How I Spent My Summer Vacation in Minnesota

As promised in the previous post, here are the highlights of our sightseeing while staying at the Minnesota Airstream Park. We studied our literature and websites and decided that St Paul looked more interesting than Minneapolis. St Paul seemed to have more history and Minneapolis looked more like a cultural center. We listed out the attractions that sounded good to us and took off for St Paul.

The Quadriga

The Quadriga

After stops at Camping World and the Airstream dealer, Shorewood RV, on our way into St Paul, we finally made it to the MN state capitol. We joined a tour so that we could get up to the dome and inside the Senate, House of Representatives, and Supreme Court chambers. The exterior of the capitol is white Georgia marble with a little St Cloud granite thrown in to satisfy the locals. After a long climb up to the dome, we could walk around it get a view of St Paul. At the base of the dome is a sculpture covered in gold leaf called the Quadriga, very flashy! It is a chariot pulled by four horses. The four horses represent the classical elements of earth, air, fire, and water.

James J Hill House

James J Hill House

We walked from the capitol to the James J. Hill House. Completed in 1891, the red sandstone residence was occupied by the Hill family for only 30 years. After this, the heirs gave it to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul. For the next half century the structure served as an office building, school, and residence for the church until it was acquired by the Minnesota Historical Society in 1978. It was recognized as a National Historic Landmark in 1961. Its massive scale, intricate detail, and ingenious mechanical systems reminded us of the Biltmore House, on a smaller scale. The Hill house is 36,000 square feet on five floors. We could have parked our Airstream in the front entry hall of this house.

Carving detail over fireplace

Carving detail over fireplace

Our tour was led by a very knowledgeable docent who gave us many details on the house construction, the Hill family, and how the family lived at the turn of the century. James Hill founded the Great Northern Railway which he worked to push north to Canada and then west across the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. He was one of the wealthiest and most powerful men of his time. We were very surprised that we had never heard of him before.

After our tour, we walked for a while along Summit Avenue where the Hill House is located. The longest remaining stretch of residential Victorian architecture in the United States can be found for several miles along Summit Avenue. We were amazed at the variety and detail of these houses. We also marveled that so few had been torn down and replaced.

St Paul's Cathedral

St Paul's Cathedral

We stopped in St Paul’s Cathedral at the end of Summit Avenue. The Cathedral dominates the Saint Paul skyline and is situated on the highest point in downtown Saint Paul, Minnesota. it is one of the largest and most historic churches in the United States. The cornerstone was laid in 1907 and the first service held in 1915. It was placed on the National Register of Historical Buildings in 1974.

We decided to make this our last stop for the day and try and beat the rush out of the Twin Cities. We left at 4:00pm but apparently so did half the workforce here. We first headed west on I-94 but quickly it became a parking lot. So we decided to head north through Minneapolis to pick up highway 10. We ended up driving through a part of Minneapolis that appeared to be a college town. We got away from the traffic but made the mistake of stopping at Wal-Mart to drop off the battery we had replaced in the truck. By the time we left there, we had found the traffic again. Oh well, this just served to remind us what we don’t miss about working!

The Perennial Garden

The Perennial Garden

Our next tour day was spent in St Cloud, MN. We went there specifically to see the Clemens and Munsinger Gardens. These are two distinct but adjacent gardens on the banks of the Mississippi River. The Clemens Gardens consist of a collection of six formal gardens enhanced by fountains and decorative ironwork. Among them are the Virginia Clemens Rose Garden, the Formal Garden, the White Garden, the Treillage Garden, and the Perennial Garden. We were impressed with the 1,100 roses in the Rose Garden and the four one-color gardens in the Treillage Garden.

Fountain in the Munsinger Gardens

Fountain in the Munsinger Gardens

The Munsinger Gardens dates from the 1930s and contains WPA-constructed paths and garden areas. This garden is situated on a slope below Clemens on the banks of the river. This is an informal garden with winding flower-bordered paths under tall pines. We enjoyed sitting in the swings placed throughout the garden and taking in the view of the river. After touring the gardens, we drove around St Cloud to see the city but there was not much to see so we returned to the Airstream Park.

First Snowmobile

First Snowmobile

Several days later we planned another day of touring in St Paul. We started at the Minnesota History Center where we toured the Minnesota 150 and Minnesota’s Greatest Generation exhibits. In the MN 150 exhibit, we viewed the 150 people, places, events and things that sparked significant change within Minnesota or beyond its borders. Who knew that Bob Dylan, Prince, and Seymour Cray of Cray supercomputers were Minnesotans? Or that Burma Shave signs, Betty Crocker, 3M, Spam, and Tonka Trucks originated here? Of course, you would guess that the snowmobile was invented in Minnesota.

The Greatest Generation exhibit told the stories of Minnesotans who grew up during the Depression, came of age during World War II and participated in the post-war boom. We saw many items here that we remembered from our parents and grandparents, and from our own childhoods in the 1950s. Many of the exhibits were told through stories, photos, diaries, and artifacts of the people who had lived in these times. It was especially interesting to learn how this was the first generation of “joiners”. This was when civic clubs, church and school organizations really boomed. We think this may explain some of the reason that the Airstream club is flagging now. Our generation is not as much into “joining”.

We had planned to tour the Alexander Ramsey House but found that it was open only Saturdays and Sundays so we walked the historic Irvine Park area. We’ll have to come back some day for this as it has most of its original furnishings like the Hixon House in Lacrosse. It’s sure to be a real treat.

Leaving downtown St Paul, we headed over to Historic Fort Snelling. The fort is located at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers. The fort was completed in 1825 and was the northern-most outpost of the US Army. The purpose of the fort initially was to protect the fur trade but in the 1840s, it changed to becoming a training center for troops for every war from the Civil War to WW II. In the 1950s, the threat of a freeway through the old fort inspired public effort to save the remnants of Minnesota’s oldest buildings. Only 4 of the original buildings remain; others are reproductions.

Lift Bridge on St Croix River

Lift Bridge on St Croix River

We left St Paul earlier this day and avoided most of the traffic. We drove northwest to Stillwater, MN, which is directly across the St. Croix River from the state of Wisconsin. Stillwater is one of Minnesota’s oldest towns and is considered the birthplace of MN. We parked at the waterfront and watched the lift bridge rise to let the boats through. We walked the downtown and admired the many well-preserved buildings. After stopping for dinner, we drove the neighborhoods and located some of the grand houses built by the lumber barons.

We arrived back at the Airstream Park after 9:30pm very tired but pleased to have had such a wonderful day of sightseeing. Now we’re off toward Winnipeg, Calgary, Banff Nat’l Park and Vancouver.

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2 responses to “How I Spent My Summer Vacation in Minnesota

  1. Can you believe 240 tons of coal for one season heating the Hill House? We don’t want to know how much we would burn heating our 185 sf rolling home if we stayed the winter in St Paul.

  2. Pingback: Still Chasing 75 Degrees? « Dreamstreamr Odyssey

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