Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Minnesota small towns – charming, picturesque

July 23, 24 and 25, 2006

Just when I think I’ve seen the most charming, picturesque small town, another one comes into view. My short drive (about 60 miles) to Saint Peter meandered along corn and soybean fields dotted with small towns: Meriden, Waseca, Janesville, Eagle Lake, and not-so-small Mankato.

This 10,000-population town seemed to have larger open-space parks than I would expect. One such park took up four blocks in the midst of town. Here’s the explanation: when Saint Peter was established, plenty of space was set aside because it was expected that it would become the state capital. But through some political shenanigans, St. Paul became the capital instead.

And for an old small town the houses looked old yet new at the same time. They were the typical multi-story houses with huge front porches. Did everyone recently remodel? What’s with this? The answer is the March 29, 1998 F3 tornado that leveled the midsection of Saint Peter. (check out photos at www.sigmamaps.com/StPeter/stpidex.htm)

Historic Saint Peter is home to Gustavus Adolphus College, established in 1862 and where my friends Aaron and Mary Everett taught. And in fact where Mary will be teaching this coming fall semester, delaying their return to Rio Rancho. (pronounced Gus-TA-vus)

This undergraduate residential liberal arts college has a Swedish and Lutheran heritage. US News and World Report ranked it #73 of liberal arts colleges in its 2006 report. The campus also was severely damaged by the tornado. Windows were blown out, roofs blown off, trees leveled and some buildings were totally destroyed. Students here are nicknamed “Gusties.” Here is a photo of the student chapel – both inside and out.

Site 11 of Riverside Municipal Campground, just two blocks from downtown St. Peter and alongside the Minnesota River, has been my home the past couple of days. Riverside Park has about 2,000 feet of frontage on the river. (NOTE to Betsy and Paul: the river is a designated state canoe route!) The river is known for its large walleye and huge catfish.

I And do you know where St. Peter’s Pearly Gates are? Just a couple blocks from Grace Street. spent two delightful days with Mary and Aaron both around town and at their home. Mary and I walked the two short blocks from their home to the college and gave me a personal tour of the facilities. On Monday we went into Mankato for lunch at the Panera (Linda and Bob – food is great at this one, too.)

Today I’m driving south with the intention of spending a couple days at Backbone State Park in Iowa.