March 10, 2012

10.6 miles

Southwest Saint Paul (Highland Park neighborhood)

What a great day to be outside!  It feels much more like  May than March 10 with the temp climbing well above 60 degrees. People were out all over Highland Park, biking, playing ball, walking, just celebrating this gift of a day from Mother Nature.

I drove down Saint Paul’s namesake street, St. Paul Avenue and Cleveland Avenue, and immediately noticed the variety of housing options-apartments, town homes, single-family houses, a senior high-rise and condos-all in a two block area.

I got off my bike to take a picture and noticed a sidewalk panel with a poem pressed into the concrete.

With some quick research I found that it is part of a 2008  art project conceived by the City’s Artist-in Residence, Marcus Young.  According to Minnesota Public Radio, Young organized a citywide sidewalk poetry contest whereby 20 winning poems were stamped in cement as new sidewalks were poured throughout the city.  Feels like I stumbled upon the proverbial needle in a haystack.

The Ford Motor Company opened the St. Paul Highland Park plant on the bluff overlooking the Mississippi River in 1925.  A Model T was the first off the brand new assembly line on May 4 of that year. In the following 86 years, station wagons, F-150 pickups and army tanks were a few of the vehicles that workers built at the plant.  On December 16, 2011, less than three months ago, the last Ranger compact pickup was built and the plant was closed.  There is much more to write about the plant, which I will do in future posts.  Suffice it to say, it is a big disappointment to Saint Paul and many plant neighbors.

The empty railroad tracks of the now shuttered Ford plant as seen looking west from Cleveland Avenue. While difficult to see in this picture, the rails have already begun to rust in the three months since Ford Ranger production ended here.

Chris, Mikey and Maddie are some great people I met as I rode south on Sumner Street between Sheridan and Norfolk Avenues. Chris and four-year-old Mikey were playing baseball in front of their house at 1408 and Maddie, six, was on her bike. It has been said that folks who grow up in Highland Park often don’t leave or return later in life. Chris’s unique story echoes that. It actually begins a generation earlier with his parents, both of whom grew up on the same block of Sumner. His father lived at 1383 and his mother at 1399. They were neighborhood friends who played together as they grew up, fell in love and got married. Eventually they purchased 1383 from Chris’s (his dad’s parents) and began a family.

Chris told me, “We lived at 1383 Sumner until I was about 10 and then we moved west a block to 1400 Kenneth.”

“After my wife and I got married we moved to Shakopee for about a year,” said Chris.  He said he missed “the community and friends” in St. Paul and his wife, a Chicago native, was fine with moving there.

Chris told me about playing baseball as a kid with a buddy who lived next door to his present home.  Chris said they frequently hit the baseball into the neighbor’s rose bushes, which usually got them scolded.  Those rose buses remained when they moved into the house nine years ago but about a year later, Chris and his wife took them out.

Chris isn’t the only member of his family to stay in the area.  One brother lives in their Mom’s childhood home and another lives a few blocks away.

Chris with six-year old Maddie and four-year old Mikey displaying sibling love.

Before I left I asked Maddie and Mikey what they like about where they live.  Maddie said she likes “to go to the river and skip rocks” and both she and Mikey enthusiastically recommended Menchie’s frozen yogurt shop in Highland Village.  Looks like I’ve got another spot to check into on a future ride.

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