To Do

St. John’s Abbey

A calm day on the shores of Lake Sagatagan; photo courtesy Violet Fox

St. John’s Abbey is a Benedictine monastery located only 14 miles from the St. Cloud Convention Center, but which feels like a world apart in many ways. One of the largest Benedictine abbeys in the Western hemisphere, St. John’s Abbey was established at its current location on the banks of Lake Sagatagan in 1865.

The centerpiece of Abbey life is the Abbey Church, with its striking Brutalist design by Marcel Breuer. Visit the small gift shop inside the Great Hall to purchase items made by the monks such as music, candles, and artwork.

dark photo with colorful stained glass with hexagonal shapes
Stained glass windows inside the St. John’s Abbey Church; photo courtesy Violet Fox
To See

The World’s Largest Twine Ball*

*created by one man

very large ball of twine in a glassed in enclosure, along with a sign describing its construction
Glassed in for its protection; photo courtesy Violet Fox

Just 40 miles south of St. Cloud, in the town of Darwin, Minnesota (population 350), exists a true gem. When you think of American innovations, you might consider the Internet or the light bulb to be top of the list, and sure, they’re up there. But let’s not forget the good old Made-in-the-U.S.A. ingenuity evinced by roadside attractions, those creations designed to lure people in from their long summertime road trips. The “largest ball of twine” is now a hotly contested title, but it got it start in Darwin with a very dedicated man, Francis A. Johnson. Johnson spent twenty nine years creating this ball of twine. Ours is not to ask why, but to marvel in his dedication.

Darwin’s Twine Ball, twelve feet in diameter and 17,000 pounds, has a Twitter account, a Facebook page, and an annual Twine Ball Day celebration every August. Twine Ball Day is similar to many small town festivals but during the parade spectators might be tossed a mini “twine ball” (i.e. a small ball of yarn). It’s just as delightful as it sounds. There’s a multi-room museum dedicated to Darwin history, and the gift shop sells twine ball merchandise.

If you’re not convinced of its legendary status, Weird Al Yankovic sang a nearly seven-minute song dedicated to “The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota“. How could you pass up seeing it yourself??

To See

Munsinger & Clemens Gardens

In the late nineteenth century, this spot along the banks of the Mississippi River was a sawmill. Today, a walk in Munsinger Gardens will demonstrate the skilled groundskeeping that makes it one of St. Cloud’s most popular destinations. Take time to meander along rock-lined paths to discover fountains and plenty of places to rest and soak in the scenery. If you hear a loud hooting sound, it may be coming from one of the garden’s resident peacocks!

flowers and green leaves framing the background of the Mississippi River
Munsinger Gardens along the bank of the Mississippi; photo courtesy Violet Fox

Just across the street, don’t miss out on seeing Clemens Gardens as well. Where Munsinger is meandering and wild, Clemens feels like the gardens of European royalty. Lush and showy, each separate area of Clemens garden has a distinct centerpiece fountain. It’s a popular place for wedding photos in the summer. Together, the gardens give you many chances to surround yourself with beauty. If you see nothing else in St. Cloud, please give yourself the opportunity to visit these botanical treasures!

buttefly with dark spotted underwings visits bunches of purple flowers
An American painted lady butterfly visits Clemens Garden; photo courtesy Violet Fox
To Do

Stearns History Museum

Here in St. Cloud we’re lucky to have the Stearns History Museum, dedicated to preserving the history of Stearns County and central Minnesota. The museum has two floors of exhibits, including dioramas and information about the natural environment and an excellent exhibit about the importance of the granite industry to the area.

historical advertising signs promoting beer, ice cream, and resorts
signs on display at the Stearns History Museum; photo courtesy Violet Fox

The museum is open weekdays from 10 am-5 pm, and Saturdays from 10 am-4 pm. Stop by on a weekday to visit the friendly librarians in the Research Center, which includes photographs and genealogical materials as well as information about local architecture and historic preservation. Ask them about the Roman columns out front and the fireplace in the Research Center, which all came from the original St. Cloud Library!

library interior with table, chairs, file cases, book cases, and a card catalog
Stearns History Museum’s Research Center; photo courtesy Violet Fox
To Do

Quarry Park and Nature Preserve

The Stearns County Quarry Park and Nature Preserve, covering 683 acres, offers lovely scenery and a variety of outdoor activities. The landscape features scenic woodlands, open prairie, wetlands, and bedrock areas.

In summer, there are swimming quarries and SCUBA diving lessons available; in winter, cross-country skiers can be seen traversing the trails. In the autumn, you’ll be able to enjoy the walking and hiking paths, as well as numerous geocaching opportunities.

Granite quarrying companies operated on the site of the park from 1913 through the mid-1950s. Along one of the walking paths you can see one of the giant derricks which moved granite; a few times a year, the derrick machinery is revived in a demonstration of how it operated.

late autumn scenic photo of a half frozen lake with trees with fall colors or no leaves
one of the two swimming quarries in colder weather; photo courtesy Violet Fox

Quarry Park and Nature Preserve is open every day of the year from 8 am to 30 minutes after sundown. To visit, you’ll need a $5 vehicle parking permit, which can be picked up at the gatehouse self-service box. It’s well worth a visit to explore the beauty of central Minnesota’s natural landscape!

To Consume, Uncategorized

St. Cloud Area Breweries and Taprooms

Wondering about places to unwind and enjoy a pint with friends after your conference sessions? (Of course you are!) There are several local breweries that are absolutely worth visiting:

Beaver Island Brewing Company

The Beaver Island taproom and outdoor patio is quick 7-minute walk from the River’s Edge Convention Center. In addition to their award-winning Check Pils beer, consider trying out the ’39 Red IPA or the Ripple German Ale. There are lots of restaurants in the neighborhood if you’d like to get something to eat with your drink. A popular choice is House of Pizza, which will deliver to the taproom.

Urban Lodge Brewery & Restaurant

A short drive from downtown St. Cloud will bring you to this taproom and restaurant in Sauk Rapids, which has a nice selection of small-batch ales. Urban Lodge offers a full menu featuring pizzas, salads, sandwiches and burgers. Check out the appetizers and shareables if you’re going with a crowd! (Cheese fondue, anyone?)

Bad Habit Brewing Company

Only a block away from the College of St. Benedict in the heart of St. Joseph, Bad Habit is a fun taproom with a regularly rotating list of interesting brews. The Dark Addiction Chocolate Milk Stout is especially popular. Many local restaurants (such as Bello Cucina and Sliced Pizza) will deliver food directly to you at the taproom.

Milk & Honey Ciders

Sitting on the outskirts of St. Joseph, the Milk & Honey taproom and patio has a great rustic vibe. All of the ciders are delicious, but it’s especially worth trying whatever the current Deepcuts infusion is currently on tap. While locally sourced cheese plates and Heggies Pizza are always available to order in the taproom, be sure to also check their events calendar for food trucks.


Abolitionist Jane Grey Swisshelm

Jane Grey Swisshelm (1815-1884) was a journalist, publisher, abolitionist, and women’s rights advocate. Her years in St. Cloud were tumultuous, to say the least.

After divorcing her husband, she moved to St. Cloud from Pittsburgh in 1857. In St. Cloud she controlled a string of newspapers and frequently wrote and lectured arguing for the rights of women and African Americans. She frequently sparred with St. Cloud’s first mayor & political boss, Sylvanus Lowry. Lowry had come to St. Cloud from the South and it infuriated Swisshelm that he maintained ownership of his slaves even in Minnesota, which was a free state. She frequently railed against his mistreatment of his slaves and his bad faith dealings with Native Americans in the area.

Lowry started a rival newspaper to offset her influence; that newspaper later became the St. Cloud Times (still the area’s newspaper today). As Wikipedia summarizes, “After one of her fiery editorials, Lowry formed a ‘Committee of Vigilance’, broke into the newspaper’s offices, smashed the printing press, and threw the pieces into the nearby Mississippi River.” Swisshelm raised money for a new press and continued to harass the slaveowner in heated editorials.

Unfortunately, as progressive as she was in fighting for women and slaves, she also advocated for the removal and genocide of Native Americans. Read more about Swisshelm’s complicated history via Minnesota Public Radio’s 2002 article, “A woman of contradiction” and the Twin Cities Daily Planet’s 2013 article, “For justice and truth in Minnesota reporting, Jane Swisshelm not totally a profile in courage“.

black and white photo of a sitting woman in an early Victorian dress
photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons;