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Saint Paul, Minnesota,
Last of the East, First of the West!

Ren�e S. Gordon

 “Humans did not weave the web of life, we are merely a strand in it. Whatever we do to the web we do to ourselves. Therefore, kinship among all of creation is vital to?harmonious living.”       Anishinaabe Worldview

Saint Paul is a rich multicultural so destination filled with attractions, heritage and history that it can be experienced in a variety of ways. It is small enough to be considered one of America’s most livable cities but large enough to offer visitors first-class accommodations and dining opportunities. The city is divided into 17 distinct districts, each with its own tales to tell. www.exploreminnesota.com

Jonathan Carver, who was seeking a northwest passage to the Pacific Ocean, made one of the earliest documented mentions of the St. Paul area in 1766. The Dakota Indians inhabited the region at the time and Carver visited the village of Kaposia and the nearby burial mounds at what is now Indian Mounds Regional Park.

The 6 remaining prehistoric mounds, the area once housed more than 30, are located atop Dayton’s Bluff with the earliest of them dating from 2,000 years ago. On-site archeological digs have revealed a number of artifacts including the only “death mask” found at a mound site. Duane Goodwin’s sculpture, “The Sacred Dish,” is also there and walking trail guides you around the park.

Other activities atop Dayton’s Bluff are getting a panoramic view of the city and investigating the Mounds Park Airway Beacon. The 1929 beacon is one the few remaining of hundreds that guided mail planes on their route. It has been returned to its original colors and flashes every 5-seconds.

In 1805 Lt. Zebulon Pike purchased the land that would become St. Paul from the Dakotas for trade goods and alcohol. Colonel Josiah Snelling established Fort Anthony in 1819 on a bluff overlooking the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers on land that was sacred to the natives. The fort’s name was changed upon completion in 1825 to Snelling and it became known as the Gibraltar of the West because it was the last outpost and beyond it the land was uncharted. Its main purpose was to protect the US interests in the fur trade by enforcing treaties with the Dakota and Ojibwa that allowed the US Government to obtain more than 21-million acres of land in the territory.

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Fort Snelling

French settlers brought the first black slaves into the Northwest Territory. When the British took over the area in 1763 importation of blacks accelerated and there is documentation of James Ramsey selling 30 Jamaicans to colonists in that year. Slavery existed in Fort Snelling from its founding and there were as many as 33 enslaved living in the fort at various times, though slavery was outlawed in the Northwest Territory by Article Six of the NW Ordinance, as property of men who worked there. His slave Dred Scott accompanied Snelling’s physician, Dr. John Emerson, and wed Harriet Robinson, the slave of the fort’s federal Indian agent, Major Lawrence Taliaferro, in 1837. When Emerson’s 4-year tour was up in 1840 he returned to Missouri, a slave state, taking the Scott’s with him. After the doctor’s death Scott sued for his freedom in 1846 based on the fact that he had lived in free territory for a long period of time and was thereby entitled to his freedom based on the concept “once free always free.”

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Recreation of Dred Scott's Quarters

The case was heard 11-years later by the Supreme Court. Only 2 of the 9 justices ruled in his favor. Chief Justice Taney, representing the majority, ruled that no slave or their descendants were, or could be, citizens.  The Court ruled that they "had no which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever profit could be made by it." They further stated that Congress could not halt slavery in any new territories and deemed the 1820 Missouri Compromise unconstitutional. This landmark case, defining blacks as mere property, was pivotal for every person of African descent in the country, was a significant issue in the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates and is cited as one of the main events that led to the Civil War.

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Doctor's Office in Fort Snelling

Historic Fort Snelling interprets the history of the fort, and the region, with a walking tour to 15 sites with costumed guides who recreate an 1820’s day in the fort. What makes this tour exceptional is the successful attempt to weave together the stories of all of the cultures involved. Visitors to the schoolhouse can participate in a class and in the hospital learn all about 19th-century frontier medicine. A reconstruction of Dred Scott’s Quarters gives you a glimpse at the life of the enslaved as a guide relates the story. The US Colored Troops 25th Infantry was stationed here from 1882-88. At that time 80% of the soldiers stationed at the fort were black.

An interpretive center within the fort walls recounts the little-known story surrounding the Dakota Wars that led to the largest mass hanging in US history. In response to broken treaties in 1862 Native Americans attacked settlers at St. Peter’s, Minnesota. The conflict ended in Mankato, MN with 303 Sioux men scheduled to be hung before Abraham Lincoln commuted the sentences of all but 38 of the men. They were executed simultaneously on December 26, 1862 after singing the Sioux death song. The uprising was used as an excuse to relocate the remaining Native Americans to Crow Creek Reservation in the Dakota Territory. The war did not really end until 1890 with the massacre at Wounded Knee. In 1960 Fort Snelling was designated a National Historic Landmark. www.historicfortsnelling.org

The founding of St. Paul can be traced to a French Canadian, Pierre Parrant, a whiskey trader who started a settlement near the fort that bore his nickname, Pig’s Eye. Father Lucian Galtier named the settlement’s chapel in honor of Saint Paul in 1841 and the town followed the lead. The city was laid out 6-years later and in 1849 it was incorporated. Saint Paul became the capital in 1854.

History museums generally provide an incisive overview into the history of a city or region and the Minnesota History Center is no exception. The MHC houses the MN Historical Society Library and Archives and hosts an ongoing series of concerts, lectures and permanent and changing exhibitions. Around every corner you “literally” step into history because much of the center is interactive and a troupe of actors is part of the programming to bring the stories to life.

Currently three outstanding exhibits are on display, “If These Walls Could Talk,” “The US-Dakota War of 1862,” and “Minnesota’s Greatest Generation.” A highlight of the exhibits is a 7.5-minute ride along with a WWII combat crew inside a Douglas C-47. Visitors are seated inside the plane and through the windows you watch the war unfold below. Once you reach the combat zone the plane is strafed, you see the bullet holes appear and listen as the men parachute out. The experience is based on a real mission in which nearly all the men died and it gets its name from a comment of one of the participants, ”This Must Be Hell.” www.minnesotahistorycenter.org

Jane DeBow’s family encountered hard times in NY and so young Jane was taken in by a family on their way to perform missionary work in the Fort Snelling area in the early 1830s. Jane immersed herself in the Dakota culture and was given a name meaning “little bird that is caught” to reflect her status in both the family and among the tribe. As a young adult she moved to Illinois where in 1849 she wed Herman Gibbs and convinced him to purchase 160-acres in Minnesota. Jane’s legacy is the Gibbs Museum of Pioneer and Dakotah Life.

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Mural of Jane's Life

The Gibbs Museum Tour begins with a 4-panel exterior mural, by Seth Eastman, depicting the stages of her life. The complex features a restored MN prairie, a pioneer crop garden and a Dakota garden. A replica sod house is built on the foundations of the 10 x 12-ft. one-room house the Gibbs lived in for the first five years. Their 1854 farmhouse is also on the site.

The farm sat on a rice trail used by the Dakota to travel seasonally to gather wild rice. As visitors follow the trail they encounter a fully outfitted tipi and bark lodge as well as a horse connected to a travois packed with native household goods. Other structures on-site are a 1910 barn and 1880s schoolhouse. This is an outstanding way to experience MN’s stories. www.rchs.com/gbbsfm2.htm

The Cathedral of St. Paul was constructed from 1906-1915 as the 4th at this location. The Classical French Renaissance structure is 307-ft. long and 216-ft. wide with a height of 307.5-ft. to the top of the cross. The Cathedral is magnificent inside and out and tours are free. Prior to entering note the sculpture of Christ and the Apostles on the fa�ade. From the top of Cathedral Hill you get a view of the city and Summit Avenue, the longest stretch of preserved Victorian homes in the country. www.cathedralsaintpaul.org

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St Paul Cathedral

Cass Gilbert designed the Minnesota State Capitol using Rome’s Saint Peter’s Basilica as his model. It boasts the second largest unsupported marble dome in the world.

Swedish and Nordic culture are on view in the American Swedish Institute, once the 1929 Turnblad Mansion built to resemble a castle complete with gargoyles and turrets. The 33-room mansion has eleven porcelain “kakelugnar,” stoves and some of the most magnificently hand-carved woodwork I have ever seen. The wealthy founder of a Swedish language newspaper established the ASI to promote and preserve Swedish culture. The Institute hosts exhibits and holds craft classes and other cultural programs. www.asimn.org

Railroad baron, James J. Hill, built the 36,000 sq. ft., 42-room, mansion in 1891 that remains a focal point of Summit Avenue. Once the largest private home in the state, it was replete with all the then modern amenities including indoor plumbing, a security system, electric lighting and central heating. The mansion features a 100-ft. long, 2-story, art gallery, 22 fireplaces, a 1,066 pipe organ, hidden silver vault, formal dining room with leather wallpaper and original furnishings. Tours are scheduled regularly. www.mnhs.org/hillhouse

Saint Paul’s signature dish is the Juicy Lucy and the iconic place to eat this delicious medium well burger stuffed with molten cheese and other goodies and soak up the ambiance is Casper & Runyon’s Nook. Barbara Streisand ate there and it has been featured on television’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” www.crnook.com

This part of our tour demands historic accommodations and the Covington Inn exceeds your expectations on every level. It is one of a small number of floating B&Bs in the nation and on of only 3 anchored on the Mississippi River. The 1946 towboat was converted in 1995 and the rooms are delightful and include balconies and fireplaces. Breakfast is wonderful and the view of the city is spectacular. www.covingtoninn.com

On May 5, 1902 Saint Paul’s Federal Courts Building officially opened with a parade of postal employees, led by a brass band, into the building. The Richardsonian Romanesque and Chateauesque structure was 122-ft. wide by 271-ft. long and rose a grandiose 170-ft. tall. Architect James Taylor sought to visually impart the power of the government through his design at a cost of $2,533,000-million, approximately $70-million today. Saved from demolition in 1968 it was restored at a cost of $12.5-million and opened as the renamed Landmark Center ten years later.

Interior strolls reveal courtrooms with marble fireplaces, 20-ft ceilings and mahogany woodwork. An interior central atrium is open to the original skylight. Thematic free tours are offered including “Uncle Sam Worked Here” and architectural and gangster tours.

The first floor introductory exhibit provides an overview of events and characters tied to the history of the site. The 3rd floor is generally the most popular because the Prohibition exhibits are located there. It is actually in his upper floor office that U.S. Representative Andrew Volstead penned the 1919 National Prohibition Act that would be known as the Volstead Act. The act did not, as commonly believed, ban the consumption of alcohol but stated that it was illegal to manufacture,transport or sell it and mandated enforcement. Confiscated bootleg liquor was routinely stored in the basement.

In one of history’s greatest ironies the city that gave birth to the Prohibition Era and all the attendant crime was also the criminals most infamous haven. Under Police Chief John J. O’Connor’s regime a system was put in place whereby when a gangster arrived in town he went immediately to a place to pay a fee and sign a pledge that he would not commit crimes in Saint Paul. In return he was allowed to live there without police interference and if law enforcement from other jurisdictions sought them they would receive no assistance from the Saint Paul force. Most of the era’s gangsters lived there at one time or another including the Ma Barker and her boys, John Dillinger, Alvin Karpis, Baby Face Nelson, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, Edna “the Kissing Bandit” Murray, Al Capone, etc.

Courtroom 317 was the site of many of the gangster’s trials and Detention Room #327was where they were held to await the proceedings. Evelyn “Billie” Frechette, Dillinger’s girlfriend was tried there and legend has it that Dillinger drove around and around the building in a show of support. She received a 2-year sentence. An audio experience is presented in the courtroom.

Though Alvin “Creepy” Karpis was captured in New Orleans he was brought to Saint Paul for trial. Hoover, who had deemed Karpis “Public Enemy No. 1,” was on hand to escort him to jail. He was the last No. 1 captured and the only gangster Hoover personally took credit for capturing. Karpis spent 26-years in Alcatraz, longer than any other prisoner. He was released in 1969 and deported to his home country, Canada. He died in 1979 in Spain probably living on money he had stashed. It is estimated that the Barker-Karpis Gang garnered at least $3-million during their career.

The Landmark Center is a must see. There is a gift shop on site and visitors services including scheduled free walking tours. www.landmarkcenter.org

 Now that you know how a criminal career could end in Saint Paul you might want to visit places where they lived. The Saint Paul Gangster Tour is a deluxe bus tour guided by Dillinger himself or an equally notorious criminal. There are more than 60 locations and this is the best way to see them. Participants are treated to both the hideouts, inside stories and crime scenes that make the era fascinating. www.downinhistory.com

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Entrance to Caves

Lyman Dayton discovered in 1849 that the man-made caves in Wabasha were nearly 100% silica beganextracting the silica for glassmaking. The caves were then used for produce and fruit storage. In the early 1900s three Frenchmen moved into the caves and grew mushrooms, the first commercially grown mushrooms in the US. Bill and Josie Lehman eventually took over the mushroom business and during Prohibition operated a speakeasy in part of the seven-cave system where the gangsters came to party undisturbed.

Guided tours take you 200-ft. into the caves where you are regaled with tales of the 30’s high life and stories of the ghosts who haunt the caves. There are tales of a 1934 murder in the Fireplace Room and guests are encouraged to look for bullet holes where three people were murdered during a card game. This was an exclusive club and restaurant and only the truly rich could afford the $125.00 meal. The Castle Royal opened on October 26, 1933. It offered first-class entertainment, Jimmy Dorsey, Cab Calloway, etc., in the front and gambling in the rear and was decorated opulently with oriental carpets and glittering chandeliers. The restaurant closed in 1940 and the Wabasha Street Caves were saved the day before they were due to be demolished. The Caves are o the National Register of Haunted Places and they have been used as a film set.www.wabashastreetcaves.com

Rondo Avenue was the spine of the historic African American neighborhood in the 1930s. In the 1960s I-94 altered the community both physically and culturally. The once vibrant neighborhood is celebrated during Rondo Days in July.www.rondodaysmn.webs.com

The current Pilgrim Baptist Church was erected in 1928 but former slaves led by Robert Hickman organized the church in 1866. Hickman and 76 blacks escaped from Missouriand arrived in Saint Paul aboard a raft towed by The Northern, a supply ship. They had been found adrift and considered themselves “pilgrims.” They were not welcomed and were escorted to Fort Snelling for protection. After an additional 218 fugitives arrived and Hickman and some of the group returned to Saint Paul. It was they who founded Pilgrim Baptist.  They purchased land for $200 and the first building was a stone and wood structure built for $2400.www.pilgrimbaptistchurch.org

Clarence Wesley Wigington, Saint Paul’s first black architect, designed Harriet Island Pavilion.The building is in the Moderne-style constructed of Kasota limestone in 1941. He also designed the 134-ft. Highland Park Tower. Wigington was a draftsman and ultimately chief architect for the St. Paul Dept. of Parks and Recreation and Public Buildings for 34-years and designed most of the public buildings during that time.

F. Scott Fitzgerald was born in 1896 and moved around Saint Paul until 1922. The “F. Scott Fitzgerald in St. Paul Homes and Haunts” is a fourteen-site tour that features places he lived, places mentioned in his stories and places he frequented. His home at 599 Summit Ave. is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Brochures with maps and information are available. www.thefriends.org

One of the sites on all the Saint Paul tours is the Saint Paul Hotel. The hotel is situated on land that has been a hotel for nearly 200-years.  Records indicate that John Summers housed people here in the 1850s and in 1871 he constructed the 60-room Greenman House. In 1908 construction began on the Saint Paul Hotel and it opened in 1910. It was closed in 1972, saved from demolition and renovated and reopened in 1982.

The hotel is a member of the Historic Hotels of America. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald lived there for a brief time and the third floor was Leon Gleckman’s, Saint Paul’s answer to Capone, headquarters. Gleckman occupied suites 301-03 and the FBI occupied 309.

The Saint Paul is a centrally located luxury hotel that offers 254 classically designed rooms, exclusive products, and amenities including free WIFI, 24-hour room service, Concierge services and Fitness and Business Centers. The St. Paul Grill serves traditional American cuisine in a classic, atmosphere. www.saintpaulhotel.com

The Eagle Street Grill is a wonderful restaurant with a gangster theme. Menu items are named after various felons. The food is delicious and the booths are spacious. There are three bars, free WIFI, entertainment and outdoor dining. www.eaglestreetgrille.net

Mickey’s Diner was sent by rail from New Jersey in 1937. It is a classic Art Deco, 50-ft. by 10-ft, diner that has been featured in several films. You can grab a meal 24-hours a day since it opened. Mickey’s was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1983. www.mickeysdiningcar.com

As always, there is much more to Saint Paul.You can explore the rivers, Minnesota has 90,000-miles of shoreline, more than California, Hawaii and Florida combined, you can explore the legacy of hometown boy Charles Schultz through the “Peanuts on Parade” outdoor sculptures or you can wander the 5.5-miles of the Saint Paul Skyway that connects restaurants, attractions, shops, hotels and entertainment venues.Saint Paul is a cultural, and affordable, goldmine. Explore your options. www.visitsaintpaul.com