The town of Henderson, on the Minnesota River in Sibley County, is famous.

Sure, Hendersonites are justly proud of their annual sauerkraut festival and sauerkraut-eating contest. But their self-esteem received a special boost from being named winner of the 2005 Preservation Alliance of Minnesota Award. And as one of only eight recipients in Minnesota of the 2006 American Association of State and Local History Awards — better known as the prestigious Leadership in History Awards — Henderson’s reputation is growing.

The reason for the state and national recognition is self-evident to any casual main street visitor: Many red brick commercial and public buildings look as if they were new rather than 130 years old. Their tall arched windows, gleaming brass decorations, inviting doorways and attractive interiors glow with the pride of the original craftsmen as well as the current owners. The buildings’ beauty and well-being are indicative of an increasing community pride.

“The town has reinvented itself,” said James Brenno, editor of the Henderson Independent.

There was a time when Henderson’s Main Street and, perhaps, its spirit were at a much lower ebb. The old buildings looked ramshackle and derelict. There was even talk of pulling up roots and moving the whole town. “The levy wasn’t high enough for a hundred-year flood,” said Mr. Murphy, a local character. “It was either put a top on the levy or move the town.”

Sometime after the levy was topped Dolores Hegan restored the Mercantile Building to its original grace. Then Doug Thomas restored a nearby building and included some of the most magnificent windows to be found on any Minnesota main street. The drugstore and pharmacy was restored and a soda fountain was included. Other buildings followed, including the 1879 Community Building that houses City Hall and the county museum.

“It was a private and public effort,” Brenno said.

It was also a coordinated effort. The Henderson Heritage Preservation Committee was formed. A development plan was written. Now, according to Murphy, busloads of tourists come to see what Henderson has accomplished. Perhaps most importantly, the residents of Henderson have a vision of the future that is well-rooted in their past.

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