we were allowed to explore was limited to the main lobby area. Still, this was enough to impress as I gazed upon marble walls, the stained glass skylights (of which there are 224) and the custom-made Tiffany stained glass window (there are three) featuring Winona’s noted bluff landmark, Sugar Loaf. Because the windows are covered on the exterior to protect them, they are not quite as impressive as they could be. Still, you can’t leave this building without thinking, wow.

FYI: Check back tomorrow for a post on the Winona National Bank building.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part II from St. Charles: Shopping for antiques at Sarah & Jim’s place November 19, 2015

Sarah's Uniques and Jim's "Man"tiques recently moved into this aged building in downtown St. Charles, MN.

Sarah’s Uniques and Jim’s “Man”tiques recently moved into this aged building in downtown St. Charles, MN.

MY HUSBAND AND I DELIGHT in perusing antique shops. We’re never seeking anything specific and seldom do we purchase anything. But occasionally we do. For us, antiquing is more about the experience, the memories connected to an object we discover on a shelf.

A security mirror reflects inventory in a section of the shop.

A security mirror reflects inventory in a section of the shop.

We found an especially lovely antique shop, Sarah’s Uniques and Jim’s “Man”tiques, during an early September stop in the southeastern Minnesota farming community of St. Charles. I love this couple’s shop. I love it for the variety of merchandise showcased in a way that’s artful, sectioned by themes (not disordered clutter), surprising and inviting.

This pottery is displayed as if in a gallery.

This pottery is displayed as if in a gallery.

Oftentimes I become visually overwhelmed by antique shops crammed with too much merchandise. Sarah’s and Jim’s offers a lot, but in an organized, creative sort of way.

There's plenty to interest both men and women.

There’s plenty to interest both men and women.

Perfect, a pedal car by the gas pumps.

A kid’s toy car pulled up to the gas pumps.

Steer around the bear rug to get to the pumps.

Steer around the bear rug to get to the pumps.

If you’re into gas station memorabilia, you can detour into the section of old gas pumps. Just veer around the bear rug.

This was not with all of the other horse stuff, but would certainly have fit there.

This was not with all of the other horse stuff, but would certainly have fit there.

In a small room, horse-themed items—including stirrups—entice equine appreciators. Or you might find a book like Singing Wheels, which I remember from my youth and which a customer snapped off a shelf.

Remember Red Owl and Gold Bond stamps?

Remember Red Owl and Gold Bond stamps?

Or fixate on grocery store memorabilia. What fun it would be to own the Red Owl sign, reminding me of that now-defunct grocery store chain with the cute check-out boys who carried grocery bags to my parents’ Chevy.

An antique shop can even offered unexpected humor.

An antique shop can even offer unexpected humor.

Randy and I chuckled at the signage about rubbers. We remember when rubbers were merely a protective covering slipped over shoes.

This beautiful cupboard was acquired from a local and had been in the family for generations. It's not for sale.

This beautiful cupboard was acquired from a local and had been in the family for generations. It’s not for sale.

No matter how many antique shops I’ve shopped, I find they are all different—some musty holes in the wall while others gleam. Organized or chaotic. If I was rating antique shops, I’d give Sarah’s and Jim’s five stars (out of five). It’s that outstanding. One sweet surprise in the small town of St. Charles.

On the side of the cupboard, family members recorded their travels abroad, during the early years to serve in the military. Sarah treasures that detailed history, the reason the cupboard is not for sale.

On the side of the cupboard, family members recorded their travels abroad, during the early years to serve in the military. Sarah treasures that detailed history, the reason the cupboard is not for sale.

And, bonus, co-owner Sarah Kieffer is the type of shopkeeper who welcomes customers (and browsers) with genuine warmth. Her friendliness showcases the passion she holds for merchandising antiques, primitives and collectibles. That attitude brings folks in the door, to browse and to buy.

BONUS PHOTOS:

Dainty cups and saucers for the collector.

Dainty cups and saucers for the collector.

A unique table that punches color combined with orange chairs.

A unique table paired with orange chairs punches color.

Canning jars, especially blue ones, hold timeless universal appeal.

Mason jars, especially blue ones, hold timeless universal appeal.

I grew up on a dairy farms, so this sign caught my eye and my heart.

I grew up on a dairy farm, so this sign caught my eye and my heart.

Likewise these farm notebooks reminded me of my farmer dad.

Likewise these farm notebooks reminded me of my farmer dad. I loved when he would give me a notebook like the Funk’s one.

Outside the shop I saw this cute Dutch couple.

Outside the shop I saw this cute Dutch couple.

Minnesotans

Not something I would collect. But I definitely like the Paul Bunyan art. Fitting for Minnesota.

A perfect canvas for art.

A clean canvas for art.

More treasures...

More treasures…

A close-up look at the exterior signage.

A close-up look at the exterior signage.

FYI: Sarah’s Uniques and Jim’s “Man”tiques is located at 912 Whitewater Avenue in the heart of downtown St. Charles.

Check back tomorrow when I’ll show you another antique shop across the street. And click here to read my first post in this series from St. Charles.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Welcome to St. Charles, Minnesota, Part I November 18, 2015

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Driving through downtown St. Charles, Minnesota, population around 3,700.

Driving through downtown St. Charles, Minnesota, population around 3,700.

ST. CHARLES LIES in southeastern Minnesota farming country just off Interstate 90.

One of two Amish men I spotted doing business in downtown St. Charles on an early September afternoon.

One of two Amish men I spotted doing business in downtown St. Charles on an early September afternoon.

It’s home to a pocket of Amish.

We just missed the Gladiolus Days celebration, promoted in this storefront window. Love the gladiolus "hair."

During my September visit, I just missed the Gladiolus Days celebration, promoted in this storefront window. Love the gladiolus “hair.”

And site of an annual Gladiolus Days celebration. That event honors the late Carl Fischer, once the world’s leading hybridizer of new and distinctive gladiolus.

These friendly locals at the Whitewater Cafe gave us directions to the glad field and Amish farms.

Coffee time at the Whitewater Cafe. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

I’d been to St. Charles several years ago, even dined at the Whitewater Cafe.

A view of the gladiolus field just south of Utica along Winona County Road 33.

A view of the gladiolus field just south of Utica (near St. Charles) along Winona County Road 33. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

I saw the glad fields, the Amish and the historic buildings downtown. But on a return trip in early September, my husband and I took even more time to explore.

Here’s an overall look as we drove into St. Charles from the east, swung through a residential neighborhood and then parked downtown:

On the east edge of St. Charles we spotted this brand new combine along U.S. Highway 14.

On the east edge of St. Charles we spotted this brand new combine along U.S. Highway 14. There’s a John Deere dealer in town.

We backtracked after noticing this sign along the highway.

We backtracked after noticing this sign along the highway.

Unfortunately, the antique shop was closed.

Unfortunately, the antique shop was closed.

Still, I photographed this weathered art out front.

Still, I photographed this weathered art out front.

Next, I was distracted by all these John Deere tractors parked in a front yard. I don't know why.

Next, I was distracted by all these John Deere tractors parked in a front yard. This is a rural community with a John Deere dealer in town, remember.

Next stop, the downtown business district, where I delighted in this lovely mural.

Next stop, the downtown business district, where I delighted in this lovely mural.

The mural deserves close-up attention. I appreciate unexpected art like this.

The mural deserves close-up attention. I appreciate unexpected art like this.

Likewise, flowers add visual interest, greenery and punch to a downtown.

Likewise, flowers add visual interest, greenery and punch to a downtown. They also show community pride and care.

I always enjoy signs, especially creative ones.

I always enjoy signs, especially creative ones.

St. Charles has some aged buildings. Be sure to look up. Many storefronts were "modernized" and thus hide the historic character of the buildings.

St. Charles has some aged buildings. Be sure to look up. Many storefronts were “modernized” and thus hide the historic character of the buildings.

More interesting signs.

More interesting signs. Every small town needs a hardware store.

Now, if I’ve piqued your interest, return tomorrow when I’ll take you inside an impressive St. Charles antique shop.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling