April 16, 2016
Highland Park, Hamline-Midway, Como, North End 17 Miles
April rides can look gloomy no matter the temperature, with few signs of spring, and sandy grit still on many roads. No matter, that first ride of the spring is always exciting.
The first stop on the first ride of 2016 was 2122 Highland Parkway (Highland Parkway and Finn Street) to talk to Joan and Keith Folkert about their unique, detailed and creative Little Free Library. Keith explained the schoolhouse Little Free Library is based upon one he attended for several years in the 1950s. “The original was built in 1936. At that time there was a lot of families – about every square mile had a family with four or five kids. They kept the schoolhouse pretty full for a number of years.”
By the early 1960s, said Keith, families weren’t having as many children and farms were getting bigger through consolidation, so Rockford Township School #3 closed. The building, according to Keith, stood empty for four or five years before it was torn down.
Keith and his wife, Joan, designed the Little Library with the help of an old photo Keith discovered in his mom’s belongings. “I found an old picture of the schoolhouse taken around 1952. I can tell because it had electricity then and there was power lines coming in. We wanted to do a library so decided to make a model of the school. We got the approximate dimensions from the picture, and put it together.
It came as no surprise that Keith and Joan put a lot of effort into the library. “It wasn’t just a simple square building or anything like that,” said Keith, “I tried to be as real as possible. It had a bell tower with no bell in it. That’s why we painted a bell in there and got it big enough that we could put a fair number of books in there.”
Keith embellished the schoolhouse with photos taken in the school when he was a student. In one window you can see Keith, his brother, and classmates having an ice cream party.
Among Keith’s remembrances of Rockford Township School #3 is of the teachers, most of whom went to was then called Minot Normal School. “They got a two year certificate and came and taught. Most of the people who taught were from the area and they’d last maybe a year, maybe two, and then they went off and usually they got married. Always women.”
Joan and Keith’s Rockford Township School #3 Little Free Library had frequent visitors, especially about 8 a.m., Keith told me, when children stood on the corner waiting for the school bus.
Keith also shared that he and Joan were preparing to sell their home and move. They planned to take the schoolhouse down but weren’t sure what was next for it.
From Highland Park I went north toward the Como Park area. The first stop was on the bridge half a block north of Pierce Butler Route that carries pedestrian and bike traffic over two heavily traveled railroad tracks that interrupt Hamline Avenue.
I met Martha Campo and her 18 month old son, Owen, sitting on the bridge, watching trains hustle past pulling cars loaded with wood, autos, oil and other goods.
Martha and Owen live in the Midway neighborhood, a couple of blocks from the tracks, but still within earshot. “My son loves trains and he hears a train from our house. When we’re inside he’ll burst out the door and point in this direction toward the bridge, and so we start taking a walk. We’re here on the bridge so he can see some trains go by.”
Owen sat contentedly in Martha’s lap for much of our conversation, but she told me Owen gets animated when a train goes past. “He raises his arm and pumps and says, ‘Choo choo!’ and he’ll waive. Sometimes when they go by underneath him, he’ll wave and say bye-bye to the train.”
The Hamline bridge on which Martha and Owen sat is about 20 feet above the tracks and still train engineers have seen Owen wave. “There’ve been a couple of times they’ve responded and honked their horn. One time it was really loud and he got a little startled because he wasn’t expecting it to be that loud.”
Martha told me that Owen became enamored with trains through books they’ve read, including Peek-A Who?, which includes a train. From there, said Martha, Owen got a couple train toys, and then visits to the Twin City Model Railroad Museum, and his love of trains was secured.
Continuing north across the Hamline Bridge, and then east, I made my way to Lexington Avenue, and went north to California, a block from Saint Paul’s northern border, with Roseville.
Moving south and a little bit east, I went from California across Idaho, and passed through Iowa, which is when my crisscross trip through the states was interrupted by Hoyt Avenue. A block south and I was on Nebraska.
The houses grow dramatically in size, splendor and price in this block of Nebraska. The reason is these homes overlook Como Park and some have a view of Como Lake.
Continuing the ride east on Nebraska, at the intersection with Victoria Street, is St. Timothy Lutheran Church. Construction of St. Timothy began in 1951 to serve this growing Como neighborhood.
This bright white retaining wall keeps the yard at 1444 Victoria Street (at Arlington) from escaping into the neighborhood.
From Arlington Avenue, Victoria Street runs practically parallel to the east shore of Lake Como for the next several blocks. The next two east-west streets are mundanely, but aptly named.
Aside from the more-or-less mundane ride home, that ended the first ride of 2016. Click here for the map of the journey.
I love the everyman (and -woman and -kid) stories you find on your rides. Thanks as always for a unique view of St. Paul.