August 31, 2012
I planned this ride for a couple of weeks and thought about it for well over a month. I studied my official City of Saint Paul map, planning, strategizing, considering options and reviewing routes. Why I even took the day off just to make this journey to a part of the city to which I’d never been. The destination was Highwood, or Highwood Hills, on the far east and south side of Saint Paul. If this isn’t the farthest point in Saint Paul from my house, it’s really close to it.
Every ride has some sense of discovery but this was different and I enthusiastically loaded my bike with water, camera, zoom lens, map, voice recorder and other necessities. I got going about 9:30, planning to hustle through Highland Park and jump onto eastbound Shepard Road. That scheme was upended by a good-sized yard sale on a virtually hidden sliver of Eleanor Avenue wedged between Lexington Parkway and I-35E. Several items piqued my interest but I quickly reconsidered when I thought about my wife’s reaction to the treasures and the hassle of carrying them on the bike all day.
The next stop was on Shepard Road, about a quarter-mile southwest of Randolph. There was a historical marker about Fountain Cave, (called IN-YAN TI-PI by the local Dakota peoples) commonly said to be the site of the first permanent structure in what became Saint Paul. Miscreant and whiskey trader Pierre “Pigs Eye” Parrant built a log cabin at the mouth of Fountain Cave in 1838 from which he sold liquor to soldiers and Native Americans.
From 1850 through 1880, after “Pigs Eye” and other settlers were forced from the area, Fountain Cave became a popular tourist spot. Human encroachment gradually diminished the appeal of the cave. (Sewers were run into a stream(s) that flowed into the cave. The requisite effluent quickly diminished the appeal of Fountain Cave.) The 1960 construction of Shepard Road led to the burying of the mouth of Fountain Cave leaving only historical markers as reminders.
I was surprised to discover that Randolph Avenue continues east at Shepard Road. (On the “Randolph, Randolph and Nothing But Randolph” post I mistakenly said Randolph ended at Shepard.) This segment of Randolph literally was Shepard Road until a mid-1990s rerouting shifted Shepard away from the Mississippi River to its current location. The goal, by all accounts successful, was to improve public access to the Mississippi River.
The condition of Island Station today is a metaphor for the inauspicious life of this old power plant. St Paul Gas Light Company began construction of the Island Station coal plant in 1921. According to the website http://islandstation.com, a more efficient method of burning coal to generate electricity was invented, rendering Island Station out-of-date while still under construction.
Nevertheless, the plant was completed and began producing electricity at three-fourths planned capacity in 1926 and did so until 1943. At that time, Island Station was relegated to off-peak generation, which amounted to six to 10 weeks of power generation per year. Plant owner Northern States Power Company decommissioned Island Station in 1976 and used it for storage for years.
A private developer purchased the idled plant in 1985 with plans to convert it to housing. In the nearly 30 years since then several similar proposals have come and gone as the elements, animals and vagrants further the deterioration of Island Station.
A side note here. I spent several minutes in front of the High Bridge plant surveying and taking a couple of photos. As I was looking through the camera viewfinder I heard an engine. The sound caught my attention because it was unusual; neither car nor truck. I lowered the camera as an Xcel Energy security guard got out of a small utility vehicle unmistakably painted John Deere green. He came up to me and very politely told me his boss sent him to find out what I was taking pictures of. I explained my biking project and handed him the business card I give to anyone I meet while riding. In hopes of resolving the situation quickly and painlessly for both of us, I also offered to show him the pictures I’d shot. He seemed relieved by the overture and reviewed the three pictures I shot of the plant. He explained, again very politely, that picture-taking of some aspects of the plant made folks inside uncomfortable. Satisfied that nothing I took a picture of would violate company security, he thanked me for cooperating, got on his John Deere and drove back into plant property.
Shepard Road morphs into Warner Road at or near the Robert Street overpass, adjacent to downtown but you won’t notice the change unless you glimpse a street sign.
Soon, the tug “Mary J” and two barges were on their way upriver, likely to pick up more barges loaded with grain or other agricultural products for the long voyage to St. Louis, Memphis or New Orleans.
I could have spent more time watching the river traffic but with many miles to travel, I mounted my bike and resumed the ride east on the Warner Road bike path.
Hunger descended upon me quickly as I road up the long hill at the eastern end of Warner Road. I cut north along the edge of Indian Mounds Park to Burns Avenue and there, answering the call of my grumbling stomach, was Obb’s. Lunch break!
I ate a large and very tasty walleye filet and a salad, all washed down with lots of water.
Because of the length of this ride and equally lengthy post, it makes sense to split the day into two posts. Part two of “There’s Dirt On Them Thar Streets” will be posted later this week.
Makes me want to meet that ‘Pigs Eye’ Guy, Wolfie!
You would teach him a thing or two, Missy! Thanks for checking in.
Great scenic pics! I recently just rode on the “newest” finish bridge along Warner Road…http://smu.gs/1jHgg70
Thanks Sal for reading and for the complement on the photos. It looks like you’re doing a lot of riding around Saint Paul too.
Thank you for including Fountain Cave. Back in its golden age (1850-1880) it was on every tourist list of the sights to see, just like nowadays visitors are directed to the Mall of America and the like. Even the historical marker you mention used to be more accessible, with its own turnout on Shepard Road.
Greg, I know you’re the expert on caves around Saint Paul. In spite of (or maybe because of) the lack of access to the caves, I’m very intrigued by the history. I’d enjoy meeting sometime to learn more from you.