Thursday, March 11, 2021

Early Days in Spring Grove

I've been writing off and on about my Grandpa Otto Evenson's restaurant in Spring Grove, MN. I don't remember the restaurant myself, but my older siblings do, and have told me about it. My brother Emil, who spent a good deal more time in Spring Grove than I did, wrote this poem:

Grandpa and Grandma's Town

There is a small Southeast Minnesota town
where the dogs all bark in Norwegian
and lift their hind legs to salute
lutefisk barrels lining store fronts.

My delight is center on Main,
Otto Evenson's Cafe, with its
blue plate special for 25 cents,
roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy,
peas and a scoop of Dolly Madison ice cream.

There was a fascinating cigar lighter
that sparked when the lever was pulled to
light the cigar. And then there was the bottle
of Spring Grove pop. My favorite,
Strawberry Soda.

What fun it was to call my aunt and hear at
the other end, "Hello, is that you, then?" as if
it would be another.

The church stood at one end of town,
the school at the other, like two bookends
guarding everyone between from all ignorance and
evil. They did their work well. Catechism and
Primer were heeded well by townsfolk.

Not that everything was a bed of roses.
Everyone knew their neighbor's business,
good or bad.

But at the same time they were supportive.
Cheered when home team won.
Mourned when there was a death,
pulled together when there was a cause.
They were part and parcel of the town's life.

They say you can't go home again but boyhood
memories come flooding in when I walk the streets
of Grandpa and Grandma's town.

© Emil W. Evenson, Jr.

Spring Grove Soda Pop is still made. If you are ever in town you must try some. According to the current website there are nine flavors: strawberry, rhu-berry, root beer, lemon sour, grape, creamy orange, orange, cream soda and black cherry. So so sweet!!! Read all about its history here.

Speaking of history, I came across a wonderful collection of historic photos from Spring Grove via the Giants of the Earth Heritage Center.  You can see the entire collection here.

Of course I looked for pictures of Otto's Restaurant or other images that related to my family. I was not disappointed.

Otto was a Totning, which means he was from the Toten region of Norway. This is a photo of the Totning Lag, or festival, when all those from Toten gathered to celebrate their heritage. Circa 1916. My dad would have been 9 that year, so it could be him sitting in the very front of the group.

Logging was not for the faint hearted. Note that this log is being pulled through town on runners, on unpaved streets, no doubt by a team of horses that we can't see. Otto and brothers worked this trade before he married and started the restaurant. You can see the restaurant behind these guys, the sign behind the man on the far right.

Check out the clothes... I'd say this is sometime in the 1920's. You can see that Otto had competition from Hanson's Restaurant, just a few doors down. Unpaved roads.

I don't recognize anyone in this photo, taken on a homecoming celebration, but this is the best close-up I've found of the restaurant's front. I wish I could enter this picture and walk into the restaurant.  They say that a picture is worth a thousand words... maybe one of these will inspire a poem by you.

More on Otto and his restaurant in coming days. 

Today is Poetry Friday. Thanks to Heidi Mordhorst for hosting... find her and links to other poetry at


  1. Karen thank you (and your brother!) for this trip back through time and into your family's past. Fascinating!

  2. I feel as if I've walked back in time, Karen, and I wanted to stay there awhile! Dolley Madison ice cream -! Such a rich, loving tribute. My grandfather used to say times were simpler and harder but everyone was happier and looked out for each other. I get a taste of that here.

  3. This is a great post. I enjoyed it because I grew up in a small town over my family's restaurant. It's a different life, as the public becomes an integral part of family live. These are interesting memories for you, I'm sure.

  4. I love the pictures, Karen, & your brother's poem. Not there, of course, but I remember "blue plate special for 25 cents," at our own local restaurant in the little town where most of my family lived, in Pilot Grove, MO. That final picture is so special.

  5. Wow. I love this kind of everyday detail. I also read some of Grace's diary, and just--thank you!

  6. I've been down to Harmony and Preston, MN, but not sure if we went to Spring Grove, which is not far from there. I love feeling this extra connection!

  7. Thank you for sharing these fascinating pictures and a bit of your family's history. I feel like I've wandered back in time.

  8. "where the dogs all bark in Norwegian" - brilliant. Karen, this is such a treasure, all of it - I was captivated word by word, picture by picture. Thank you for sharing these bits of history and family and warmth.