Monday, October 10, 2011

Preston, Minnesota

Friends: No worries for the citizens of Mankato confusing their renamed Carnegie Art Museum with its first incarnation as a library, as a thick growth of vines covers the front of the building, covering up the "Public Library" over the entry, unlike many of the Carnegies with "Library" still on prominent display though they no longer serve such a purpose.

The Carnegie isn't the only place to go to see art in this large college (Mankato State University) and industrial city on the Minnesota River, a tributary of the Mississippi. One can take a stroll along an art sculpture tour through the city's downtown. A sculpture right around the corner from the library is made up a bike parts, largely handlebars, shaped into a cube, and is entitled "27," a cubic yard of space.

I have been on a stretch of Carnegie libraries that do not prominently and proudly acknowledge Carnegie on their original facades as most of those in Montana and North Dakota did. Some communities were reluctant to accept funds from the steel magnate, not caring for his treatment of his workers, but begrudgingly took the money. Carnegie did not care if they put his name on the library or not. He in fact preferred they didn't.

The library in Hutchinson didn't have "library" anywhere on the outside of the building. When I spotted the building in the center of a large park in the very heart of the town I though it was the city hall, though it had the unmistakable majesty of a Carnegie including a pair of pillars. The park in front of it featured a large fountain and a network of walkways with benches. It was clearly the town's centerpiece. It had a sizable addition to its rear that did not mar its appearance in the least. A plaque beside the original entry identified it as being on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Carnegie in Mapleton, a town of less than 2,000 residents, also has an entire block to itself in the very heart of the town. It had no "Carnegie" on its building and spelled "public" with a "v." The town probably hasn't grown much in the hundred years since the Carnegie was built. It is a rare one that hasn't needed an addition. It looks as pristine as if its grand opening was last week. It is a fine example of a Carnegie in its original state with a pair of inset columns and four sets of three tall magnificent windows.

No one was out and about in Mapleton early Sunday afternoon nor on the roads either, as the Vikings were doing battle on television. When I ducked into a Wal-Mart for groceries mid-morning in Mankato nearly every shopper was wearing a Viking jersey. The most popular was Favre. My fifteen minutes of provisioning was the only time I spent indoors all day. I relish all my hours in the out-of-doors.

The wind has slackened but its still blowing from the south and keeping the temperatures warm. I was happy to take advantage of the fifty-cent sodas in these small town's soft drink machines. At Mapleton I was finally able to start heading directly east, so the wind was less of a nuisance than it has been.

It was nearly one hundred miles on highway 30 to the next Carnegie in Chatfield. No Carnegie on this one either, just "Public Library" in white lettering against a green trim over the entry. This library had had a seamless brick addition. It also serves as the Chatfield Historical Museum.

Fourteen miles south the Carnegie in Preston had been desecrated by a garish bright green canopy over its entry. At least it was open on Columbus Day. Most of the libraries I have visited the past two weeks have had notices saying they would be closed, some due to budgetary restraints. Though Preston still has only 2,000 residents, its library has been greatly expanded, though more tastefully than the canopy would imply. No "Carnegie" on the building, but his portrait hangs in the addition.

I passed through the tiny town of Fountain on my way to Preston from Chatfield. It is the self-proclaimed Sink Hole Capital of the U.S.A. due to the prevalence of karst topography. It is also the starting point for a bike trail that is prominent enough that the town's water tower has a bicycle on it and the town's welcoming sign features a penny-farthing.

Preston is my last Carnegie in Minnesota. The Mississippi is less than fifty miles away. I'll cross at LaCrosse tomorrow morning and then have less than 300 miles back to Chicago. I don't have to feel any let down about a trip coming to an end as I already have plans to join up with Don Jaime for a ride through the Ozarks shortly after I return.

Hopefully I will be able to pick up the Bears game tonight in my tent. They are playing the undefeated Lions in Detroit. It is a huge game for all of Detroit--its first Monday night game in over a decade. The Bears are two and two, trying to figure out how good they are. Tonight's game will be a big test. If I were watching it on television I would be hoping to see the Super Bowl Chrysler commercial.

Later, George

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