Highway 60 road trip to southwestern Minnesota

(Last Updated On: December 15, 2020)

About a week ago a friend asked if I was considering heading out to the southwestern corner of the state to help with and/or attend the upcoming estate auction of the family of a mutual friend. It was something I had considered, but wasn’t going to do on my own. With a little encouragement though, I decided it was a good excuse to take a half-day off of work and head out to a part of the state I am not very familiar with.So now Pam has dropped off her dogs and we’ve picked up another mutual friend (and a few more bottles of red wine for later) and are driving south on Highway 169. At Mankato we slide over to Trunk Highway 60, heading farther south and west.It is a gray afternoon, warm, but with swollen skies now empty of rain. Perfect for driving.

We leave the highway and head into Saint James in search of a coffee shop and something to eat.

It’s pretty quiet in Saint James at mid-afternoon on a Friday. . .

For instance, while we quickly spot a pleasant looking coffee shop (located in the historic Opera House), it is already closed for the day.

Fortunately, Schmidt’s Bakery is just across the street and it is open.

Inside we find flaky, light-as-a-feather pastries and a variety of wonderful cookies at prices so low I don’t realize at first that the cashier has given me the total for all of our treats, not just mine. Wow. It’s tempting to buy a few more.

I want to explore a bit and take some pictures for all of you, so we wander back past the Princess Theater

and continue on around the corner.

Hmmm. . . .

This is the Pioneer Bank. I can’t imagine what the original building looked like, but clearly it didn’t look like this.

How odd.

The nondescript City Hall is across the street.

As is another, elegant little building that retains its historic character.

It appears that this too was once a bank. I like how it seems steady and sturdy and important in an understated way. Maybe the Pioneer Bank could take a lesson.

Farther along we find two churches, neither of which are open this afternoon, and thus can only be admired from outside.

There is a museum next to the historic white church, but it isn’t open either, so all we can do is gawk at the weird birdbath and other stuff oddly planted in the front yard.

The historic main drag in Saint James has some lovely buildings, but many are under utilized and a little worse for wear. There is so much potential here.

But right now there isn’t much open. Still, we find a lovely store with a nice a selection kitchen and gift items (I think it was the Country Collage) to tempt us. Farther along we come to Johnson’s Meat Market, its window lined with hand-operated grinders and its display cases containing wonderful-looking meats and cheeses.

A supply of local jerky in hand, it’s time to get back on the road.

Although the land here isn’t as flat as the Red River Valley, it is pretty flat. The most striking features of the landscape are the towering wind turbines and small town grain elevators.

We decide it’s time for another break when we reach Mountain Lake (which lacks both mountain and lake).

We are greeted by a funky drive-in, but don’t see much downtown that captures our attention.

We continue through town, cruising through a pleasant, but ordinary neighborhood. Without stopping, Pam suddenly asks if we saw “that.” I didn’t see anything of note and she refuses to tell me what exactly it is she saw. Instead she turns at the next intersection and starts back down the next street over.

From there “it” is clearly visible.

Way, way cool.

I laugh as I jump out of the car with my camera, thinking of Susan and the “strange” houses she showed me in Albuquerque and marveling at how well my friends know me.

But the world itself, as is so often the case, turns out to be a an even smaller and more interconnected place than I imagine.

What Pam has stumbled upon is the Jacob Harder house, constructed in 1980, one of the final structures designed by architect Bruce Goff. Goff inspired other architects, including Bart Prince, the architect whose work I so admired in Albuquerque. Indeed, Prince supervised the construction of an earlier Goff project in Mountain Lake for another member of the Harder family.

Glen Harder house drawing from the The Art Institute of Chicago
(The Glen Harder house has been destroyed by fire.)


We search for more cool buildings, finding the Mountain Lake Music Studio, facility.

It’s a cool-looking spot that puts new life into a classic old building.

There are probably other surprises awaiting discovery here, but the afternoon is quickly slipping by and we have dinner plans in Westbrook tonight.

Next post: Westbrook

Exploring Minnesota

5 thoughts on “Highway 60 road trip to southwestern Minnesota”

  1. Glad you enjoyed the trip to the Westbrook area :). You missed Mountain Lake lake – located on the west side of the community. The mountain is located a couple of miles south and a county park called Mountain Park. The "Mountain" was an island before the surrounding land was drained 75-100 years ago. I was quite surprised at how steep and how high it is, and it is an archeological dig site.

  2. Very nice house! And, yes, very small world…. not to mention the timing of things… Wish I could have been there…

  3. Actually, the Jacob Harder house was built in 1971, not 1980. How do I know? It says so in a book about Goff published in…1979. : )

  4. Thanks for the correction Anthony – I pulled my info off the web and it was hard to find much on the house and the web is sooooo (not) reliable anyway. . .

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