Rural Minnesota Community Offers a Wealth of Cultural and Recreational Opportunities

Reader Contribution by Marilyn Jones
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In a 1916 foursquare prairie house and two outbuildings, Stephen, Minnesota, showcases its past.

“The collection doesn’t reflect a certain time, but rather the town’s history,” says Jane Smidt, president of Old Home Town Museum’s Board of Directors.

The farming community, located 40 miles south of Canada and 10 miles east of North Dakota, was established in 1883. I am impressed with the museum complex. I am also impressed that this community of just 650 would have a museum — and an airport, 9-hole golf course, curling club, public swimming pool, campground, and arts center — but it does.

Showing me around the house we first pass through the kitchen where beautiful depression glass, antique kitchen tools, and a vintage flour and sugar canister are displayed. Our tour continues in the dining room with its elaborately set table and up the staircase to the second floor.

Smidt shows me the bedrooms, now filled with linens, quilts, and clothing. “This collection is the culmination of years of donations,” she explains as I admire a beautiful dress displayed on a mannequin. “Many were made by residents and their ancestors.”

“I’m new to Stephen and to the museum but my husband grew up here,” the Ohio native says as we leave the house and head to the first outbuilding filled with varying collections of archives, photographs and antiques.

Smidt’s newly retired husband bought his parents’ home after they passed away. “I am really enjoying this community and its welcoming citizens,” Smidt says.

In the second outbuilding, early 20th century working steam and gas farm equipment and a stage coach are housed. “I have a lot of ideas,” she says as I ready to leave. “It’s exciting to me.”

Just up the street I meet former mayor Betty Pikop, who shows me around the Community Arts Center located in the former First Presbyterian Church that was built in 1916.

“It’s amazing really,” says Pikop as she unlocks the front door of the beautifully restored church. “We have so much to offer our citizens as well as the visitors we get from Canada who stay each summer at the campground.”

Pikop shows me around the center that the arts council purchased in 2003. “We kept as much of the architecture intact,” she says pointing to the ornate stained glass windows. “We added state-of-the-art lighting and sound systems and air conditioning, cushions to the pews, and reinforced the stage.”

I follow her down to the basement, where Sunday school rooms are now used as costume rooms and a dressing area. “The center is used for concerts, plays and musicals, art exhibits, and various classes and workshops,” she says. “Other community events and receptions are also held here.”

Just up the street is the beautifully manicured golf course, the curling club, and campground. After taking in these sites, I drive along residential streets admiring the well-kept houses with manicured lawns; flowers seem to be in bloom everywhere.

If you ever find yourself in northeastern North Dakota speeding along Interstate-29, take a little detour into Minnesota, and maybe have a cup of coffee and a piece of homemade pie at Pennie’s Café. Stephen is worth the trip.

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