Note: I wrote the draft of this post after visiting Waseca, Minnesota in June 2016 — but didn’t publish it. I’ve had a very busy schedule this month so I’m dusting off the draft and putting it out there today. Hope you enjoy it.)
June 28, 2020
While sitting at the counter one bright summer morning at the Pheasant Cafe…
Sixes! I need Sixes!
That cry echoed across the diner with the urgency of a Chicago commodities trader hawking pork bellies at the Merc.
I looked up from my ham and cheese omelet with hash browns to find the source of the sudden commotion. There, off to my far right sat four old men around a corner table. A fifth man, probably a septuagenarian, stood leaning forward, left hand on the table, right hand clutching five big red dice, ready to toss them onto a white tablecloth. Dishes and silverware from finished breakfasts had been pushed to the edges of the table, making room for a small pile of silver coins in the center. Old friends playing for nickels and dimes — early Thursday mornings here in rural Minnesota somehow resemble late Friday nights at Caesar’s in Las Vegas.
Meanwhile, not minding the rambunctious old men, a lone old woman sat at a separate table across from them, calmly sipping her coffee, waiting for her husband who should arrive in a few moments. At yet another table two old women sat together, similarly sipping their black coffee and waiting. Perhaps they are wives to one or two of the dice-playing men. Or perhaps they have no one to wait for. I wondered.
Waseca, Minnesota lies about an hour south of Minneapolis but a world away. It’s corn and soybean country; no casinos, those are an hour south in Iowa. Here’s a free plug for the Pheasant Cafe. Drop by someday — I doubt you’ll get any action, but the good food will be reward enough.
Outside the cafe, State Street has been prepared for the Fourth of July.
In addition to the classic breakfast café, Waseca successfully meets and exceeds all one’s small-town expectations. The two blocks of downtown businesses are all open. (This includes two other coffee shops, several bars, and at least two casual dining restaurants.) Side street houses are shaded by tall leafy trees. Lawns are being mowed, wood siding is being re-painted.
The Waseca Music Company is still around, still on State Street. In fact, they’ve been around since 1952, which means they were around when the Beach Boys’ “I Get Around” charted to number one in the United States in 1964. The Waseca Music Company probably sold that record as a 45.
Waseca boasts a population of 9,000. That’s small but growing — 9,000 is its largest size since settlement in 1867. Waseca is the largest town in Waseca County and the county seat.
People think Minnesota is full of Swedes, but the census says that there are twice as many people of German descent here as there are Scandinavians, and in turn twice as many Scandinavians here as Irish, who are twice as many as the combined totals of all other Waseca residents.
Built in 1897, this Richardson Romanesque structure has three granite pillars across the front entrance. The entrance is clothed in American flag banners in anticipation of the Fourth of July just two weeks away at the time of the photo. Above it all, a corner, four-faced clock tower rises 100 feet above the ground and keeps accurate time.
This courthouse can be found on the National Register of Historic Places. Here’s some additional information on Wikipedia. That entry, however, doesn’t mention the cannon found on the courthouse lawn. It seems too large to be from the Civil War — perhaps it’s a World War I artifact.
Nearby grain elevators give away the county’s main line of business.
Later on, as I walked along a residential street, three 10-year-old girls ran swiftly past me on the sidewalk. I heard: “Hi”, “Hi” (the third one a bit behind the other two) and “Hi”. Wearing summer pastel shorts and t-shirts, each one said good morning to the stranger (me) as they rushed along to accomplish 10-year-old girl things.
They were probably going to the lake. Every Minnesota town has its own lake — didn’t you know that? Until James Lileks features Waseca in The Bleat, you can find out more here (the website has a rotating series of photos and the 2nd one is a good aerial view of the town and lakes).
All photos were taken by the author on June 23, 2016.
A list of all photo posts from the American County Seats series in TimManBlog can be found here.
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