Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A Sunday morning with The Hope Feline Patrol July 31, 2011

The Hope Feline Patrol lounges on the porch of Hopefull Treasures.

VISIT HOPE, MINNESOTA, late on a Sunday morning and you might feel like you’re in a ghost town. Except for the cats. The Hope Feline Patrol, I’ve dubbed them.

When my husband and I pulled into this Steele County town because that’s what we sometimes do on Sundays after church—hop in the car and drive to places we haven’t been to before—not a soul was in sight save those two cats.

They lounged on the porch of Hopefull Treasures, aka Wilker’s Antiques, all stretched out as if they had not a care in the world. Until I appeared.

The long-haired orange cat stirred, on alert, jumped off a weathered wooden box and wound around my leg. The tabby stayed put, flicking eyes toward me, then, satisfied that I presented no threat, resumed cat napping.

The orange cat, however, plopped down on the sidewalk in front of the antique store, rolled around for awhile and then assumed a leisurely pose with a watchful eye on the single main route through this town of 120 residents.

The orange cat almost immediately sat up and assessed the situation when I arrived.

The napping tabby left patrol duties primarily to the orange cat.

Hopefull Treasure's orange cat keeps an eye on the single road that runs through Hope.

All the while I kept taking pictures of the cats and the antique store I wished was unlocked. It’s open only from noon to 6 p.m. on Fridays, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays or by chance or appointment. Apparently I wasn’t drawing a chance card on this day.

I knew I’d love poking around inside this place, scrounging for more story and photo treasures, plus antique and collectible treasures.

Every place, every person, every animal, every thing holds a story. And at Hopefull Treasures I’d found my story in The Hope Feline Patrol.

I had to peer into the windows of the closed antique store to check out the treasures.

Vintage postcards and coffee cups I spotted through the front window of Hopefull Treasures.

When I moved on down the street, the orange cat was still lying on the sidewalk in front of Hopefull Treasures.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Zip code 56046 July 26, 2011

THE NEXT TIME YOU’RE traveling Interstate 35 south of Owatonna, instead of whipping by the Hope exit at 70 mph, pull off the freeway and check out this unincorporated community of 120 residents, probably best-known outside of Steele County for Hope Creamery butter.

Unless my husband and I missed the signage, we never saw a sign marking the creamery and simply guessed that the butter-making operation is housed in an old brick creamery on the edge of town next to a farm.

But we discovered several other places of interest after parking our car along the one main road that cuts through Hope. Yes, you need to park your vehicle, get out and walk, rather than simply driving through town thinking, “There’s nothing here.”

You would be wrong, oh, so wrong.

First point of interest: 56046. That would be the Hope Post Office. With a street front facade resembling the general stores of yesteryear or perhaps a building from a western movie set, this old-style structure charms.

The Hope Post Office sits along Main Street. The elevator complex in the background is just across the train tracks.

Take in the details: the red and blue bench, the double front doors, the rock out front, the welcoming porch...

Even the lettering on the front window has old-style charm.

Maybe it doesn’t take much to impress me, but I appreciate buildings with character. I quickly determined that the post office serves as Hope’s community hub. I pulled open the screen door and stepped inside a closet of an entry, the door to the post office to my left, the door to a gift shop to my right. Smack in front of me, I found business cards and signs, church festival notices and other information tacked onto a bulletin board. A clutch of rubber-banded newspapers lay on the floor in front of the post office door.

The community bulletin board inside the post office entry.

A clutch of bundled newspapers outside the locked interior post office door.

From inside the post office entry, a view across the street of the bank and an antique store.

Since I was there on a Sunday afternoon, I had to settle for standing outside, peering through the large, cracked and taped front windows to view the customer service area that is smaller than most bathrooms. But it serves the purpose and I’m sure Hope folks are happy to still have their post office.

I always figure once a community loses its school, its post office and its bank, well then, you may as well close up the town. So far, Hope has only lost its school.

Today the U.S. Postal Service releases a list of 3,600-plus post offices under consideration for possible closure in a cost-cutting effort. I hope Hope is not among them.

Post office hours are listed on a cracked and taped front window.

CHECK BACK FOR MORE posts out of Hope and other area communities I recently visited while on a Sunday afternoon drive. It’s my philosophy that most of us are missing out on the treasures of small-town U.S.A. because we fail to get off the freeways, park our vehicles on Main Street and explore. Either that or we’re “too busy” to slow down and notice the details worth noticing in our small towns.

If anyone knows about the history of the Hope Post Office, submit a comment. I would like to learn more about this building.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling