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A closer look at Brainerd

Summer is a great time to discover or rediscover the rich history of our great state, and especially our very own lakes area. 

Having been born and raised in Brainerd, I too often take our natural environment and unique history for granted. This area was shaped by the influence of the Northern Pacific Railroad, the mighty Mississippi, the logging barons and stalwart settlers.  

The Brainerd Public Library is offering an opportunity to discover the stories behind our historic downtown with our new self-guided walking tour. The guidebook is filled with beautiful photographs of the landmark buildings that were important in the early days of our town, and descriptions of the history of each. I was surprised that these beautiful and elaborate hotels, theaters and storefronts continued to be built, despite so many of them having been destroyed by fire just a short time after their completion. 

The guidebook is available to check out from the library, and online as a PDF file for download. An audio tour can be listened to on your computer or downloaded to any MP3 device to listen as you walk. Also available are two short videos about the beginning of Brainerd and the building of the famous water tower:

If you’re looking to go a bit farther afield, a great resource is the book “Backroads of Minnesota: Your Guide to Scenic Getaways and Adventures” by Shawn Perich. This new edition contains 31 routes that take you all over the state to discover hidden jewels both urban and rural. While on the road, try stopping at one of the eateries featured in the new book “Minnesota Lunch: From Pasties to Banh Mi” by James Norton. While “traditional” Minnesota fare typically brings to mind lefse and lutefisk (not to mention hotdish!), immigrants from all over the world have brought their culinary delights to the state, including Scandinavian open-faced sandwiches, Somali sambusa and Mexican torta.

Author Wendy McClure decided to embrace her obsession with all things “Little House on the Prairie” and began a road trip to find out what it was really like to grow up as Laura Ingalls. One of her stops was Walnut Grove, where Ingalls Wilder fictionalized her life “On the Banks of Plum Creek.” McClure’s resulting memoir, “The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie,” is a delightful examination of pioneer life and the difference between historical fact and idealized fiction.

A nonfiction chronicle of life during hard times is “Food Will Win the War: Minnesota Crops, Cooks, and Conservation During World War I” by Rae Katherine Eighmey. During the Great War, Minnesotans grew their own vegetables, raised chickens and wasted nothing in the effort to help the “boys” fighting abroad. This new book details the lengths to which ordinary citizens went to help their loved ones and total strangers half a world away. It also offers insights into what we can do today to do more with less and use our resources wisely.

Local author Candace Simar visited the library recently to discuss her book “Pomme de Terre,” set during the 1892 Sioux uprising. The story of the survivors of the uprising continues in her new novel “Birdie,” in which the settlers must overcome the devastation wrought on their land by the grasshopper plagues.

Join us July 25, at noon for a discussion with Sarah Stonich, who after her divorce wanted to find a piece of land to call her own and to pass on to her son. The accomplished young writer found a spot in far northern Minnesota near her ancestral home and began to build. She relays her challenges and victories in her memoir “Shelter.”

We are thrilled to be hosting an event at the Crow Wing County Fair this year! On Aug. 3 at 10:30 a.m. in the bingo building, we will have craft ideas from the Minnesota’s Greatest Generation project for you to assemble and take home with you. Stop by and say hello!

Other events coming up at the library include the semi-annual book sale Aug. 4-6, and the monthly meeting of the Brainerd Book Club on Aug. 10, to discuss Jeannette Walls’ memoir “The Glass Castle.”

If your interest in a particular piece of Minnesota history is piqued during your summer adventures, we have many books and resources devoted to our shared past, so stop by or give us a call!

LAUREL HALL is the senior outreach coordinator for Kitchigami Regional Library System.