It had to be in 1940 or ’41 when my first time in Owatonna occurred. Not sure of the year except being sure it was before Pearl Harbor Day. My aunt and uncle had relocated here from North Dakota and Dad took us just for a family visit. Prior to my move to Minnesota in 1950 there was one another short family excursion to the city that was to become my home. Permit me to share of memories both long ago and maybe not as long ago. They will not necessarily be in chronological order but rather in the order that they popped into the mind.
As these words are stumbling into being, we sit in my old office at 135 W. Main St. in what became the Law Enforcement Center in 1972. The parking lots next door were the location of the old jail and police station. Across the street was the home of the Kelly Company, an impressive department store that occupied most of the entire block. Whatever you happened to need you could kind it at Kelly’s. Clothes, furniture and groceries could be obtained and as I recall they even purchased eggs from local farmers. On the subject of groceries, as I make the journey home I often drive past a home that was, at one time, a corner grocer. There had to have been, at one time a few dozen of these. It was difficult to be any place in town and be more than five or six blocks from a “Mom & Pop” grocery store.
The population of this fair city is more than double what it was when I arrived. The increase in size is only a small part of the changes having occurred. Did you know the post office was located on the corner that now houses the Well Fargo drive-thru? Next to that where the Federated front door is located, was a Red Owl Store. Across the street everybody knows you will find Central Park. The actual park was round and the traffic flowed in a counter-clockwise manner around the park. Squaring it up and reeducating the motoring public caused a bit of local trauma. Churches are another thing missing from in or near the central part of the city. First Baptist Church is one of the last still in the area. St Paul’s Episcopal on the corner of Cedar and Mill is the other one.
Most of the rest of the churches scattered to the suburbs with the exception of the Catholic ones. There were three at one time, all within three to four blocks of each other. There was St. Joseph’s, St. Hyacinth and the Church of the Sacred Heart. They were commonly referred to as the “Irish.” the “Polish” and the “Bohemian” churches, in that order. For reasons that were very unpopular at the time, the ruling authorities determined since they were located so near to each other that two were enough. The St. Hyacinth building is now the home of the Knights of Columbus. The other two have since been expanded and are doing very well. It shouldn’t hurt to mention also that the Masonic Temple on Oak Avenue formerly served as a Lutheran church.
The Owatonna Public Utilities has not only seen fairly recent additions and remodeling but its history has some interesting stuff to share. When I came to town OPU was still burning coal to generate power. The process of doing so also created a byproduct called steam. This steam provided the heat for many buildings in the downtown area. In the early 1960s the pipes that carried the steam were in such poor condition new connections were very limited. One of the last connections was made in 1962 in the 300 block of Cedar Avenue North. Even the Owatonna Hospital, located where Fareway Grocery is now located, was served by steam heat from the utilities, as were several other properties on South Cedar.
As these words continue, Oak Avenue is in the process of being changed from a four-lane street into one with one lane north bound and one south with a third center turning lane. You may find it interesting to know that in1954 the membership of the Owatonna Chamber of Commerce voted for it to be a first section of an Interstate highway. Fortunately the Interstate system had not yet been approved and when it was the 10-mile section going north from Owatonna became the first section built in Minnesota. This happened in about 1958.
Some of you reading this,(if anyone does) will think of other items I could have mentioned and, in fact, I will probably also but the page is full and it is time to put to bed this trip down memory lane.