At the end of “There’s Dirt On Them Thar Streets-Part 1” you will recall I was finishing some walleye at Obb’s Bar and Grill. With lunch behind, or rather in me, it was on the road again, going east on Burns Avenue about a block to Highway 61, where I went south.
I meandered onto the wide shoulder of southbound Highway 61 thinking it was the bike path. Perhaps it was the gale-force gust I felt every time a vehicle sped past me or it could have been the 60-mile per hour speed limit sign I passed, but it didn’t take long to realize that the shoulder where I was riding was perilous.
I hoisted my bike over the barrier and down a short hill to the bike path and immediately began breathing more easily.
I continued south on the Highway 61 bike path until Lower Afton Road where I took a left to go east.
This neighborhood, according to “The Street Where You Live” by Donald Empson, was christened “Burlington Heights” about 1886 after 1200 acres were purchased by a consortium of businessmen from Saint Paul and Boston. A year later, six trains a day ran to this “railroad suburb.”
The Highwood Depot, above, stood in this area, near Lower Afton Road and Point Douglas Road, which was then known as Newport Road.
Turning east on Lower Afton Road, I quickly learned it is a moderate, mile-long climb that passes Battle Creek Regional Park on the north and a variety of homes and businesses to the south.
Lower Afton Road is the delineation between the Battle Creek and Highwood Hills neighborhoods. There are on the order of 40 streets in Highwood Hills, roughly bounded by Lower Afton, Carver Avenue, McKnight Road and Point Douglas/Highway 61. I knew I couldn’t ride all 40 in one day so my strategy was to bike the ones that are accessible from Lower Afton and McKnight and aren’t through streets.
Up I pedaled until I got to Mailand Road, named after Julius C. Mailand who owned a farm through which the road passed, according to “The Street Where You Live” by Donald L. Empson. Curiously, the 1930 Census says the Mailands house was on East Avenue (now McKnight) rather than the street named after them.
As part of this project, I visited the department of public works more than a year ago to get maps and background information. A very helpful woman there told me that Highwood still has several gravel roads. I was about that first hand. If you took a close look at the picture above you probably noticed the roadway looks unusual. It might not be apparent that Mailand Road is gravel or “unimproved” in city parlance.
Douglynn Lane is another of Highwood’s gravel roads. Much less rural in feel than Mailand, Douglynn and surrounding streets remind me of cabin country.
Bruce Piltingsrud and daughter Bryn were cleaning up their yard at 2176 Douglynn from a recent storm. They paused from their work to talk about their time on Douglynn Lane.
“This was a pasture area here. This was all sumac back in here and heavy woods,” Bruce told me as he pointed toward the back yard. “There’s a house just below that Nancy McGuiness and Dan McGuiness live in. It was called the Nelson farm so the Nelsons owned this land…The Nelsons platted all this out and I think we were the first to buy any part of this addition.”
Bruce told me his wife taught school with Nancy (Nelson) McGuiness, Bob and Kay Nelson’s daughter. Nancy mentioned her parents were subdividing the farm for development. Bruce and his wife bought the land in 1975, built the house in ’76 and moved in in April of 1977.
“At that time if you looked that way (northwest) none of the cottonwoods were up to any height so we could see the city of Saint Paul summer, winter. It was a beautiful view. Now the cottonwoods have grown so tall, 100 feet tall at least, they have really blocked the view except in the wintertime “
I asked Bruce if he knew why Douglynn Lane and other neighboring streets remain unpaved.
“There wasn’t any point to having anything paved because we had no sewer and no water available from the city at the time. So when we built here we had to dig a well and put in our own septic field.”
Bruce added that the neighborhood still has no city sewer or water and finishing the streets would ruin the character of the neighborhood.
Bryn and Bruce both talked about how much they enjoy the unique nature of the area, including the large lots, trees and narrow, winding streets.
As Bryn put it, “I love it…. I see the seasonal changes and I appreciate that and I get an aspect of nature, which is a nice thing to have. There is a family of deer that live in this neighborhood. They’re very very tame.”
Other frequent visitors include fox, wild turkeys, woodchucks and many bird species. There is one Bruce would like to leave.
“Woodpeckers are my nemesis. We have a hole up there from a pileated. That’s the fourth one they made this summer. It’s a constant struggle that way.”
There are other hassles that come with living in Highwood HIlls. For example, there is the distance from friends and the difficulty in finding Douglynn Lane, they told me.
Snow and ice removal are another. “The city doesn’t seem to understand that salt does not help because all that does is compact down to ice.. If they put down gravel that would actually pack down and make a textured surface that will bite. Almost everybody has four-wheel drive just to get out. “
Police and fire department access is another concern.
“We have a retired fire person down here. He makes sure trucks will come through, just to make sure the trucks will clear the brush and trees. They come through two or three times a year.”
On occasion, Bruce said, when they’ve called the police, they have been asked where they are because the police were unfamiliar with the area.
As I typically do, I finished the interview by asking if either had anything to add. Bruce laughed and told me “Glad that you found us but don’t bring too many people here.”
With that I was off to tour the rest of Douglynn and the other gravel streets in the subdivision such as Winthrop, Boxwood, Snowshoe, Birch and Bonnie.
This undistinguished intersection, McKnight Road and Carver Avenue, is one of the southeastern corners of Saint Paul. A look at the map of this ride will clarify why I say there is more than one southeastern corner of Saint Paul.
Here is where I turned around and went north on Point Douglas-the start of the trip home.
From Point Douglas Road I went west on Warner Road.
I had ridden 28 miles when I took the previous pictures and my energy and enthusiasm were waning. I all but ceased taking pictures and concentrated on getting home via the flattest route possible. About eight miles and 45 minutes later I sluggishly pedaled into my yard, beat but upbeat from a fascinating day of new sights. When reviewing the map of the day’s ride I realized I’ll need another long day to finish exploring the Highwood Hills neighborhood. That’s a ride for next year.
Here’s the link to the map of the Highwood Hills ride: http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/131522461