The west side of southeast Minnesota lies just beyond the hills and valleys that define this corner of the state. This is the start of the flat farm country of the Great Plains, and agriculture is the principal industry.
Excepting Northfield, a vibrant college town, these interstate-hugging cities, all county seats with populations roughly around 20,000, are exceptionally ordinary, but herein lies their charm.
Blocks of unblemished 19th-century storefronts line the streets as a testament to their former prosperity; architecture and history fans can get walking tour brochures for each town at the local history museums or chambers of commerce.
Yet, unlike some other cities chock-full of classic architecture—Stillwater for instance—with businesses aimed primarily at the throngs of tourists, Faribault, Owatonna, Albert Lea, and Austin remain genuine Main Street shopping districts, with family-owned shoe stores, pharmacies, lunch counters, and the like still thriving.
So stop, have a look around, and take the pulse of Middle America.
© Tim Bewer from Moon Minnesota, 3rd Edition