‘The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota’

Posted 9/1/21

Your life is not complete until you see Minnesota’s biggest ball of twine. While that may be stretching it, I’m a sucker for roadside attractions and road trips. Which is why when my best friend …

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‘The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota’


Your life is not complete until you see Minnesota’s biggest ball of twine.

While that may be stretching it, I’m a sucker for roadside attractions and road trips. Which is why when my best friend surprised me with an overnight road trip last week (a belated birthday present), I was ecstatic. We only had Thursday night and Friday to sightsee; we packed a lot of punch into those 24 hours. And yes, I saw Minnesota’s biggest ball of twine in Darwin.

Our trip took us southwest of the Cities through the Minnesota River Valley, a place I had never been. I was surprised by the historic, quaint river towns we encountered along our way: Chaska, Carver, and Jordan. I had no idea how charming these towns were. I especially loved the preserved brick architecture and the levees protecting the towns from the potential floods of the Minnesota River.

Not surprisingly, with the drought we’ve endured, the water in the river was low. It was a muddy ribbon of slow-moving water through visible sand and silt.

The next town we rolled through was Le Sueur, the place where a group of industrious souls founded the Minnesota Valley Canning Company, later known as Green Giant, in 1903. Not to disappoint, we found a Jolly the Green Giant sign to snap a photo of. Although it wasn’t as impressive as the 55-foot-tall Jolly statue further south in Blue Earth, I felt accomplished at adding the attraction to my “collection.” Also in Le Sueur is the childhood home of Mayo brothers, William and Charles, who founded the renowned Mayo Clinic in nearby Rochester, Minn. The small, white frame house is perfectly preserved, sitting in the shadow of the town’s grain elevator.

We soon wound our way through beautiful farmland and bluffs to St. Peter, Minn., home of St. Peter’s Pearly Gates and Gustavus Adolphus College. The Linnaeus Arboretum is a gem hidden on campus, filled with more tree species than I could count. Before a stroll through the Arboretum, we had dinner at the 3rd Street Tavern, which boasts “the best ribs for miles around.” The ribs were pretty good, but the homemade macaroni and cheese was even better.

We stayed at an AmericInn in town; nothing fancy, but it seemed like a nice place. It was funny when we found three frozen Busch Light cans in our mini-fridge. The front desk clerk didn’t even bat an eye when she said, “Oh, I bet that was left behind by the cleaning crew. Do you want them? Free beer!” Tempting, but no thanks, we said. I’m glad it wasn’t until the next morning that I saw my comforter had blood on it. It just reinforced the idea that hotels don’t clean their comforters very often, which is disgusting. Shaking off the heebie-jeebies, I comforted myself with an extra large black coffee from the Caribou next door.

Next leg of our tour took us to Germaninspired New Ulm, Minn. I felt like I had stepped back in time into a Bavarian village. The Main Street has German music piped through town and a Glockenspiel chimes on the hour as little figurines pop out and twirl. We scaled the Center Street Hill to find the Hermann the German monument, who stands astride a cupola overlooking the valley. If you climb the spiral staircase, you will have an amazing view. The monument is 102 feet tall and was built in 1897.

A winding road through forest canopy takes you to the Schell’s Brewery, mansion and gardens. Peacocks strut through the grounds, which are immaculate and pristine. Again, I did not feel like I was in Minnesota. Schell’s was the first brewery in Minnesota to brew craft beer.

Our day took us through Redwood Falls and Beaver Falls, where we hiked miles of trails along the Redwood River, Ramsey Creek and Beaver Creek. One expedition took us up a rocky, muddy hill far back in the middle of nowhere with the promise of seeing a waterfall on Beaver Creek. It was worth the trek, but I was again reminded that I need to spend more time getting into shape.

And finally, the piece de resistance, Minnesota’s largest ball of twine. The giant twine ball sits in its own glassed-in gazebo in Darwin, Minn. At night, a light shines on Francis Johnson’s creation like a beacon across the flat Minnesota farmland. Johnson wrapped his twine ball strand by strand from March 1950 to 1979, when his emphysema diagnosis halted his twining. It weighs 17,400 pounds and inspired Weird Al Yankovic to write “The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota.” The twine ball averages 150 visitors per day during the summer.

As our trip drew to a close, I felt sad that we didn’t have more time. Next up? The SPAM Museum in Austin, Minn.