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Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Visit to Main Street, Sauk Centre, Minnesota

I was headed for northern Minnesota, Thursday. I was on my way to "The Lost 40," the last surviving significant stand of White Pine in a three state area that was once covered with pine. It's about a three hundred mile drive from the Twin Cities to our destination and, of course, we'll make a few interesting stops along the way.

Turning off I-94 at Sauk Centre to head north about an hour and a half into the drive, I immediately noticed a Sinclair Lewis Interpretive Center. Now when Sinclair Lewis descibed "Gopher Prairie," a thinly disguised Sauk Centre, in the novel, Main Street, he used some colorful language:

It was not only the uninspiring, unapologetic ugliness and the rigid straightness which overwhelmed her. It was the planlessness, the flimsy temporariness of the buildings. . . . Each man had built with the most valiant disregard of all the others.

Clearly, Sauk Centre has forgiven its famous son.

In fact, Sauk Centre celebrates Lewis with some pride. You will find a Main Steet Cafe, a Main Street Theater and other references to the man and his prize-winning novel. Not the least would include this street sign.

Since it was about time for breakfast, I looked for a parking place in front of the Main Street Cafe. With good fortune, I found none. By the time I rounded the corner, turned around and parked, I was facing the Palmer House. The Palmer House is an imposing three-story hotel and displayed twin Cafe signs. "Worth a closer look," I thought.

As luck would have it, Lewis worked at the Palmer House as a substitute night-clerk and later captured the flavor of the place as Minniemashie House in Gopher Prairie. The covers of the menu in the cafe provide a good historic context for the Palmer House. The lobby has been "remodeled" to an appropriately "old" era.

Breakfast was excellent. Service outstanding. And if you wanted a newspaper, payment is on the honor system.

The town is tidy; shopowners are friendly. The two or three blocks of downtown Sauk Centre are well preserved.

If you are on Interstate 94 traveling beween the Twin Cities and the Dakotas, plan to stop. This could be a half-hour or a full day depending on your interest in literature. This article on Unsual Tourist Sites, originally published in The People's Encyclopedia fills in more details.