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St. Mathias book, puzzle and game exchange is a free-for-all

St. Mathias Township was incorporated in 1892. Before the town hall was built, meetings were at a nearby school, and the board consisted of three supervisors, a clerk and a treasurer, a justice of the peace and a constable. Submitted photo1 / 4
St. Mathias Town Hall is now the site of a book, puzzle and game exchange after the 1918 building that originally cost $480 to build was recently outfitted with four custom-built bookcases. Submitted photo2 / 4
The St. Mathias Town Hall is in the geographical center of the township on land purchased about a century ago for a dollar from Louis Manard, a neighboring farmer. Submitted photo3 / 4
More than 1,000 books are available at the old St. Mathias Town Hall. People can donate their books, puzzles and games, and the items will be given to others for free and without limitations as to the number of items that can be taken. Submitted photo4 / 4

The old St. Mathias Town Hall started a new chapter in its storied history.

The former meeting space is now the site of a book, puzzle and game exchange after the 1918 building, originally costing $480 to build, was recently outfitted with four custom-built bookcases.

"We kind of started the exchange about a year ago without any publicity ... just to kind of get it going because people were donating books, and we just felt like we should open the town hall up," said Mary Sather, a 69-year-old wife and mother of nine who works at Austin's Tax Service.

The town hall was in the geographical center of the township on land purchased for a dollar from Louis Manard, a neighboring farmer. Meetings were heated with a wood stove, and it took until the early 1960s for the interior walls to be insulated and paneled, according to Sather.

The construction of a new building at St. Mathias Park, including year-round heat, caused the board to abandon meetings at the old town hall, but Sather said she thought something should be done with it, "something community-oriented."

"The town hall is probably the only thing in the township left that you can say, 'Historically, this represents our township,'" said Sather, a lifelong township resident and member of St. Mathias Catholic Church.

The township was incorporated in 1892. Before the town hall was built, meetings were at a nearby school. The board had consisted of three supervisors, a clerk and a treasurer, a justice of the peace and a constable, according to Sather.

"The chimney was an ideal place for a bird nest. The building would fill up with smoke until the debris burned out or was removed," Sather recalled of the old wood stove.

"When it was really cold, a board member would go earlier in the day to start the fire. The stove gave out a lot of heat, so the temperature was managed by opening and closing the building door to cool off the interior or keep the heat."

More than 1,000 books are available at the town hall and include genres such as fiction, nonfiction, young adult, children, crafts and cookbooks in hardcovers and paperbacks.

"Some of the hardcovers are brand new because they were donated from a bookstore that went out of business," said Sather, who was the township clerk for more than three decades but retired from the board in 2014.

Carleen Koering, a township resident and volunteer, said the idea was to encourage reading by making books available to everyone for free at the town hall, which has not been used as a meeting space since 2001.

"I like to read. When I grew up in south Minneapolis, there was a branch of the Minneapolis public library in the elementary school that I went to, and I helped way back then in the library," said Koering, a 78-year-old wife and mother of nine.

"Reading is something that has always been very important to me. You can learn so much from reading—really and truly."

People can donate their books, puzzles and games at the historic town hall. The items will be given to others for free and without limitations as to the number of items that people would like to take with them.

"If one of them turns out to be their favorite book, and they want to keep it, that's fine with us. The purpose is to get books out there, so they can be read," said Sather, an avid reader and an amateur writer.

The exchange operates 3-7 p.m. Tuesdays and 9 a.m.-noon Saturdays at the town hall, which is located at 7000 County Highway 2. An open house is planned 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sept. 15 at the town hall with refreshments served in honor of the building's centennial.

"When I pick up a book and I start reading it, I do not know anything that's going on around me. I don't hear a TV, I don't hear cars go by. It's just like I walked right inside of that book, and that's what I really enjoy about reading—the ability to be someplace else, someone else," Sather said.

For more information about the St. Mathias Town Hall book, puzzle and game exchange, or to volunteer at the exchange so it can open to the public for more hours, contact Sather at 218-828-1989 or Koering at 218-829-8237.