Story & photos by Audrey Kletscher Helbling
On a rather non-descript building at the intersection of Minnesota State Highway 60/Fourth Street and Second Avenue Northwest, a mural welcomes visitors to historic downtown Faribault. It’s the first of eight murals showcasing the rich history of this community.
A vintage street scene highlights the stunning architecture in the expansive Commercial Historic District. The district of well-preserved late 1800s buildings centers along and branches off Central Avenue, Faribault’s Main Street. Within this core area, architectural details define many buildings constructed from local brick and limestone. Grassroots businesses, some in families for generations, are an integral part of downtown.
Several blocks away at 30 Fifth Street Northwest, a mural on Erickson Furniture—a locally-owned family run business since 1956—honors town co-founder Alexander Faribault. Visitors can tour the fur trader’s 1853 wood-frame Greek Revival style house near the city’s historic viaduct. The Highway 60 viaduct, like the Faribault House, is on the National Register of Historic Places. It spans railroad tracks and the Straight River to connect the east and west sides of the city.
The Straight River focuses another mural, this on the original Peterson Art Furniture building at 28 Fourth Street Northeast/Highway 60. The artwork snapshots a yesteryear scene of ice skaters on the river. The Straight, which connects with the Cannon River in the northern part of town, offers a recreational outlet for canoeists, kayakers and anglers.
That river mural is within view of F-Town Brewing Company, a craft brewery in a city with a brewing history. In 1856, brothers Gottfried and Ernst Fleckenstein opened riverside Fleckenstein Brewery. Exhibits featuring Fleck’s beer are in place at the Rice County Historical Society and the State Bank of Faribault. A mural on Sunset Salon, 513 Central Avenue, honors those long ago brewers of Fleck’s beer and soda.
The Olympia Cafe, a now-closed but once popular Central Avenue eatery, anchors a streetscape backdrop on the Fleck’s beer mural. Greek immigrants operated the cafe, fruit store and confectionery known for its homemade candy and ice cream. Today, in the tradition of those long ago candy makers, The Coffee Shop and Chocolate Haven at 313 Central Avenue crafts decadent homemade candies. Directly across the street in the historic Bachrach building, Bluebird Cakery also offers sweet treats, specializing in cupcakes.
Just down the block, a restored 1915 clock on the Security Bank Building adds an eye-catching, artsy focal point to the corner of Central Avenue and Third Street. The clock is prominently featured in a 1950s Central Avenue street scene mural on Faribault Vacuum & Sewing Center, 16 Fourth Street Northwest. The scene replicates art commissioned decades ago for a Northern Natural Gas Company ad campaign.
More artwork celebrating Faribault comes in a painting of an iconic amusement ride, the Tilt-A-Whirl. The mural hangs on Jim’s Auto & Tire, 119 Fourth Street Northwest. Sellner Manufacturing Company produced the ride beginning in 1926 until 2011. The county historical society includes a Sellner Manufacturing exhibit. Faribault pride in the ride is reflected in a restored 1950s vintage Tilt-A-Whirl car staged outside Burkhartzmeyer Shoes, 128 Central Avenue.
Faribault also takes great pride as the hometown of 1941 Heismann Trophy winner Bruce Smith. A mural on the back of the Floors by Farmer building along Fifth Street Northwest profiles the team captain and All-American halfback for the University of Minnesota Gophers. Additionally, the local football field is named Bruce Smith Field and a replica of Smith’s Heismann trophy rests in a historical society exhibit about Faribault’s famous athlete.
Also much loved in Faribault is the annual Pet Parade depicted in a mural on the Central Park Bandshell. The parade of kids and animals down city streets has been a tradition since 1931, spanning generations of families. Held on the first Thursday evening of August, the Faribault Parks & Recreation sponsored parade is a summer highlight. It ends with free Freezees and a free concert in Central Park.
The Mural Society of Faribault continues efforts to craft these artistic snapshots of Faribault’s history. Locally-owned Brushwork Signs was commissioned to create all eight murals.