By Craig Moorhead

The Caledonia Argus

An historic structure which once housed Caledonia’s Presbyterian Church has come back to life. Mainspring, a new nonprofit organization dedicated to the arts and culture in Houston County, now calls the building home.

As the name implies, Mainspring is located on Main Street, (404 East Main, to be exact). Melissa Wray recently purchased the church building and it’s associated manse from the Houston County Historical Society, which was no longer using the structure for it’s events, but whose members didn’t want to see it torn down.

Wray grew up on a farm just outside of Caledonia. After she bought the property, Melissa pooled her funds with some dollars provided by the Caledonia  EDA’s revolving loan program to pay for renovations. It was a  $30,000 project, including redone floors, and making the building ADA compliant by raising some steps and putting in a new door and ramp, plus adding an accessible restroom on the main floor.

“We have a basement that we hope to renovate someday,” Wray said last week, “we just don’t have the funds right now. It’s a beautiful historic building...” 

The main performance space features curved wooden pews with carved accents. Sunlight streams through stained glass windows, and the acoustics are impressive. Wray didn’t drop a pin to see if it could be heard from the back pews, but it would have been an interesting experiment.

“We’ll be doing a lot of different programs that will reach a lot of different people,” she reported.

Mainspring had it’s initial open house during Caledonia Founder’s Day (June 15), and the organization recently received it’s 501 (c)(3) status from the IRS. “We’re now able to apply for grants and fund raise, and really start building it, but it’s already been open,” Wray said.

As planned, this summer featured a gradual start-up for Mainspring. “It will take us some time to build the organization,” Melissa said. “But we’re starting to see that momentum build...”

There is no paid staff. All-volunteer board members include Wray, Allison Wagner, Amanda Ninneman, Courtney Bergey Swanson, and Kallie Rollenhagen.

The center will feature a “Vintage & Maker Market” on October 19, which will include both item makers and musicians during Caledonia’s Turkey Fest/Hot Air Balloon Rally celebration. On November 9, Mainspring will host it’s grand opening fund raising concert, including performances from not only a musician, but a small dance group from Minneapolis. The goal is to raise capital for items such as audio equipment and lighting. On December 8th, Mainspring’s inaugural Craft-A-Palooza will occur. That family-friendly event will offer participants a place to do crafts together for the holidays, with multiple stations offering lots of opportunities to try different things. 

“Those are just a few of the things coming up; we will try to do lectures, readings, and lots more,” Wray noted. “Some suggestions we’ve had include hosting book clubs, and classes for both youth and adults. We hope to do a big summer youth program, like a creative kids day-camp... All sorts of creative things.”

Mainspring includes rental space for smaller events, which may suit gatherings such as certain weddings or baby showers. Rental space is also ready for other groups or individuals to hold classes (painting, quilting or woodworking, basket-making, or even foreign languages, for example), performances, and meetings. The Caledonia Chamber of Commerce has already hosted a “Lunch and Learn” event at the venue. Current rates are $200 daily for the main hall, $75 per day for classroom/lobby space, and $275 per day to rent the full main floor. 

Eventually, a working kitchen is envisioned, so cooking classes could join the list of offerings.

“I think there is so much culture inherent in everything we do, so really capturing that in class form and being able to share those skills and crafts with people is something exciting,” Wray said. “We’re really looking to the community, asking ‘What would you like to have classes on?’ We would love to support local teaching artists in bringing those classes... We do have a heavy arts focus, but that’s not all that we do.

“We really want to offer this for all of Houston County, and we want to collaborate with other arts organizations. We’ve had events here in collaboration with the Crystal Creek Canyon Lodge, for example. We’ve talked to the Bluff Country Artists Gallery in Spring Grove, and to some of the people associated with the Ye Olde Opera House over there. How can we collaborate and offer up our space for some of these events? We don’t want to compete with other organizations doing great work. We want to accent each other.

And it’s not just about the arts, it’s also about culture, Melissa added. 

“So with that, we may see further  discussions on the farming crisis...” she noted. “Issues that are important to the community. That not only includes agriculture, but industry, the land that surrounds us, and the environment. We want to have programs that reflect all of that. 

“How do we bring the arts together to look at these topics in a way that maybe surprises people, or brings a new perspective, or just adds to what’s already there? There’s a lot of ways to approach a topic.”

Along those lines, Wray brings a unique personal perspective to Mainspring. “I just moved back in May, after living in the Twin Cities for 13 years, and it’s been a real powerful homecoming experience for me...” she stated. “Leaving and having a lot of arts experience, and then seeing how I could bring that back to my hometown community and add to what’s already here...I saw this building, and all of the different pieces of my life started to combine. I’ve always considered Caledonia home. 

“I think it’s an exciting time to be in Caledonia. There are so many entrepreneurial businesses starting up, and the businesses that are already here are so supportive to the new business owners coming in, and I’m just really excited to be part of that momentum... There seems to be a lot of excitement and energy, especially in the downtown district, and I’m glad to be a part of that.

Arts can effect the local economy in a big way.

“When people come to town for a concert, for example, they are likely going to go out for dinner beforehand, or maybe go out for a drink afterward,” Wray explained. “Maybe they decide to stay in town at one of the lodging places. And in the morning when they leave maybe they shop around, get a coffee, or something from the bakery. 

“So, I think when we offer more touch points within the downtown, or within the community for people to visit,  then we all are able to support each other in that economy.

“I feel like Mainspring is just one more touch point, adding to the businesses that are already here. For me, as a younger-generation person coming back to my home community, how can we draw more people to: A) Not leave in the first place, or B) Come back and invest in their community? 

“We live in such a beautiful place. There’s a lot of people doing (artistic and cultural) engagement in rural places. Especially in the arts.  It’s all about getting involved in your community.”

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