[dropcap]P[/dropcap]icturesque nature is the backdrop. Historic charm is the small town. Welcome to Lanesboro, Minnesota, population 754 where the past coexists with the present.
This charming historic community offers it all – fishing, kayaking, canoeing and tubing on the lazy Root River flowing behind Main Street, biking the paved Root River Trail, learning about and tours of the nearby Amish community, unique one-of-a-kind boutiques, handcrafted artwork, an excellent local theater, weekend farmer’s market, and a variety of dining spots – and most of it within its well-preserved three-block downtown. With Lanesboro listed on the National Register of Historic Places, its 15 licensed B&Bs encourage visitors to step back to a simpler time and reconnect with simplicity.
Situated along the Historic Bluff Country National Scenic Byway in the southeast corner of Minnesota, Lanesboro was one of the state’s best-kept secrets. That is until the accolades began.
Yahoo! Travel/Forbes Traveler named Lanesboro one of “America’s Prettiest Towns” due to its scenic beauty and small town atmosphere. Mother Earth News recognized the town on the “Great Places You’ve (Maybe) Never Heard Of” list for its culture and natural attractions. Lanesboro has also been dubbed the Rhubarb Capital of Minnesota.
No sports bars. No billboards. No traffic lights. No franchise restaurants. In 1998, Lanesboro won the National Trust’s “Great American Main Street Award”, which “recognized exceptional accomplishments in revitalizing America’s historic and traditional downtowns.”
My husband and I booked our room reservations well in advance at Mrs. B’s Historic Inn fully aware that summer weekends are extremely popular with the population exploding with visitors arriving from near and far. If you wait until the last few weeks prior to your planned arrival, there will be no rooms available anywhere in town.
In step with historical charm, Mrs. B’s innkeepers preserve a Victorian motif. There are no TVs in the rooms, and quite frankly, I never missed them.
Built in 1872 on the Root River Trail, the corner brick building – a former bank – is on the historic downtown main street with everything within walking distance. Go to Lanesboro.com for lodging information. The blue flower patterned wallpaper of the parlor sets off authentic details amid a glam chandelier dangling from the ceiling centered above two overstuffed, red leather couches.
What to Do
The DNR’s office is a busy spot on weekends. Bicyclists are busy selecting their bike trail packages before heading out on the acclaimed Root River Bike Trail. The 60-mile trail offers outstanding views of towering 300-foot limestone bluffs, pastoral land, dense hardwood forests, abundant wild life, and tranquil small farming communities. Lanesboro is an excellent starting point to take it all in.
Alternative outdoor activities include tubing and canoeing down the Root River or heading up to the Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center about five miles northwest of town. It features not only prime hiking in the bluffs, but also offers overnight “environmental experiences”. Check out eagle-bluff.org for details.
Shopping and eating are a given. The downtown area is brimming with local shops, many in mid- and late-19th century brick and native limestone buildings. And the shopping? Well, it’s all part of the pleasure of the hunt, especially the antiqueing.
I highly recommend an evening or matinee show at the Commonweal Theatre (commonwealtheatre.org). Its live performance format is similar to Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion. The Lanesboro Art Center hosts nationally acclaimed artists and juried art exhibits in various media. Regional artists have their work on display as well.
With plenty of informal diners and fine dining to choose from – I enjoyed lunch in the 50’s atmosphere of the Pedal Pushers Café – you’ll savor great food. On the weekends there is always live music somewhere in a downtown bar that spills outdoors to a deck. If wine is more to your liking, sample fresh fruit wines at the Scenic Valley Winery located in the old creamery building.
On Saturday mornings down at Sylvan Park, just a few blocks from the downtown area, nearby Amish women ply their wares and baked goods. It’s a fabulous venue. Most encourage food sampling and enjoy explaining how they make their products.
Explore Another Culture
Horses pulling black Amish buggies strike a leisurely cadence through town and on the local country back roads as the straw-hatted Amish men (in black and dark blue pants and shirts) go about their business. The women (in black or dark blue dresses and bonnets) are visible hanging clothes outside behind their simple farmhouses or in town selling their homemade goods.
Lanesboro borders one of the largest Old Order Amish settlements in America. The rolling countryside offers an ideal locale for their simple way of life, while the small town provides an important link between them.
The Amish Christian lifestyle – very simple and self-sufficient – is family oriented with traditions strictly defining family. They have no desire for material wealth. Children attend school in primitive one-room structures, simple houses are completely powerless, workhorses pull plows, and windmills turn water pumps. Transportation is either via horseback or buggy on gravel roads.
Slip away from your comfort zone, and drive along the rural roads for a few hours where farmland unfolds to either side. Or sign up for a tour. Two local companies offer educational guided tours to some Amish farms where visitors can see the Amish as they really live and purchase their products. Their woodworking craftsmanship, in particular, is superb. A boy in his late teens or maybe early 20s explained to me how his family made furniture. He was eager to answer questions, and although he admitted he had never used a computer or been on the Internet, he didn’t indicate any overwhelming curiosity or desire to do so.
Approximately 120 Amish families live in southeastern Minnesota. My tour guide explained that they relocated here for the inexpensive farmland and excellent hardwood forests for furniture making.
Be respectful with your camera. If you take photos, the Amish prefer to be photographed from behind. A visitor’s brochure sums it up best: “While you talk and mingle with the Amish, please remember that they are not actors or spectacles, but ordinary people who choose a different way of life.”
The slow pace of life – both in Lanesboro and along its Amish fringes – makes for an unforgettable weekend excursion.