Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Along Highway 52: About that popcorn & cheese June 5, 2017

SIGNAGE INTERESTS ME. For many reasons. The graphics. The message. The marketing influence. The persuasive power.

Occasionally signage can confuse or present an unclear message.

Let’s consider three signs along U.S. Highway 52, a high traffic four-lane that I sometimes travel between Cannon Falls and Rochester. On my most recent trek along this roadway, I photographed two signs by Pine Island.

 

 

The first grabbed my visual attention because of the oversized popcorn kernels scattered on the ground below a popcorn billboard and the single word, Newt’s. What is this sign advertising? A popcorn place? Not quite. Newt’s does have, according to online reviews, some of the tastiest popcorn around. But Newt’s is a beer and burger place that also serves popcorn.

Digging deeper into the popcorn pile, I read on Newt’s Facebook page that the business pops an average of 20,000 pounds (or 10 tons) of popcorn kernels in a year at its north, south and downtown Rochester locations. Now that’s a lot of popcorn. I wonder how much beer is served.

 

 

The second sign I photographed promotes a cheese mart. But if you look closely, you will see that the Pine Cheese Mart no longer sells cheese. That’s right. Tacked onto the bottom of the sign is the notation that you can purchase beer and wine making supplies at Von Klopp Brew Shop, once also a marketer of cheese.

When the northbound highway access to the cheese mart was closed, the business took such a hit that it stopped selling cheese and closed its restaurant and gift shop, according to the business website. I wonder how many travelers catch the cheese mart part of this sign and miss the details.

 

 

The last “sign” I photographed is farther north on 52 and visible from the southbound lane. There’s nothing fancy about this handcrafted message. It’s simple and to the point. The landowner appreciates farmers and loves his country. Perfect.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

NOTE: I photographed these signs several months ago. They may or may not still be in place.

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Next time pull off in Pine Island June 17, 2015

Approaching Pine Island on Highway 52 southbound.

Approaching Pine Island on U.S. Highway 52 southbound.

TRAFFIC ZOOMS BY on U.S. Highway 52 around Pine Island, hurried motorists rushing to Rochester or St. Paul or places in between.

On the left, a street sign directs motorists to U.S. Highway 52. On the right, the antique store that was closed the afternoon of my visit to Pine Island.

On the left, a street sign directs motorists to U.S. Highway 52. On the right, the antique store that was closed the afternoon of my visit to Pine Island.

I’ve been one of those travelers all too many times while en route to and from Wisconsin. Never pulling off to explore Pine Island. But always wondering what this small town holds and thinking I really ought to stop at the highway side Pine Cheese Mart.

It’s too late now to visit the Cheese Mart. The long-time business folded last year after an exit into Pine Island was closed due to traffic safety issues. That closure made navigating to the Mart cumbersome, resulting in a business downturn. So I missed out on the cheese.

A view of Pine Island's Main Street while driving into the downtown.

A view of Pine Island’s Main Street while driving into the downtown.

Early this spring, my husband and I took a day trip to Pine Island. We hopped in the van with our Minnesota atlas and road map and headed east, stopping first in West Concord.

My favorite scene of the day by the old butter factory.

My favorite scene of the day by the old butter factory where, yes, butter was once made.

I should have done my homework. After the fact, I learned that Pine Island was once considered “The Cheese Capital of the World” That would have been in the opening decades of the 20th Century when some 40 cheese factories existed in the area. In 1911, Pine Island cheesemakers crafted a 6,000-pound block of cheese for the Minnesota State Fair, earning that cheese capital title for the town.

Today the small cheese factories are gone with only the large Land O’ Lakes cooperative producing cheese. But the community honors its cheesy past with an annual July Cheese Festival.

Look closely at this downtown mural and you will see a hunk of cheese, a visual tribute to this community's rich cheese past.

Look closely at this downtown mural and you will see a hunk of cheese, a visual tribute to this community’s rich cheese past.

Perhaps I missed it. But I didn’t notice anything visually significant tipping me off to Pine Island’s rich cheese history other than a mouse and a block of cheese painted onto a downtown mural and a lovely brick building labeled BUTTER-FACTORY.

This old butter factory now holds bicycles available to ride on area trails.

This old butter factory now holds bicycles available to ride on area trails.

I should have done my research. The old Butter Factory today houses bikes and bike helmets available to borrow at no cost from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. on weekends to cyclists using the nearly 13-mile Douglas State Trail from Pine Island to Rochester and Pine Island’s Paths to the Past trails: Historical Trivia Trail, Young People’s Path and Homes & Heritage Trail. Check ahead as this usage is seasonal.

So I missed a few things this visit. But I didn’t miss the remarkable historic architecture that defines the downtown business district:

Downtown buildings feature stunning architectural detail.

Downtown historic buildings feature stunning architectural detail.

A broad view of downtown historical buildings with grand architecture.

A broad view of downtown historical buildings with grand architecture.

A stairway appears like a work of art on the side of an aged building.

A stairway appears like a work of art on the side of an aged building. I stood in an alley and aimed my camera up.

More historic buildings, including one that houses the post office.

More historic buildings, including one that houses the post office.

The top of City Hall.

The top of City Hall.

And some of the beautiful old homes close to downtown:

I snapped a quick shot of this lovely house while driving by.

I snapped a quick shot of this lovely house with a wrap-around porch while driving by.

Another sweet house near downtown.

Another sweet house near downtown.

I was disappointed, though, to find the one antique/furniture refinishing store, Green’s Stripping & Antiques, closed when I was there.

Likewise, I really wanted to get inside the Olde Pine Theater:

The theatre that I wished I could have seen.

The theatre that I wished I could have seen.

Maybe next time.

BONUS PHOTOS:

Many small towns still have thriving hardware stores like this Hardware Hank.

Many small towns still have thriving hardware stores like this Hardware Hank.

Parked outside Hardware Hank.

Outside Hardware Hank.

I even noticed a below street level barbershop.

I even noticed a below street level barbershop.

I spotted the spring scene in a flower box outside a downtown business.

I spotted this early spring scene in a flower box outside a downtown business.

Murals grace the sides of two brick buildings sandwiching a vacant lot that is now a downtown mini park.

Murals grace the sides of two brick buildings sandwiching a vacant lot that is now a downtown mini park.

Driving out of town, I shot this image of Pine Island's mobile home court across the cornfield.

Driving out of town, I shot this image of Pine Island’s mobile home court across the then stubbled cornfield.

IF YOU KNOW Pine Island, what other things did I miss on my first visit to this Minnesota community of 3,300 residents?

How did Pine Island get its name? According to the Minnesota Historical Society “Minnesota Place Names,” an early settler named the town Pine Island in 1855 for the large, lone white pine on a small island in the Zumbro River. The island was once thick with pines and was once a winter shelter to the Dakota.

Check back to read about the Rainbow Cafe, where we ate lunch.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Did you lock the door? March 27, 2014

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Photographed along U.S. Highway 52 in Rochester, Minnesota.

Photographed along U.S. Highway 52 in Rochester, Minnesota.

I thought I did.

House 2

But apparently not.

House 3

Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Snippets of rural Minnesota in photos November 1, 2011

A harvest scene along U.S. Highway 52 in southeastern Minnesota Sunday afternoon.

YOU CAN TAKE the girl off the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the girl.

Even decades after leaving my childhood farm at age 17 to start my freshman year of college in the fall of 1974, I hold tight to my agricultural roots.

My rural upbringing shaped me as a person, defined me as a writer and photographer.

More often than not, I find myself creatively focused on the rural, on those places and memories that remind me of the farm and which hold the strongest grasp on my heart.

So I am naturally drawn to photographing rural landscapes and barns and country churches and tractors and small towns whenever I travel. These are the places and objects to which I feel the deepest connection.

I'm always and forever photographing barns like this one along Hwy 52 between Pine Island and Rochester.

Today I’ll take you along U.S. Highway 52 and Interstate 90 in the southeastern section of Minnesota. I’ll show you rural snippets photographed at highway speeds through the passenger side and front windows of our family’s cars. Yes, cars, plural. My husband and I made a quick jaunt to Tomah, Wisconsin, on Sunday to exchange vehicles with our second daughter. Hers needs repair and we met her half-way between her home and ours.

After 2 ½ hours of travel to reach Tomah, we lunched with Miranda and a friend before turning around and heading back home to Faribault.

The day rated as gloomy and dreary weather-wise. Yet, as you will see, such moody skies bring out an emotion in images that you might not feel had the day been sunny bright.

I’m always surprised, when I view the photos, to see the details I missed in the process of shooting the images. But then, along-the-highway scenes flash by in an instant and they are gone, not wholly appreciated until that second, later look in a photo.

You can barely see the distant tractor in this shot. But that's what I like about this scene, how the sheer size of the cornfield and the skies dwarf the tractor, reinforcing the thought that everything is truly small in comparison to the landscape, to the big, big world.

Every red building stood out against the grey, grey skies. Sky is always an integral part of my photos.

Even the stripes of crops are aesthetically pleasing to my photographer's eye.

This photo of Pine Island connects town and country in a seamless blend.

An historic barn and a horse...a common sight along Hwy 52 and I-90.

The red-roofed barn provides a jolt of color under heavy grey skies.

A country church, strong and sturdy, along I-90 near the Winona exit. Look closely and you'll see a sheriff's department squad car parked by the church.

Westbound on I-90, the sun begins to set. I like the contrast between the vivid yellow sign and the grey of the day.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling