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Long Prairie and Multi-Community Church and Grotto Tours


eople always say it’s no fun being in the middle. I mean, let’s face it, who wants the middle seat in the backseat of a car? Or the middle seat on a non-stop flight to Singapore? Right, you just end up with two heads dozing on your shoulders and no place to rest your arms. Of course, being in the middle has its advantages too. Just ask Central Minnesota, which, spread over a transition zone from woodland to prairie, has never been short on wiggle room or admirers.

You can admire some of the area’s best features from the window of your motor- coach—the towering facades of churches, scenic grottos and national historic sites that seem to burst out of the local landscape. But you’ll also want to get off and tour them for yourself, in Albany, Freeport, Melrose and Sauk Centre along Interstate 94; Long Prairie and Browerville on US Hwy 71; and of course every place in between.

Settled by Germans, Polish, Irish and Scandinavians, the towns of Central Minnesota showcase a variety of European architectural styles in their churches, ranging from Roman Basilica and Romanesque to Gothic and Baroque. (There’s an art history lesson for you.) You can brush up on local geology too with a church tour. Did you know Central Minnesota is famous for its rock quarries? You’ll see examples of local stone in many of the region’s older churches and buildings.

There’s just something about stepping inside Christ the King Church (pictured at left) in Browerville that sends happy shivers up your spine. You don’t know where to direct your eyes: to the stately altar, the stained glass windows and figures of saints and apostles, or the amazing J.G. Pfeffer & Company church organ, installed in the early part of the 20th century and valued at over $100,000. Talk about music. Hit the grounds of Christ the Church for a breath of fresh air and a stroll through the Grotto of Gethsemane, designed by internationally renowned sculptor Joseph Kiselewski.

If you’ve heard of Little Falls, you’ve probably heard of its most famous son, Charles Lindbergh, whose boyhood home is now a museum. But if you’re thinking church and grotto tours, put a star by Little Falls. The tour begins at the Franciscan Convent and the Chapel of the Sacred Heart in Little Falls, and continues with visits to St. Mary’s of Mount Carmel in Long Prairie and Christ the King Church in Browerville. The tour lasts four hours, which includes a greens-side lunch at Long Prairie Golf Course.

Long Prairie is one of the oldest existing


communities in Minnesota, which means it’s had plenty of time to accumulate interesting buildings and historic sites, and a laundry list of characters who’ve made Long Prairie what it is. You might want to begin your investigations at the Todd County Museum for an overview of Long Prairie and its neighbors. Ever wonder how counties get their names? Well, Todd County took its name from John Blair Smith Todd, who was commander of Fort Ripley from 1849 to 1854 when Minnesota was still a territory.

Learn about the thriving Long Prairie frontier community and the Winnebago Indian Reservation, which in the 1850 Territorial Census listed 250 buildings and 2,551 native, mixed-race and white inhabitants. The census also records a certain Long Prairie merchant by the name of David Olmstead. Four years later, in 1854, Olmstead would be elected the first mayor of Saint Paul. Another figure from history is Canon Francis de Vivaldi. In 1851, this 22-year-old cleric was recruited by Bishop Cretin of France to minister to the Winnebago Indians of Long Prairie. He became the town’s first priest, founding Our Lady of Sorrows, the first parish church in the future St. Cloud Diocese. Our Lady of Sorrows was burned to the ground during the 1862 Sioux Uprising. Father de Vivaldi eventually departed Minnesota to become the American consul in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Expand your church and grotto tours with performances by the Long Prairie Chamber Orchestra or Players Theatre, and side trips to the River Glen Gardens, Christie House Museum, Leatherwood Vinegary and Prairie Pottery. As you can see, there’s no shortage of things to do in the middle!

Whether you choose to explore the park by bus, boat, bike or hike, Itasca is a famous natural and cultural landmark in North America. Easy to access just north of Park Rapids by 21 miles on Hwy 71, the park is a perfect motorcoach stop, for an hour, a day or even an overnight.

To include these destinations in your next itinerary please contact Long Prairie Chamber of Commerce, 320-732-2514.


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