WASECA — Mark and Pat Pearson have been patiently waiting for their historic Waseca home on Elm Street to become the place it was when they first saw it a decade ago.
It was the Friday after Thanksgiving when the traveled to Waseca from the Twin Cities to look at the Victorian-style house that was built in 1898. They bought it that day. Due to the holiday, the street was far less active than usual.
They moved in sometime after Christmas and quickly discovered that Elm Street was more than a busy city street that runs through the heart of Waseca. After watching dozens of semis rumble by, they realized their beautiful front porch was actually overlooking Highway 14 — one of the busiest thoroughfares in southern Minnesota.
That changed at 9 p.m. Friday when a new Highway 14 bypass was opened to traffic, connecting Waseca to Owatonna with four lanes of highway instead of two. It also sends those semis south of town instead of down Elm Street.
“I don’t mind the cars at all,” Mark Pearson said Saturday as he watered his flowers and bushes. There was still a steady flow of local traffic passing his house.
“When I’m inside, I can’t even hear them. It’s the trucks that I don’t like. I could feel them coming before I could see them.”
Although the Pearsons said they will be enjoying quieter nights without the sound of diesel Jake brakes, they are both concerned about Waseca businesses that have depended on a constant flow of travelers through town. They know the owner of Country Collection Antiques & More, a business west of downtown.
“I’m a little worried that not as many people are going to stop at the gas stations and shops in Waseca,” Mark Pearson said. “They’re just going to go right on by when they’re on the new highway.”
On the east edge of town Maplewood Restaurant owner Rich Cole said he is very concerned about the future of his business. Cole has his fair share of local customers, but he has also sold many breakfasts to people passing through town on their way to Mankato, Owatonna and Rochester.
“It increases your odds when you have more of a volume of traffic going by,” he said. “This move is going to hurt. You’re really going to have to be looking for us to get here now.”
With the new highway so far to the south, travelers will have to drive more than a mile off the beaten path to get to Maplewood. And there isn’t a second on-ramp nearby to the east. So when those customers are done eating, they will have to backtrack or use the old highway to get to Owatonna.
Nearby, pizza has been added to the menu at Barney’s Drive-In, a seasonal business on the south side of Clear Lake. Owner Kathy Bendt said she’s also added delivery to help make up for business that will be lost. The old-fashioned drive-in also has regular summer customers from town and Kiesler’s Campground, which is just down the road.
But Bendt also knows many of her customers were people traveling to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester or passing through on vacation. She could spot those customers because they don’t know how to use the old fashioned ordering stations.
“The drive-in has been here 42 years, so a lot of people know about us and that’s a good thing,” she said. “We just hope we don’t end up like a lot of other small towns that have been bypassed.”