Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Murals & a myth at an historic mercantile in Weaver February 18, 2016

The historic former Weaver Mercantile Buiilding, once home to Noble Studio & Gallery.

The historic former Weaver Mercantile Building, once home to Noble Studio & Gallery.

AGED BUILDINGS, like one in Weaver just off U.S. Highway 61 in southeastern Minnesota, intrigue me. Initially, the architecture and photographic opportunities draw me in. But then I start thinking about the history and the stories.

Carl and Marie Noble opened Noble Studio & Gallery here in 1955.

Carl and Marie Noble opened Noble Studio & Galleries here in 1955.

As luck would have it, a local was jogging down the street toward the former Weaver Mercantile when I happened upon the historic building during an early September get-away. She tipped me off that the building last housed an art gallery. Signage confirmed that. The current owner, she added, lives on the second floor.

Historic designation came six years after Carl Noble's death.

Historic designation came six years after Carl Noble’s death.

The young woman also expressed her dream of someday transforming the place into a winery. She and her husband, she said, make wine from black caps growing wild on the hillside behind their Weaver home. Then she continued on her run through this unincorporated village of some 50 residents and I continued my exterior photographic exploration of this building listed on the National Register of Historic Places. According to the 1978 nomination for historic designation, the building is a “well-preserved example of commercial architecture in the Mississippi River Valley.” Hardware, groceries and dry goods were once sold in the first floor of Weaver Mercantile while furniture was sold on the upper floor. Additionally, the building housed the Weaver Post Office for many years.

A mural on the east side of the building denotes this as an artist's haven. Cannot you decipher the first word for me?

A mural on the east side of the building denotes this as an artist’s haven. Can you decipher the first word in the top portion, left?

Wanting to know more, I continued my internet search. In 1955, artist Carl E. Noble claimed this place as Noble Studio & Galleries (his home, studio and gallery). He died in 1972. An obituary for his widow, Marie Noble, who died 11 years ago, yielded the most information.

More signage toward the back of the building.

More signage toward the back of the building promotes Noble’s art.

Carl was, by the few accounts I found, an artist for the Federal Art Project of the Work Projects Administration in 1938. His name is listed among photos of FAP art in the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian Institution.

Another view of Carl and Marie Noble's studio and galleries.

Another view of Carl and Marie Noble’s studio and galleries.

A muralist, cartoonist, illustrator and portrait artist, Carl Noble reportedly studied under Norman Rockwell (according to his wife Marie’s obit). I’ve been unable to verify that via a second source. However, the Nobles lived for awhile in Boston; Rockwell made his home in Stockbridge, MA.

The building was constructed in 1875 and opened as Weaver Mercantile.

The building was constructed in 1875 and opened as Weaver Mercantile.

I discovered that Carl painted six oil on canvas murals for Fire House, Southside Hose Co. No. 2 in Hempstead, New York, in 1938. The artwork depicts the history of local firefighting. Other than that, I’ve been unable to find other information of his WPA art or work at Noble Studio & Galleries. The former gallery itself, though, apparently showcases Carl’s murals on interior walls. If only I could have gotten inside to see and photograph his artwork.

One can only imagine the fun times here as guests enjoyed Marie's hospitality.

One can only imagine the fun times here as guests enjoyed Marie’s hospitality.

After her husband’s death in 1972, Marie opened a Bed & Breakfast in their home with a party area in the basement. That would explain the faded Mardi Gras Lounge sign above a back entry.

An overview of the Mardi Gras entry at the back of the building.

An overview of the Mardi Gras entry at the back of the building.

Marie reportedly regaled guests with stories, including that Jesse James robbed the Mercantile on his way to robbing the First National Bank in Northfield, Minnesota. Not believing everything I read, I contacted Mark Lee Gardner, noted historian, writer and musician on the western experience. He penned a book, Shot All to Hell: Jesse James, the Northfield Raid, and the Wild West’s Greatest Escape. He confirmed what I suspected. The story of the Weaver robbery is just that, a story.

Here’s Gardner’s response to my inquiry:

I’m afraid the story of Jesse robbing the building in Weaver, Minnesota, isn’t true. The Northfield Raid, as well as the known movements of the James-Younger gang, was heavily reported in the Minnesota newspapers at the time, and if they had been connected with a robbery in Weaver, it should appear in those papers. I never came across any mention of Weaver in my research. The other problem is that the gang didn’t go through Weaver on its way to Northfield. They are documented as having come from the west and south of Northfield.

…There are lots of Jesse James stories out there, and most of them are from someone’s imagination.

My first view of the former Weaver Mercantile and Noble Studio & Galleries.

My first view of the former Weaver Mercantile and Noble Studio & Galleries.

Still, none of this diminishes my appreciation for the Italianate style building in Weaver and my interest in the artists (Marie’s obit notes that she created many lovely paintings) who once lived and created therein.

The village of Weaver is located along U.S. Highway 61 north of Winona in Wabasha County.

The village of Weaver is located along U.S. Highway 61 north of Winona in Wabasha County.

IF YOU KNOW ANYTHING MORE about Carl and Marie Noble, their gallery and art or about the history of the building, I’d like to hear.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Sunday afternoon drive snapshot: Discovering Theilman & its historic opera house November 17, 2013

WHEN SUNDAY AFTERNOON DRIVES with my husband lead us to undiscovered hamlets and historic treasures, I am especially pleased.

Recently, heading east of Zumbro Falls along Minnesota Highway 60, we turned onto Wabasha County Road 4 aiming south for Theilman. Neither of us had ever heard of Theilman, an unincorporated West Albany Township community. Precisely the type of place we prefer.

Driving into Theilman, we met a lot of trucks pulling horse trailers.

Entering Theilman, located between Lake City and Plainview.

Driving into this settlement, we were impressed. Often times we find such tucked away spots to be unkempt with run-down properties, junk vehicles and a seemingly carefree abandon lifestyle. But not, for the most part, in Theilman.

Well kept homes and a small playground/park border one side of the main drag, where I spotted this mass of signage on the corner by St. Joseph's Catholic  Church.

Well-kept homes and a small playground/park border one side of the main drag, where I spotted this mass of signage on the corner by St. Joseph’s Catholic Church.

Overall, folks here seem to care about this place with well-kept homes, two churches (although both are closed and one appears to be a private residence) and, the most fabulous discovery of all, a restored opera house.

Another truck and horse trailer pass by the old Catholic church.

Passing by the old Catholic church.

As we stopped to investigate, a steady stream of pick-up trucks pulling horse trailers passed through Theilman, exiting the nearby Zumbro Bottoms Horse Campground.

Strong, study and beautiful St. Jospeh's Catholic Church.

Strong, study and beautiful St. Joseph’s Church.

The restored Theilman Opera House.

The restored Theilman Opera House.

I was disappointed, but not surprised, to find the doors to the century old Theilman Opera House and the next door 1903 St. Joseph’s Catholic Church locked. I resorted to peering in an opera house side window, where I spotted a bar area and an apparent kitchen.

Theilman, Opera House close-up

As Randy and I studied the opera hall exterior, he speculated on its use, perhaps as a former livery stable. He noted reinforcing beams on the building’s front. He has a good eye and sense of history. I later learned he was right about the building. The lower level once held horses while folks danced upstairs or were entertained by traveling medicine shows.

According to the Theilman Opera House Facebook page, the building was pretty much falling apart when locals recently stepped up to save it. Today, with those reinforced walls, a new roof, new flooring, electrical work and other improvements, the 100-year-old opera hall is available for event rental.

Fabulous. I love when a community rallies to save an historic landmark.

Now, what about the next door Catholic church? What does the future hold for that building?


We walked the cemetery behind he wood-frame church and found numerous Theilman family graves, including this one. It drew my attention for the words, "lovely consort."

We walked the cemetery behind he wood-frame church and found numerous Theilmann family graves, including this one. It drew my attention for the words, “lovely consort.” And I also noticed that the Theilmann on the marker is spelled with two “n’s” unlike the single “n” in the town’s name.

Theilman's two churches. I believe the wood one is now a private residence as no sign marked it as a sanctuary.

Theilman’s two churches. I believe the wood one is now a private residence as no sign marked it as a sanctuary and it appears to be a home.

St. Joseph's Church, still an active Catholic parish.

St. Joseph’s Church, a closed parish of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Winona, according to info I found online.

Another interesting old building in Theilman. Would love to know its history.

Another interesting old building in Theilman. I would love to know its history.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Sunday afternoon drive snapshot: Sculpture garden in Jarrett November 10, 2013

Sculpture, lens flare on arch

SUN FILTERED THROUGH THE STAND of cedars. Bright enough to cause lens flare when I shot toward the scraggly close-knit cluster of trees shadowing the banks of the clear, fast-flowing Zumbro River.

The setting appeared almost surreal and haunting in the sense that viewing the unexplained can impress upon the mind.

Sculpture, castle

I’d heard of this place, missed it on a previous pass through Jarrett, and nearly missed it again. But on this Sunday afternoon drive, I glimpsed the stone configurations among the cedars and asked my husband to swing the van around.

So here we were, pulled off Wabasha County Road 11, parked in a drive about the length of our van. I wasn’t even sure we should be here, uncertain whether this was public or private land. But I figured “No trespassing” signs would mark the property if visitors weren’t welcome into this sculpture garden.

Sculpture, wreath

In the quiet of this Sunday afternoon, and I cannot imagine any day being anything but quiet here in this secluded wide spot in the road, we meandered among the sculptures, shoes sinking into squishy earth tunneled by varmints.

Sculpture, cone top sculpture

Arches and points.

Sculpture, stones close-up 1

Sculpture, stone close up 3

Sculpture, stone close-up 2

Stones joined somehow into these interesting pieces of art. By whom? And why?

As Randy and I wandered and examined and wondered aloud, my appreciation grew for this artist. I expect he worked alone here, drawn to the solitude of this rugged place in the valley. He was, perhaps, viewed as a bit of an odd fellow. Was he a poet? A farmer? A musician?

Do you know the story of this artist and the rock garden in Jarrett, the unincorporated community which made headlines when the Zumbro roared from its banks during the flash floods of September 2010? I’d like to hear.

Someone tends this sculpture garden as flowers grew (during the warmer months) here among the artwork. Someone cares…


As I walked away from the sculpture garden toward the Zumbro River, I spotted this charming old water pump. I moved closer, until my husband stopped me in my tracks. We saw boards lying across the ground around the pump, an indication that this might not be a safe place to walk.

As I walked away from the sculpture garden toward the Zumbro River, I spotted this charming old water pump. I moved closer, until my husband stopped me. We saw boards, mostly buried under leaves, lying across the ground around the pump, an indication that this might not be a safe place to walk.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


One year later: A thank you party in flood-damaged Hammond September 21, 2011

An aerial view of Hammond during the flash flood of September 2010. Photo courtesy of Micheal and Tina Mann.

NEARLY A YEAR AGO, residents of  Zumbro Falls and nearby Hammond were evacuating their homes during a devastating flash flood.

They were not prepared—could not have been prepared—for the rapidly rising Zumbro River that would inundate their homes and businesses on September 23/24, displacing them for months and many of them permanently.

Within three weeks of the flooding, while on a Sunday afternoon drive to view the fall colors, my husband and I drove into Zumbro Falls. There I met Jackie, Tracy and Susie. Just down the road in Hammond, I met Katie.

Tracy Yennie of Zumbro Falls, whom I photographed shortly after the flood which left her without a home and living temporarily in a shed.

These four women shared their stories and frustrations and worries with me. In return, I published what I today consider some of the most powerful posts I have ever written. Click here to read this flood series published on October 11, 2010.

Flooding in Hammond, one year ago. Photo by Susie Buck.

My coverage of the flood did not end then. These women so impressed me with their fortitude, their strength and their outspokenness that I continued to follow one of them, Katie Shones of Hammond, throughout the year. Katie was my go-to person any time I wanted an update from her Wabasha County community of 230. Not once did she suggest that I was intruding into her life. In fact, she has gone above and beyond in answering my many questions. She also introduced me to her dear friend, Tina (Marlowe) Mann.

Tina and I have never met, but we’ve corresponded numerous times via e-mail. Like Katie, Tina has always, always, been forthright and open with me. She allowed me to share her story in a March 13-19 series. Click here to read the first of those six posts.

Via my connections with Katie and Tina, I was able to inform you of the need for volunteer help in Hammond. And at least two readers responded with crews to assist in Hammond. Others of you may have responded in ways that I’ll never know.

This weekend Hammond is celebrating its recovery with a “Thank You” party. “We would like anyone who was impacted, donated, volunteered, or showed compassion for Hammond to come back down and see how far we’ve come and allow us to show our appreciation – the Hammond way!!!” Tina wrote in a recent e-mail. She invited me to attend and said I could spread the word.

So, if you fall into that “impacted, donated, volunteered or showed compassion for Hammond” category, make your way to this picturesque riverside berg on Saturday, September 24, to celebrate with Tina and Katie and their families and the other residents, and former residents, of Hammond.

The first day back into their flooded Hammond home, Vicki and Dallas Williamson had 20 minutes to grab whatever they could carry on the back of a four-wheeler. The family did not move back. Photo by Sheri Ryan.

Tina, who now serves on the city council; Hammond Bar co-owner Janice Farris; Hammond Café co-owner Cindy Campbell; former Mayor Judy Radke; and flood-affected resident Beau Mischke did the initial planning for the party and pulled in many local residents to help with activities, according to Tina.

Here’s the schedule of events:

  • 2:30 p.m., park dedication
  • 2:45 p.m., Kiddy Carnival
  • following the carnival, horseshoes at the Hammond Bar & bean bags at the Hammond Cafe
  • 3 p.m., corn husking in the park
  • 5 p.m., free sweet corn and hot beef sandwiches
  • Also, live music by Led Penny and Bad Logic and fireworks at dusk.

As you might guess in a small town, the entire event and door prizes are being covered by donations from businesses, residents, friends of Hammond and clubs. I’m not going to list them for fear of omitting someone.

Suffice to say you would be impressed.

And just one more thing. Tina tells me that by the end of the month, 12 crab apple trees will be planted on Main Street and in the east end of the park in honor of the children of Hammond affected by the flood.  Those, too, have been donated, by a Rochester nursery and garden center. Click here to read an earlier post about the affect of the flooding on Katie Shones’ children.

I never doubted that the folks of southeastern Minnesota would rebound from the devastating flood of September 2010. I knew it when I met Jackie, Tracy, Susie and Katie. These are strong, determined women. Nothing would stop them from reclaiming their communities.

The bridge connecting east and west Hammond is barely visible during the flood, which also overtook the town's park. Photo courtesy of Micheal and Tina Mann.

CHECK BACK FOR A POST tomorrow in which Tina Mann shares her thoughts on the past year and how her community has worked toward recovery. As in the past, Tina speaks with an honest, open voice that will touch your heart.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Flood updates from southern Minnesota March 23, 2011

AS YOU WOULD EXPECT, Minnesotans are keeping a close watch on rising rivers, creeks and streams as rain and snow continue to fall across much of our state.

Here in Faribault, sandbagging has begun at the wastewater treatment plant, which flooded during last September’s flash flood. Sandbags have been filled and are available to property owners. The city has an emergency plan in place to deal with any flooding.

Faribault officials are working to protect the city's water reclamation plant which sits along the Straight River and which was flooded in a September 2010 flood. This photo is from September 2010.

Thankfully, the precipitation—rain, sleet and then snow overnight—have stopped in Faribault.

Further to the south, I’ve heard from Katie Shones of Hammond, a Wabasha County village nestled along the Zumbro River. Last September Hammond and nearby Zumbro Falls were devastated by the same flash flood that occurred in Faribault.

Katie updated me just this afternoon on the situation in Hammond. “So far, no sandbagging in the area,” Katie writes. “We are under a flood warning in Wabasha County, just as much of southern Minnesota. The Zumbro is high, but it is still contained in its banks. People are watching the river closely as you can well imagine.”

Looking down on Hammond during the September 2010 flash flood. Photo courtesy of Hammond residents Micheal Mann and Tina Marlowe.

Sadly, yesterday the spring floods claimed the life of a Minnesota Department of Transportation worker who was swept away by floodwaters after his backhoe tipped into Seven Mile Creek, which feeds into the Minnesota River. The accident happened between Mankato and St. Peter along U.S. Highway 169 when Michael Struck 39, of Cleveland, was attempting to clean out flood debris, according to an article in The Free Press, Mankato. His body was found today in Seven Mile Creek County Park.

Please be careful out there, and if you have any reports you would like to share about flood preparedness, flooding or other weather in your area of Minnesota, please submit a comment.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Part VI: The future for Hammond and Tina March 19, 2011

EDITOR’S NOTE: This post marks the final in a series of six stories that focus on a Hammond, Minnesota, family forced from their home during a September 2010 flash flood. Today we look at Hammond, its recovery and how you can help.

“WE HAVE A LONG ROAD ahead of us and none of it can really start until spring,” says Tina Marlowe, assessing the work that still needs to be done in Hammond. Her family returned to this town of (once) 230 residents shortly after Christmas.

This southeastern Minnesota community exists in limbo as residents await the arrival of warmer weather, and money, to begin rebuilding their community. Many homes must be gutted and rebuilt or torn down. Hammond needs a new city hall and new maintenance equipment. The river bank, river bed, parks and canoe landing need to be cleaned and rebuilt.

“Everything…everything is left to be done,” says Tina, who plans to help form a park committee that will raise $200,000 to update and rebuild the town’s parks. Tubing, canoeing, a horseshoe tournament, camping, fishing, motorcycling and more draw locals and visitors to this quiet river valley, “a beautiful gift of nature that we like to call ‘Our Valley’,” Tina says.

She and good friend Katie Shones will be setting up a Park Fund for donations to rebuild the parks.


Hammond's riverside park was all but destroyed by the flood. Marks on the shelter roof show how high the water rose. A baseball field next to the shelter, with a fence around it, is covered by receding floodwaters. Jenny Hoffman took this photo at 10 a.m. on Saturday, September 25, 2010.


“SINCE OCTOBER, Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota has been very involved in the long-term recovery efforts in the Pine Island – Oronoco area and in Wabasha County,” says Caitlin Hughes, LSS Disaster Services administrative specialist.  “LSSMN assisted in the development of two community supported long-term recovery committees. These committees are working with the LSSMN Southeast Minnesota Disaster Response Team to help families locate the precious resources to rebuild their homes and their lives.  Presently LSSMN has a local staff of three disaster case managers, a volunteer and resource coordinator and a reconstruction manager.

Currently, the disaster case managers are working with over 250 families/ individuals and the rebuild team is assisting 25 clients in using volunteers to make their homes habitable once again.”

St. John’s Lutheran Church is serving as a base for LSS relief operations in Hammond. Contact LSS caseworker Mary Walker at 507-753-3057 business days. St. John’s has served, among other functions, as a site for distribution of food, clothing and other essentials to flood survivors.

INDIVIDUALS INTERESTED in helping with Hammond’s recovery should contact LSS Volunteer Coordinator Dan Kalstabakken at 651-741-7234.

Go to this link for the most up-to-date information on LSS efforts in southeastern Minnesota: http://www.lssmn.org/disaster/

Also visit the Zumbro Valley Disaster Relief Fund.

Tina says flood survivors could use cash donations and that skilled laborers are still needed to help with the ongoing rebuilding efforts.


LSS also provides support for children who have been through disasters like the Hammond flood.

Camp Noah is a day camp for children impacted by disaster that offers children a safe, caring and fun environment where they can heal and process their disaster experience, according to LSS. The five-day camp is based on a curriculum that celebrates each child’s unique gifts and talents and provides them with an opportunity to share their story.

For more information about Camp Noah, call 612-879-5312 or go to http://www.lssmn.org/camp_noah/


This photo shows the destroyed road that goes from Wabasha County Road 11 to the business area on the east side of Hammond. A bar, bank, cafe, city hall and homes are located along this street. Waters are receding in this photo taken mid-morning on Saturday, September 25, 2010. All of the businesses, city hall and most homes along this road were flooded.


Tina and her fiancé, Micheal Mann, are planning a June 25 wedding. The bride will wear the wedding dress she saved from the floodwaters.

“I don’t know how we will get the wedding paid for now…it certainly won’t be all that I planned it to be,” Tina says.

But, despite the financial hardship, the setbacks, the challenges, this determined woman wants to move forward. And that means proceeding with the wedding as planned. Her wedding will give people a break, a reason to “take one night to celebrate all that is real in this life: friends, family and love.”

THIS CONCLUDES my six-part series of stories told through the voice of Hammond flood survivor Tina Marlowe. Thank you, Tina, for the privilege of sharing your story. I admire your strength, your determination and your resiliency.

Thanks also to Katie Shones, who has been my main contact in Hammond since last October. She is one strong, kind woman.

Thanks, too, to Susie Buck for pulling together the many photos featured in this series and to those who allowed their images to be published here.

Sheri Ryan, I am grateful to you also for the use of your photos, but, more importantly, for a deeply personal look at how this flood affected your mom. All too often we view blurs of faces and piles of debris, but we fail to see beyond, to the real hurt that runs deep.

I appreciate every one of you who have so willingly worked with me to tell the story of the people of Hammond through words and photos.

I also appreciate volunteers like Gary Schmidt from the Twin Cities who worked with a Woodbury church to bring volunteers to Hammond in late January and then again one day in March. Gary learned of the need through this blog. I hope to share Gary’s experiences with you in a future post.

I am grateful also to the folks over at Minnesota Public Radio who have plugged my flood series online. In the “Minnesota Today” section, Michael Olson included a reference to my stories in his March 16 statewide blog round-up. My post, “She just wants to hug her house,” was also featured in MPR’S “Blog Box.”

MPR columnist Bob Collins summarized my series and linked to my blog in the “5×8” section of his March 18 “News Cut” column. Bob also publicized my first set of flood stories back in October 2010, when I toured Hammond and Zumbro Falls about two weeks after the flash flood. Thank you, MPR, for helping Hammond’s story reach an even wider audience.

It is my hope, Minnesota Prairie Roots readers, that the flood stories I’ve shared with you this week will touch you. I hope you will be moved to help the residents of Hammond recover from a flood that may have damaged their homes, but has not destroyed their spirits.

These are strong, strong people who continue to need our support, our prayers and our help even six months after the flood.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Part IV: Hanging onto hope after the flood March 17, 2011

EDITOR’S NOTE: What is it like to lose nearly everything you own in a flood? What is it like to have your life disrupted, to be without a home? This post addresses those questions in this fourth in a series of stories about a Hammond, Minnesota, family that survived a September 2010 flash flood.

An aerial view of Hammond during the flash flood of September 2010. Photo courtesy of Micheal Mann & Tina Marlowe.

FOR TINA MARLOWE and her family, life abruptly changed after the flooding Zumbro River forced them from their home. Those first few days for Tina, her fiancé, two children and in-laws—all of whom lived together in the same house—were charged with emotion, filled with uncertainty.

“Every member of our family has gone through every emotion you can think of,” Tina says. “Desperation and shock the first few days, looking at the destruction to our home, to our friends’ homes, to our favorite ‘watering hole,’ which is also the community gathering place, to our parks, our river bank, the rubbish and filth.

Wonder and fear as to what will happen to us… Where will we go? Who is going to help us? Where am I going to start? What have I lost? What do I have left? How am I going to pay for it all? Will I be able to financially survive in the meantime? What do I tell the kids?”


Floodwaters from the Zumbro River reached Hammond's business district. Photo courtesy of Micheal Mann & Tina Marlowe.

The bridge connecting east and west Hammond is barely visible during the flood, which also overtook the town's park. Photo courtesy of Micheal Mann & Tina Marlowe.


For Tina’s children, 16-year-old Cassie and 7-year-old Christian, the flood took a major emotional toll. Christian started having behavioral and concentration problems on the bus and in school. Cassie’s life as a busy teen, running around, making plans, came to a screeching halt.

“They went through the extremes of being angry, then indifferent,” Tina says of her children.

Now that the family has returned to Hammond—they moved back right after Christmas, three months after the flood—the kids are beginning to settle back into normal routines and a normal life.

“They have seen and learned a lot,” Tina says. “I hope that the greatest lesson that they get from this is that family, community, and love are the most powerful tools and assets they will ever have. This is the ONLY thing that will get you through when all else is lost, and is all and everything that you need in life to be secure.

We are Minnesotans. We take care of each other.”

Floodwaters destroyed everything in the basement of the house where Tina, Micheal, Cassie and Christian and Bob and Cathy Mann live. Photo courtesy of Micheal Mann & Tina Marlowe.

Muck surrounds the furnace in the Mann family's basement. Photo courtesy of Micheal Mann & Tina Marlowe.

Flooded appliances in the basement. Photo courtesy of Micheal Mann & Tina Marlowe.

The family's belongings, moved outside to dry after the flood. Photo courtesy of Micheal Mann & Tina Marlowe.


A devastating natural disaster like this flood raises many questions and elicits mixed emotions, including anger. Tina has felt her share of anger and I’m allowing her to air her concerns here so that perhaps we can all learn from her experience.

Tina says Hammond, population 230, was neglected and forgotten during the “threat” of the rising river. No one came to help on Thursday night until it was too late, she claims. The evacuation in Hammond occurred many hours after the exodus in nearby Zumbro Falls.

While food and shelter were offered in Hammond, Tina says that did not help her family displaced to a hotel in neighboring Rochester.

“There was no immediate help in the aftermath, and a lot of what was being done didn’t make sense to us. We were left to fend for ourselves for nearly two months,” Tina continues.

Her anger focuses on the government “for not having a better plan, and for ultimately abandoning us.” She was angry, too, at President Barack Obama…”when he was doing diplomatic work, when we felt that a simple acknowledgement and signed declaration seemed so simple.”

She felt a loss of hope “when big brother seems to turn his back on you.”

Yet, Tina says she is grateful and humble for the volunteer help, the donations, the support from neighboring communities.


Anticipation and anxiety marked the family’s days as they awaited word on financing and rebuilding. They were physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted.

When they finally returned home to Hammond, they felt peace, hope and appreciation.

“But it’s not over yet,” Tina says. “There are still feelings of guilt. So many (people) had damages much worse than us. There are those still waiting for answers.

It’s hard to be one of the first ones home. It’s lonely. Our neighbors’ homes are dark and empty. Every day we hear news of another one leaving or another one deciding to stay. The future is still uncertain.

Our quiet, simple life in the valley has been disrupted. This summer we still won’t be able to enjoy all that we enjoy about our valley because of the loss and destruction.

I hang onto hope and realize the meaning of resilience when I watch the bald eagle fly over the river, still making the valley his home too. I feel a lot like that eagle, fighting extinction—refusing to leave the home I love.”

THE NEXT INSTALLMENT in this series looks at how others have helped Tina and her family get back on their feet.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Photos courtesy and copyright of Micheal Mann & Tina Marlowe


She just wants to hug her house March 16, 2011


Through the trees and looking down into flooded Hammond, you can see the top of Dallas and Vicki Williamson's house "in" the Zumbro River. Carrie Hofschulte took this photo.

I’M TAKING A BREAK today from sharing flood survivor Tina Marlowe’s experiences to tell you about another family affected by the September 2010 flash flood in southeastern Minnesota during this, National Flood Safety Awareness Week.

Sheri Ryan of Goodhue contacted me shortly after I posted the first in my six-part flood series. She had flood photos and wanted to know if I was interested in posting them here. Once I saw Sheri’s images and read her email, I knew, without a doubt, that these photos and this story needed to be shared.

Sheri is the daughter of Vicki and Dallas Williamson, whose 1881 home in Hammond was heavily-damaged by the floodwaters. The couple is not returning to this Zumbro River community and has relocated 35 miles away to an 1882 farmhouse atop a hill in rural Cannon Falls.

Sheri’s photos are powerful. Upon viewing these images, I was instantly reminded of the pictures my second daughter took while volunteering with clean-up after Hurricane Katrina.

Although the number of individuals affected by the flash floods in Minnesota last fall pales in comparison to Hurricane Katrina, the impact is no less significant. Lives have been thrown into upheaval and chaos in the aftermath of such a devastating natural disaster.

Sheri says her mom is still mourning the loss of her home in Hammond.

“My mom is completely devastated from losing their home and all that was ‘tossed out on the street’ for the loaders to take away, and all that was washed down the river–her beautiful garden, grandsons’ toys, her parents’ stuff/photos, memories…she said the other day that she ‘just wants to give her house a hug’.”

For now, the future of that house is uncertain. The Williamsons won’t be back. But they must decide whether to elevate the house four feet (to be above the 100-year flood plain), tear it down or move it. If they go with a buy-out plan, the house must be torn down and nothing can be built there again.

They had flood insurance, but that did not cover the costs of purchasing the 1882 Cannon Falls area farmhouse.

“…there have not been many decisions yet,” Sheri says. “She (mom) just cannot go through this again. She said it is like a death…a loss…maybe she is still in mourning?”

We would all be wise to remember, as spring flood season approaches, our Minnesota neighbors like Vicki who are still struggling to recover from the floods of nearly six months ago.

Another shot of the Williamsons’ flooded home. Photo by Susie Buck

Above the window you can clearly see the water line marking the height of the floodwaters on the Williamson house. They had just power-washed the house two days before the flood. Sheri Ryan photo.

A day after the floodwaters subsided, you can barely tell that 9 feet and 8 inches of water once surrounded the Williamsons' house. The freezer near the back door had been inside the garage and was moved by floodwaters. Fifty freshly-butchered chickens were scattered across the yard and garage. Vicki Williamson lost all of her freshly-frozen tomato sauce also. The family had to dispose of the rotting food quickly into containers to keep coyotes and other critters from scavenging. Photo by Sheri Ryan

The first day back into their flooded home, the Williamson family had 20 minutes to grab whatever they could carry on the back of a four-wheeler. Photo by Sheri Ryan.

In the Williamsons' bathroom, a layer of muck covered everything. Floodwaters peeled the wallpaper off the walls. Photo by Sheri Ryan.

Flood-damaged debris collected in the Williamsons' front yard. Says Sheri Ryan, "My mom called me on Wednesday just in tears, bawling because they were taking away all of her stuff with pay-loaders." Photo by Sheri Ryan.


The Williamsons' gutted home, including beautiful hardwood floors. Photo by Sheri Ryan.

This photo by Carrie Hofschulte shows the Zumbro River raging across the bridge that connects east and west Hammond on Wabasha County Road 11.

Sheri Ryan shot this image of the same bridge, above, when the water had returned to its almost "normal" level.

THANK YOU to Sheri Ryan and Carrie Hofschulte for sharing these incredible photos.

Check back tomorrow for Part IV in my flood series from Hammond.

Text copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Photos copyright 2011 Sheri Ryan and Carrie Hofschulte


Remembering the children as Minnesota prepares for spring floods February 23, 2011

SOMETIMES WE FORGET, in the jumble of quotes and information, to see a certain human, deeply personal, side of a news story.

Today, thanks to Katie Shones of Hammond, I’m bringing you a child’s perspective on the devastating flood that engulfed her southeastern Minnesota community of 230 during a September 2010 flash flood. I met Katie shortly after the flood.

The disaster was a terrifying ordeal for Hammond residents, who are still reeling in the aftermath. Many have not yet returned to their homes. Some won’t.

Now, as the focus in Minnesota shifts to predicted record spring flooding, as officials prepare for the highest river levels since the 1960s, as crews begin filling sandbags in areas along the Red River, this seems the right moment to let Katie speak—about her children.

But first a little background. Katie and her husband, Scott, live on the east side of Hammond, which is divided by the Zumbro River. The river flows just across Main Street, the highway and the park from the Shones’ home. Floodwaters came within feet—feet—of their house, lapping at their front door.

The home of Katie and Scott Shones and their children, photographed by Hammond resident Gene Reckmann during the September 2010 flood. Their house was spared, by mere feet.

Katie isn’t too worried about flooding this spring. Yet, she’s concerned enough to have a plan. If the Zumbro River rises like it did last fall, she and Scott will haul sand and gravel from a local quarry and build a bank to protect their home. They also have a relocation plan in place.

Their 11-year-old daughter, Rebekah, is ready too. “Ever the resourceful and prepared child she is, she has two bags jam-packed with stuff underneath her bed just in case we have to leave on a moment’s notice due to floodwaters,” Katie says.

This mother’s words break my heart. No child should have to worry about a flood.

But the depth to which the Hammond flood has impacted Rebekah and her 9-year-old brother Jerome reaches beyond concerns about a future flood. “The September flood has affected them more deeply than I had ever imagined,” Katie tells me. “Bekah still occasionally cries out in her sleep, ‘Daddy, Daddy, help me.’ When I ask her what is wrong, she mumbles things about the flood. She never fully wakes up, but I do believe she is having nightmares about that day.”

As a mother, simply reading this brings me to tears. I can only imagine how Katie and Scott feel when they hear their daughter cry out for help in her sleep.

“Jerome has seen the flooding in Australia on the news and is very worried that it will spread to Hammond,” Katie continues. “I have tried to reassure my kids that if it ever gets as bad as it did last fall, we will leave long before it reaches our place and go to Grandma Merle’s (my mother’s farm). The farm is located just two miles from our home, but is on the limestone bluffs above the Zumbro River.”

With so many Hammond residents forced from town and many still not back in their homes, Katie says her children are also without many playmates. “…there never were many children in the area their ages to play with, but now there are only four kids in Hammond left for them to play with.”

That said, the absence of their playmates serves as a daily reminder to Rebekah and Jerome of the floodwaters which ravaged their town and came terrifyingly close to flooding their home.

As Minnesotans physically prepare for the floodwaters that are certain to inundate communities and homes, I hope river town residents are also preparing psychologically, specifically remembering the children like Rebekah and Jerome.

Floodwaters destroyed this portion of Wabasha County Road 11, the river road which runs from Hammond to Jarrett. Gene Reckmann photographed this section of the roadway just outside of Hammond.

THANK YOU, Katie, for allowing me to share your deeply personal story. Thank you also to Gene Reckmann of Hammond for the photos posted here.

READERS, IF YOU have not read my series of posts and photos about the September flood in Hammond and neighboring Zumbro Falls, check my Minnesota Prairie Roots archives for stories published during the week of October 11, 2010.

Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Worries about spring flooding along the Zumbro River February 8, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 11:09 AM
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IF YOU LIVE along a river in Minnesota, are you concerned about spring flooding?

While predictions for significant, wide-spread flooding in our state focus primarily on those living along the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers, folks in other riverside communities are worried too.

Take the residents of Hammond, a southeastern Minnesota town of 230 which sits along the banks of the Zumbro River. Eighty percent of the houses and most of the businesses there were flooded during a late September 2010 flash flood. Many residents still are not back in their homes.

I visited Hammond and nearby flood-ravaged Zumbro Falls only weeks after that flood and talked to several locals, including Katie Shones. The Zumbro River flooded across park land, a highway and Main Street before lapping at the door of Katie’s family’s Hammond home.


Katie Shones and her family live in this house, photographed during the September 2010 flood. Her house was spared, by mere feet. Other houses and businesses along her street were flooded by the Zumbro River.

Her friend, Tina Marlowe, wasn’t as fortunate. The home where Tina lives with her fiancé Micheal; her 7 and 16-year-old children; and future in-laws, Bob and Cathy, was flooded with the basement entirely engulfed in water and 3 – 4 inches of water on the main level. The house is elevated approximately three feet above the ground.

Tina and her family moved back into their home right after Christmas.

I emailed Tina and Katie recently with these questions:

Are you concerned about possible spring flooding? How about your community? Have you, or are you going to, purchase flood insurance? Are you making any special preparations for possible flooding?

Their answers differ somewhat, probably based on personal experience more than anything. Yet, concern is woven into each of their responses, enough concern so that they are planning for the possibility of spring flooding.

Katie tells me: “Lots of people are talking about the possibility of another flood, but kind of have the devil may care attitude. If it is going to flood, there is not much one can do about it. Natural disasters happen all the time.”


Main Street Hammond at the height of the September 2010 flood. Water was rushing over the sidewalk and into the basement of the gray house via the cellar doors. Katie Shones' house is only two lots away from the gray house.

Katie’s not worried about her home flooding. Her house isn’t even in the 500-year flood zone and she hasn’t purchased flood insurance. Yet, if the water starts to rise like last fall, she and her husband will haul sand and gravel from local quarries and build a bank in front of their home to protect it.

Her feelings about spring flooding are mixed, though, she says, because of all the snow. “If the ground isn’t frozen, hopefully most will drain into the soil and not reach the river. If the snow melts at a normal pace, I really don’t think we have much to worry about.”

Then she adds this kicker: “I think the Rochester flood control project on the Zumbro River had a huge role to play in this fall’s flood.”

I know nothing of Rochester’s flood control project, but if Katie is thinking this, then I bet other residents are too.

Katie’s friend Tina already has a plan in place for spring flooding and her future father-in-law is checking into flood insurance. “I am very concerned,” she says.

“Mike and I are making a plan,” she shares. “Activation Stage in Zumbro Falls is 15 feet and flood stage is 18 feet. So if the river rises to 15 feet and the crest is predicted to be over 20, Mike and I will be pulling all of our stuff out of the basement and main level and will take it up to the second floor. Then we will pre-pack the car, and have our vehicles moved to higher ground before we get the evacuation call.

Since my father-in-law is now acting mayor, I’m sure that Mike and I would be helping out with door-to-door notifications if in fact there is an evacuation ordered. It is still undetermined what would happen if the house sustains damage again.”

Tina has one more worry related to possible spring flooding. She is getting married and her wedding will be at Municipal Beach Park in Wabasha with the reception at a riverside restaurant there. “I am very, very concerned about the Mississippi flooding…my back-up plan was the park in Hammond. I am holding my breath and doing a lot of praying!!!!!”

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Photos by Gene Reckmann and courtesy of Katie Shones