A colorful past in southwestern Minnesota
Rock County Veterans Memorial, Luverne
photo by jim brandenburg
Prairie Land: Rich in History
Minnesota’s Prairie Land is home to attractions that bring history textbooks to life. Old-time replica villages, museums, preserved homes, sacred Native American art and more portray the area’s abundant history.
An 1860s civilian-built fort stands among wild prairie grasses in Jackson, where settlers erected Fort Belmont. It preserves settler history with replica buildings, a stockade, museum and the rebuilt 1902 Delafield Church. The fort also includes a 40-foot tower overlooking the Des Moines River Valley.
For a unique collection that preserves the past, head west to Spomer Classics in Worthington. You could spend hours perusing its enormous classic car and memorabilia collection, from mint condition Corvettes to vintage Coca-Cola machines.
In the southwest town of Luverne is the Hinkly House, which was built out of Sioux quartzite in 1892 by one of the town’s founding families. The Victorian-era home, which was the first in town to have a telephone, has been completely restored and features a tunnel to the backyard where the family stored dynamite used in their quarrying operation.
Also in Luverne is the brand new Rock County History Center, an 11,000-square-foot space where you can find the Midwest’s largest nutcracker collection on permanent display. You will also find the Rock County Veterans Memorial in Luverne, a tribute to all service men and women from the area. The memorial includes a life-size bronze statue named “Poppie,” an 18-foot obelisk and five benches for reflection.
Head to Mountain Lake’s Heritage Village, which recalls life for Russian- Mennonite and German-Lutheran immigrants who found their new homes in the town. The village is also home to the Minnesota Hall of Fame Telephone Museum, which offers a look at the progress of the telegraph and phone industry.
Step further into the ancient story of southwestern Minnesota at Jeffers Petroglyphs in Comfrey. Two natural trails wind through the 160-acre historic site where ancient, sacred Native American carvings have been discovered. The prairie trails take you past blooming wildflowers and tall prairie grasses, collectively winding for 1 mile.
Pioneer life in this region is synonymous with Laura Ingalls Wilder’s childhood in Walnut Grove and her famous book series “Little House on the Prairie.” The Sod House on the Prairie in Sanborn re-creates life during these pioneer days, showing visitors what it was like for Wilder growing up on the prairie of southwestern Minnesota.
Not far from there is the End-O-Line Railroad Park in Currie, where visitors can explore regional railroad history and tour Murray County’s first general store and first school, as well as a replica of the county’s first courthouse. Check out the model train display and take a ride on the manually operated turntable that once turned train cars around, a local treasure on the National Register of Historic Places.
One of the region’s most recent historical additions is the 9/11 Memorial Park in Marshall. Commemorated in 2011, the park features a World Trade Center beam that the Marshall Fire Department acquired following the pivotal day in recent American history. It serves as a healing memorial for local citizens and visitors alike.
Winnewissa Falls, Pipestone
photo by myra smisek
Prairie Land: Outdoor Exploration
Explore Touch the Sky Prairie near Luverne, the 1,000 acres of southwestern Minnesota that helped give the Prairie Land its name. As part of the Northern Tallgrass Prairie National Wildlife Refuge, this region preserves a stunning ecosystem of wildlife, plants and insects. Come fall, this land is ideal for a variety of hunting experiences.
And whether the sun is shining in the heat of summer or you’re pulling on a pair of boots in the middle of winter, the year-round, 13-mile hiking trail in nearby Blue Mounds State Park has plenty of enthralling sights. Climb 100-foot quartzite cliffs, watch a herd of bison graze on the tall grasses of the prairie, and observe birds taking a respite in the calm environment.
History and nature collide at Pipestone National Monument. The 300-acre monument in Pipestone was created to provide access to red pipestone quarries for Native Americans who use the material to build sacred pipes. In addition to learning about the cultural and natural history of the monument, you can explore the tall grasses of the prairie, see rock layers and formations, and hike to Winnewissa Falls.
Wind through a variety of landscapes in Lake Shetek State Park, located north of Currie. The opportunities to get outside and be active extend for miles with the park’s hiking trails and paved biking trails. The Casey Jones/Currie Loop State Trail is a 6-mile loop that connects Currie to the park, and runs through historic sites, views of lakes and restored prairie land.
On the east side of the region, a thick forest of oak stands in the midst of Minnesota’s prairie lands, sheltering the trails and Des Moines River that run through Kilen Woods State Park. Located near Windom, the park boasts 5 miles of quiet hiking trails that meander through hilly terrain and past flocks of wildflowers.
If you would rather see the region on two wheels, miles of paved biking trails run throughout the town of Tracy, taking you past city parks, shops and restaurants. Marshall’s paved bike trails are even more extensive, covering nearly 15 miles of ground all the way to Camden State Park, a 2,000-acre nature reserve in the heart of the Redwood River Valley near Lynd.
While much of the region comprises tallgrass prairies and hiking and biking trails, it has plenty of opportunities to get out on the water—we are the Land of 10,000 Lakes a er all. For instance, Lake Benton boasts an impressive 18 miles of shoreline, allowing countless opportunities to get on the water. Boat, fish and swim from public access points, or rent a private cabin for a weekend stay. Visitors can also check out nearby ATV and snowmobile trails, parks, golf courses and more.
End-O-Line Railroad Park, Luverne
photo by explore minnesota
Prairie Land: Eat, Shop, Play
From boutiques and breweries to diners and drive-ins, check out these dining, shopping and entertainment hotspots in Minnesota’s Prairie Land.
Stop in Marshall for one-of-a-kind shopping at Coco Avenue, the town’s vintage Bohemian boutique. The store is a hit among fashionistas, amateur designers and window shoppers alike. While in Marshall, pay a visit to Brau Brothers Brewing Co. where you can get a pint or two of truly local beer—they grow 11 different hops themselves. You can also get a top-notch meal there seven days a week.
Slayton is home to the famous Left Bank Coffee and Cafe, where fresh, hand-roasted coffee is their specialty. They choose and roast a variety of beans from around the world to conjure up unique natural flavors to pair with new creations of locally sourced soups and sandwiches.
More delicious, local meals are easy to find at Bergen Bar and Grill outside of Windom, where they serve up mouthwatering steaks and burgers made with meat from the processing plant across the street. Or try Lakeside Hideaway in Currie, a restaurant that sources ingredients from its own expansive garden.
If you find yourself in St. James, head to the downtown district for a peek at the historic St. James Opera House. While you won’t catch a performance there, you can sit down for a sandwich and homemade pastry at Encore Coffee Cafe, located within the restored building.
And for an evening of entertainment on the west side of the region, the Pipestone Performing Arts Center is an intimate 280-seat theater in the heart of Pipestone’s historic district.
A short drive north, you can also visit Lake Benton Opera House, which thanks to local citizens was saved from demolition in the 1970s and will celebrate its 122nd anniversary this year. The community theater company puts on a variety of shows year-round in this historic performance space.
Otherwise, pull up to Verne Drive-in Theatre in Luverne, one of the 338 remaining drive-in movie theaters still standing in the United States.
Historical Highlights: Prairie Land
1. Jeffers Petroglyphs – Comfrey
Embark on your Prairie Land adventures by viewing more than 5,000 ancient Native American carvings amongst a beautiful backdrop.
2. Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum – Walnut Grove
A short drive west, experience life as if you were part of “Little House on the Prairie” and view items including a quilt owned by the author herself and scale models of the TV series home.
3. End-O-Line Railroad Park – Currie
Travel 20 miles south to learn about local railroad history, experience life in a one-room schoolhouse and peruse Murray County’s first general store.
4. Pipestone National Monument – Pipestone
Less than an hour west along Highway 30 is this stunning monument that preserves sacred ground still used to quarry red pipestone for Native American pipemaking.
5. Pioneer Village – Worthington
Drive south along the King of Trails Highway, then east on I90 to this replica community that pays homage to early settlers. Tour several dozen turn-of-the-century buildings, including a schoolhouse, gas station, blacksmith shop and more.