Snugly settled in far southern Minnesota, near the Iowa border, Fairmont offers a number of pleasant surprises. It has two historic venues devoted to music and the arts. Its diverse museum exhibits highlight the town's agricultural and industrial accomplishments -- and its connection with Paul and Linda McCartney. And its five connecting lakes provide year-round recreational opportunities.
Arts on the prairie
Visual and performing arts are a focus at the Red Rock Center for the Arts (222 E. Blue Earth Av.; 1-507-235-9262, www.redrockcenter.org), which hosts art exhibits, art workshops and free monthly lunch concerts. The featured gallery artist for October is Shelley Holl, co-author of "The Minnesota Table," a culinary travelogue. The former First Church of Christ Scientist was decaying when the Martin County Preservation Association bought it in 2001 and began extensive restorations. Built in 1898 of red stone quarried near Pipestone, it is an example of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture. It's on the National Register of Historic Places, and guided tours are available by appointment.
Also on the Historic Register is the Fairmont Opera House (45 Downtown Plaza; 1-507-238-4900, www.fairmont operahouse.com), which was built in 1901 and continues to serve as a venue for live theater and musical performances. Managing director Kathi Peterson said the opera house strives to offer a lively mix of entertainment, from children's theater to blues concerts.
Community members donated money and thousands of volunteer hours to refurbish the theater in the 1980s, and the McCartneys were among the contributors. Three seats in Row J are designated with nameplates for Paul, Linda and their first daughter, Mary.
Freeze-frame in time
The McCartneys traveled to Fairmont in 1994 to launch Linda's line of frozen vegetarian meals, which were manufactured by Fairmont Foods of Minnesota (Linda died in 1998). Photos and memorabilia from the visit are displayed in the lobby of the Martin County Historical Society's Pioneer Museum (304 E. Blue Earth Av.; 1-507-235-5178; www.fairmont.org/mchs).
The museum's extensive collection also includes an exhibit on Fairmont Railway Motors, one of the first U.S. companies to produce motorized railway cars, plus artifacts from Fort Fairmount and the Civil War.
Another place to explore history is Heritage Acres (827 Lake Av.; 1-507-235-8585) an agricultural interpretive center spread over 50 acres overlooking Lake Sisseton. Buildings include a one-room schoolhouse, a train depot and a grain elevator. The center is open by appointment, and admission is free. Its fall festival on Oct. 16 will feature antique equipment demonstrations and apple pressing.
The oldest surviving house, the Chubb House (209 Lake Av.; 1-507-235-9777), hosts events like a pioneer stew lamplight dinner Saturday and a Christmas tea (Dec. 3). The Greek Revival structure was built in 1867 by the town's first doctor and was saved from demolition in 1992. Tours by appointment.
Relaxing by the lakes
Like Minneapolis, Fairmont is dubbed "The City of Lakes." But it also could be called the city of lakeside parks. Lincoln Park, which adjoins George Lake, is known for its beautiful gardens and the picturesque Livingston Log Cabin, built in 1865 by a pioneer family. Sylvania Park and its historic bandshell overlook Lake Sisseton, and Cedar Creek Park's 1.8-mile paved multipurpose trail takes rides and joggers between Hall and Amber lakes. Another paved trail follows the west side of Lake Sisseton. If you'd like to rent a bicycle, stop in at the Bicycle Shoppe (505 Lake Av.; 1-507-238-1092).
Joy Riggs is a freelance writer based in Northfield, Minn.