In Southeast Minnesota, adventures await in every direction.
Spring Valley is a perfect example. Gracious hospitality. Historical landmarks. A Laura Ingalls Wilder connection. The birthplace of the founder of Sears. A Methodist church with a basement full of town artifacts. There’s much to appreciate in this Fillmore County community.
The catalyst for my newfound Spring Valley appreciation was some learning that took place in advance of a congregational engagement. I was preparing to preach at the installation of a pastor, and wanted to get a deepened sense of the congregation’s history.
The online Minnesota Digital Newspaper Hub made it possible to view old newspaper clippings about the congregation (Our Savior’s Lutheran Church), and its two predecessor congregations (Trinity and Zion). I also stumbled across a two-volume book set called “The History of Fillmore County,” published originally in 1912. It was full of architectural, organizational and civic history.
All of the pre-reading made my actual Sunday visit to Spring Valley feel like an extra-special excursion. I invited my mom, Pam, to come along, too, and we had a delightful time.
The morning at Our Savior’s was a joyous celebration as Pastor Jolene was installed.
During coffee hour, I met Sharon, a local historian. Meeting a local historian after reading a lot of town history is basically like meeting a celebrity. A kind, knowledgeable, gracious celebrity. I inquired about the existence of a self-guided walking tour of the community, and learned that Sharon not only knew of one, she’s the one who created it!
I also asked around about what we should do after church, and several people recommended the Spring Valley Methodist Church Museum, which also serves as a Laura Ingalls Wilder site. Mom and I got in the car, and traveled a couple blocks to the old brick church with the tall, white steeple.
Across the street from the museum was an old piece of farm machinery with a sign that read “History Matters.” We snapped a quick photo and headed inside.
Three young people were working that afternoon, and they were helpful and courteous. The main floor contained a gift shop and welcome area. Upstairs in the church’s sanctuary, there was Wilder family history, as well as a huge host of artifacts from county congregations that have closed (including special mementos from Trinity and Zion, the two predecessors of Our Savior’s).
While the entire museum experience was educational, the basement was my favorite (and the most unexpected). A flight of stairs was like a time portal, and we were transported into Spring Valley of yesteryear. There were exhibits highlighting regional indigenous history, as well as profiles of community members and memorabilia from old businesses.
A special highlight for me was reading about Dr. Isabel Albro (1814-1903). She began practicing medicine in Spring Valley from her home in 1862. The contents of her medical kit were on display, as well as a summary of her life and impact. Her posted biography included the following: “In the winter when roads were impassable and stormy, she rode her pony across country on house calls, even as far as Chatfield.” What a resilient and dedicated physician!
Every community has a history worth studying. I feel immense gratitude to have stumbled into an opportunity to learn more about Spring Valley. The experience reminded me that we live in a region of Minnesota full of adventures and opportunities to learn.
Consider a trip down Highway 63. Maybe I’ll see you there (wearing my new purple Spring Valley Methodist Museum T-shirt, of course).
"Holy Everything" is a weekly column by Emily Carson. She is a Lutheran pastor. Visit her website emilyannecarson.com.