Keepin' it local: Wanamingo: Learning from the localsWANAMINGO -- Any time I've ever thought of Wanamingo in the past, it's always been in conjunction with Kenyon because of the combined schools. But last week I got my first taste of the small town standing alone.
By: Regan Carstensen, The Republican Eagle
WANAMINGO -- Any time I've ever thought of Wanamingo in the past, it's always been in conjunction with Kenyon because of the combined schools. But last week I got my first taste of the small town standing alone.
Traveling with my friend Stacie, we turned right off of Highway 60 and onto Third Avenue South with the intention of finding the downtown. For several blocks, everything was looking pretty residential, with the exception of a greenhouse near the highway. We passed a nicely kept-up baseball field and continued straight ahead, hoping to run into a few businesses. Instead, the road simply came to a T.
Having never been in Wanamingo, we didn't know which way we'd find downtown, so we contemplated at the stop sign for a minute before taking a guess. Stacie was quick to point out - as she peered down the road - that whether we turned left or right, both directions only looked like they would lead us right back out of town.
Figuring there was no way we had already seen the bulk of Wanamingo, I flipped on my left blinker and we hoped our decision would direct us to any kind of shop or restaurant that we could explore.
As Main Street appeared in the distance we were relieved to know we wouldn't spend our whole morning being seen by locals as the one car that was actually capable of getting lost in a town of only a thousand people.
I parked the car, and since it was too early for lunch, we walked around in search of something especially interesting - which did not take long.
On one end of Main Street there was a large lot filled with tightly packed rows of airport carts from Salt Lake City, Chicago, New York and Miami. Not only was the sight of hundreds of airport carts a bit baffling, but the fact that they came from such metropolitan areas to a rural Minnesota town was a head-scratcher as well.
Stacie and I tried to let our curiosity go as we left the field of carts in search of novelty shops.
Wandering down Main Street proved to be pretty unsuccessful as we passed insurance agencies, accountants and banks - nothing of much interest to a pair of 22-year-olds.
Finally we reached a Norwegian store called Whatkins Curiosity Shop, and from gazing through the windows it looked like it was full of trinkets and gifts, making it the perfect place for us to make our first stop. But as Stacie and I walked up the steps we were stopped by a small note that said "Back by 11:30," so right back down the steps we went.
Continuing to meander, we spotted an electronics store we thought would be worth checking out, but when I went to open the front door, it was locked. We were striking out left and right, until finally we stumbled upon the Gates Art Center.
Beautiful tile mosaics caught our attention outside of the building, so we went inside to see what else it had to offer. There were separate areas for each activity, including the craft room, fiber room, tearoom and glass studio.
Owner Tamara Welzant told us she had only just opened in May, but the art center gets frequent visitors since Welzant teaches classes and holds parties there.
It was getting close to noon by the time we left Gates, and all we had to do was cross the street to find a delicious lunch at Area 57 Coffee Cafe.
The restaurant felt like stepping out of Wanamingo and into New York with its bistro style and atmosphere. Dim lighting and calming music welcomed us and, as we chose a table, I noticed classic historic photos framed on the wall. There was a fireplace and several comfortable chairs placed around it, as if a living room had been dropped into the middle of the cafe - though it didn't look or feel out of place.
Extremely friendly waiters complemented even more friendly customers who were quick to suggest we order the special of the day, which they had just tasted and loved.
Even though Stacie and I intended to get to know Wanamingo by giving ourselves a self-guided tour through downtown, it was at lunch that we realized we were learning more about the heart of the community from enjoying a meal with the locals who live there.
Distance from Red Wing: About 30 miles. Travel south on Highway 58 to Zumbrota and then take Highway 60 west.
Getting to know Wanamingo
Wanamingo place for $15 bite
Area 57 Coffee Café
Where: 125 Main St.
Hours: 7:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Monday through Friday; 7 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday
Weekday lunch: A turkey bacon wrap will set you back only $6.50, leaving plenty of room in your budget for a slice of pie or other delicious dessert - all of which were raved about by a table of regulars.
More info: 507-824-2969
The original Wanamingo, founded in 1857, was located one mile west of present-day Wanamingo, but that site is now a ghost town referred to locally as "Old Wanamingo."