Wednesday, March 30, 2011

In Minnesota, the Morgan discovered Pipestone

Pipestone County Courthouse made of local stone in the Beaux Arts style.
Pipestone, Minnesota is a town many tourists simply pass-by. This is too bad. It is close to two interstate highways: I-90 to the south and I-29 to the west. A decade ago, in 2001, the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota recognized Pipestone as among the ten most endangered historic properties in the state.

Centre: First National Bank with arch
The little place has more than a dozen architecturally stunning buildings faced with beautiful local red stone. Seventeen buildings are constructed with red Sioux quartzite giving Pipestone the largest concentration of Sioux quartzite buildings in the state. Most of these were built in the 1890s and visually relate to each other in height, scale and style. There are examples of Richardsonian Romanesque, Neoclassical and Italianate styles intermingled with simpler structures.

Wind turbine sighted above trees.
Once, this quiet little town of about 4600 was a bustling, thriving community served by four different railway lines. It was a thriving transportation and shipping hub with 20 trains a day. Possibly business is coming back. My wife and I sighted at factory just outside town that was making giant blades for the wind turbines popping up all over the American West.

The original Richardsonian arch is gone.
The little town is a gem and but during the '40s, '50s and '60s it was an appreciated gem. It attracted a steady stream of tourists each summer, with interest peaking during the annual Song of Hiawatha Pageant based on Longfellow's poem. With a cast of 200, the pageant was famous for its lighting and costuming. I'm sorry to report that the final curtain came down on the long-running event in 2008.

But Pipestone still has heritage Pipestone — the cluster of century-plus buildings in its downtown core. And Pipestone still has pipestone — the special stone that gave the town its name. Only native Americans now quarry the unique, local stone used for making ceremonial pipes.

My wife and I stayed at the historic Calumet Inn. It wasn't expensive and it shouldn't be. The inn is one of those places that is trying hard but you get the feeling that cash flow is a problem. The little inn didn't even have a proper hotel parking lot. This was no surprise as century hotels were built before the advent of the car. At that time, guests simply walked from the train station to the hotel. We parked the Morgan on the street. The downtown's quiet and parking was not a problem.

Our room in the Calumet Inn.
Pipestone needs more tourists and the Calumet Inn needs more guests. The inn is centrally located and a perfect spot to stay if you are visiting Pipestone for a walking tour of the architecturally unique town.

Click the link and check out the inn and the various packages offered. The little inn wants, no needs, your business.

Pipestone National Monument

Outside of town, the Pipestone National Monument was established in 1937, restoring quarrying rights to the Native Americans. During the summer, natives conduct cultural demonstrations such as traditional pipe making. Craftsmen, many third or fourth generation pipe makers, carve ceremonial pipes using the unique stone from the Pipestone Quarry located within the park.

Visitors are encouraged to take a three-quarter mile (1.2 km) self-guided walk to view the pipestone quarries and a waterfall. A trail guide is available at the visitor center.

About 260 acres of the area has been restored to native tallgrass prairie. A larger area of restored tallgrass prairie and a small Bison herd are maintained by the Minnesota DNR at Blue Mounds State Park, 20 miles (32 km) to the south.

Pipestone Quarry: George Catlin       Smithsonian Museum/Renwick Gallery

The town's Carnegie Library is just a short walk from the Calumet Inn.
One warning: I love little, forgotten towns. Towns so unappreciated that many of the residents don't even appreciate them. Pipestone may well be one of those places. I find such places "romantic." You might find these places simply boring.


  1. When were you in Pipestone? We're planning a trip there very soon and are interested in the Calumet Inn but leary. Thank you.

  2. My wife and I were in Pipestone in late May or early June of 2010. It is a simple little town but a window on the Midwest of yesteryear. The little museum across from the Calumet is what one would expect with local historical stuff run by some eager volunteers. I enjoyed it. It had a friendly feel. The Calumet is a little rough and I imagine it could be a little more worn a year later. They need more business. It was bought by someone eager to bring it back and a lot of work went into making it a good hotel again but I don't think they get the number of visitors they need to be truly profitable. The place needed more maintenance. Our room was the best thing about the place. It was clean and furnished with antiques. If you're into effort, you might like the place. It is not the Holiday Inn. The restaurant has what you might think is an original bar but it is actually an old, heritage bar found in a neighbouring city, bought and transported to Pipestone. It is that type of effort that I appreciate but I fear isn't enough for most tourists. My wife and I travel in my old English roadster and places like Pipestone and the roads one takes to get there and then take to leave there are all part of the American we love to discover and enjoy. I used to travel through those towns in my roadster back in the '60s and it is sad to see how much has been lost over the years.

  3. I miss these kinds of posts on DJ...sounds like a fascinating place to visit!