Cheri Landsteiner never heard of curling while growing up near the southern Minnesota town of Delavan.
“No one ever spoke of it,” she said.
Then she married Steve Landsteiner from a dozen miles up the road in Mapleton — a town of 1,700 people in Blue Earth County with a rich curling history dating to 1857. That’s when Scottish immigrants who settled there brought their game along, using flat irons for stones and saplings for brooms while curling on the frozen Maple River and nearby icy lakes.
“Bemidji claims to be the capital of Minnesota curling, but so does Mapleton — it’s kind of comical,” said Cheri Landsteiner, manager of the Northwest Gas Co. in Mapleton.
Cheri, Steve and their daughter, Jessica, recently returned to Mapleton after a 6,000-mile trek to Pyeongchang, South Korea — site of the so-called “Miracurl on Ice.”
Their 27-year-old son and brother, John Landsteiner, played the lead position on the gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic curling team. One of the feel-good stories of last month’s Winter Games, the U.S. curlers have enhanced the once-obscure sport’s popularity while illuminating Mapleton’s curling connection.
“You hate to say, ‘We were first,’ because Duluth or St. Paul might say, ‘Wait a minute …’ ” said Tim Solie, the 54-year-old historian at the Heather Curling Club — housed in a four-sheet rink built in Mapleton in 1950.
“But I’ve been around here a long time and I’ve done a lot of research. And, oh my gosh, to think they were curling here before Minnesota gained statehood in 1858 — it’s stunning.”
Both the Minnesota Historical Society and Smithsonian magazine agree that Mapleton rocked the cradle of Minnesota curling — a sport tracing its origins to Europe in the 1500s. Scottish soldiers brought the game to North America during the French and Indian War in the mid-1700s.
“Across the world’s frost belt, more than a million people go curling each winter,” the Smithsonian reported in 1999. “About 160 of the 15,000 devotees in this country are associated with the Heather Curling Club in Mapleton, Minnesota, a rural community with a strong Scottish presence.”
“In communities like Mapleton,” the Smithsonian went on, “the spirit of curling is passed on from one generation to the next. … Curling is much more than a pastime; it’s a way to keep a family and a community together.”
To wit: Both Steve Landsteiner and his gold medal-winning son, John, began curling as 10-year-olds with the Maple River Rockers juniors team. John’s grandfather, Don, and his uncle, Greg, have been curling since the 1980s.
“Curling is big deal in Mapleton,” said Coleen Lindemann, president of Maple River Heritage, which runs a museum complete with a curling display at 204 Silver St., open 9 a.m. to noon, Wednesdays and Saturdays.
She points to four Mapleton members of various U.S. national teams over the years and Olympians such as Landsteiner — who also competed in Sochi, Russia, four years ago.
“For a town of 1,700, that’s pretty incredible,” Lindemann said. “We’re a small town. It’s cold. There’s not a lot to do and they’ve been curling here since the pioneers settled the area in the 1850s.”
Bringing only what they could carry, those Scottish émigrés had to leave the heavy granite stones back home. They used wooden boxes filled with stones and straw house brooms, often borrowing their wives’ flat irons to slide across the ice.
In his brief history on the Heather Curling Club’s website — tinyurl.com/MapletonCurling — Solie says the first real granite curling stones weren’t imported from Scotland to Mapleton until the late 1800s. The community’s penchant for curling went hand-in-hand with its love for Scottish poet Robert Burns, whose birthday is celebrated in Mapleton each Jan. 25.
Solie said the club’s name changed from the Blue Earth Valley Burns Club (1866) to the Maple River Curling Club (1888). By 1896, town curlers created a better outdoor rink near the library.
The club adopted the Heather Curling Club name in 1904, when curlers moved into a new two-sheet, indoor facility near the town’s grain elevator. Today’s four-sheet rink, built by volunteers, replaced the original building in 1950.
In recent years, the club added a dual name, using “Mapleton Curling Club” to help with internet searches, Solie said.
About 30 people, including Solie, gathered there for a raucous, late-night viewing party when John Landsteiner’s team won the gold medal against Sweden. It was only the second U.S. curling medal ever.
“It was crazy,” Solie said. “You couldn’t beat it. A local boy does good.”
All the while, Steve and Cheri Landsteiner were texting from Pyeongchang. Clearly, Mapleton had come a long way from the flat irons of the 1850s.
In 1962, a marker was erected on Hwy. 22 at Central Avenue, on the north end of Mapleton, proclaiming the town as the “Cradle of Curling in Minnesota.”
Solie said he’s not sure what happened to the marker, and the subject remains “a burr under our saddle.”
There is another illuminated sign in town, though, that says it all. Just below the sign for Mapleton’s municipal liquor store — known as the “Mapleton Muni”— a smaller sign declares: “Welcome Curlers.”
Curt Brown’s tales about Minnesota’s history appear each Sunday. Readers can send him ideas and suggestions at email@example.com. His new book looks at 1918 Minnesota, when flu, war and fires converged: https://tinyurl.com/MN1918.