And at 2300 Doswell. Some serious engineering went into the design of the two-story retaining wall!

The ‘Irregular Hillocks, Ridges and Hollows’ of St. Anthony Park

August 25, 2021

20.8 Miles

St. Anthony Park

I’d never thought of St. Anthony Park as being unusually hilly. That is, until this ride. About halfway through it dawned on me that I was getting a nice workout thanks to the elevation changes.

The 1920 edition of the Minnesota Historical Society’s Minnesota Geographic Names – Their Origin and Historical Significance echoed my observation in a much more poetic way. Author Warren Upham opined that St. Anthony Park “is noteworthy for its streets deviating from straight and rectangular courses, on account of the diversities of the contour, which is formed by numerous irregular hillocks, ridges and hollows…”

The 1920 edition of the Minnesota Historical Society's Minnesota Geographic Names. Courtesy of MnHS
The 1920 edition of the Minnesota Historical Society’s Minnesota Geographic Names. Courtesy of MnHS

The first place I explored was Langford Park, a prominent and, ironically, flat street that surrounds the seven-plus acre city park of the same name. This small section of St. Anthony Park is brimming with captivating history, including the tale of a direct link to the first national park in the U.S.

Langford Park – the road and park – according to The Street Where You Live by Don Empson, were named in 1885 for Nathaniel Pitt Langford and his wife, Clara, who moved to Saint Paul just a year earlier.

A lake covered a good portion of Langford Park in 1885. Later, the lake was drained and the depression filled. Courtesy MnHS
A lake covered a good portion of Langford Park in 1885. Later, the lake was drained and the depression filled. Courtesy MnHS
A large gathering in Langford Park in 1910. Courtesy MnHS
A large gathering in Langford Park in 1910. Courtesy MnHS
Nathaniel Pitt Langford circa 1907. Courtesy MnHS
Nathaniel Pitt Langford circa 1907. Courtesy MnHS

Nathaniel Langford organized and joined nine others on the 1870 Washburn Expedition to western Montana. This expedition led directly to Congress in 1872 designating Yellowstone as the country’s first national park. Later that year Langford was appointed its first superintendent, a position he held – without pay – for nearly five inauspicious years.

“…amid the cañon and falls, the boiling springs and sulphur mountain, and, above all, the mud volcano and the geysers of the Yellowstone, your memory becomes filled and clogged with objects new in experience, wonderful in extent, and possessing unlimited grandeur and beauty.”

Nathaniel P. Langford in 1870 describing the Yellowstone area in his Diary of the Washburn Expedition to the Yellowstone
and Firehole Rivers

(Diverse Indian tribes lived, hunted and gathered in this area from as many as 15,000 years before and remained after the trip by the Washburn Expedition, according to the National Park Service.)

Lawn signs suspended upon wire supports are about as common as snowflakes in winter. However, a couple dozen of them along the east side of Langford Park brought a smile to my face and a stop to my ride. The Saint Paul Public Library and the Department of Parks and Recreation created Story Strolls in four parks, including Langford Park, in the summer of 2021. The brilliantly simple idea of printing pictures books on plastic signs got parents and children out walking and reading. The Digger and the Flower by Joseph Kuefler was the August Story Stroll at Langford Park.

The book The Digger and the Flower by Joseph Kuefler was the third of three Story Strolls put up in Langford Park during the summer of 2021.
The book The Digger and the Flower by Joseph Kuefler was the third of three Story Strolls put up in Langford Park during the summer of 2021.
Each side of a sign had two pages of the book.
Each sign had two pages of the book on each side.

A short distance to the northeast is Langford Park’s historic bandstand, constructed in 1912 for the reasonable sum of $768.58. The bandstand has been a popular place for music, plays and informal gatherings for more than 100 years.

The St. Anthony Park Bandstand circa 1920. Courtesy MnHS
The Langford Park Bandstand circa 1920. Courtesy MnHS
Langford Park Bandstand.
Langford Park Bandstand.
One side of the bandstand with obvious signs of deterioration.
One side of the bandstand with obvious signs of deterioration.

Langford Park has had an important role in the annual St. Anthony Park Independence Day festivities, hosting a post-parade program for decades.

A flyer announcing the Fourth of July celebration at Langford Park. Date unknown. Courtesy MnHS
A flyer announcing the Fourth of July celebration. Date unknown. Courtesy MnHS

In spite of its long history, the 4th In the Park Committee has floated the idea of replacing the bandstand with a larger one to accommodate more uses.

It’s not just the ups and downs of the streets of St. Anthony that caught my attention. I spotted some unusual customization to compensate for the topography.

The house at 102 Langford Park (the street) is close to two full stories above the road. Notice how an exterior stairway was removed from the door to the sidewalk.
The house at 102 Langford Park (the street) is close to two full stories above the road. Notice how an exterior stairway was removed from the door to the sidewalk.
The slope of the 2300 block of West Bourne Avenue is such that garages had to be put in front (and below) the homes. Left to right 2358, 2362, 2368 West Bourne Avenue.
The slope of the 2300 block of West Bourne Avenue is such that garages had to be put in front (and below) the homes. Left to right 2358, 2362, 2368 West Bourne Avenue.
A similar rise/fall on Doswell Avenue. This is 2382.
A similar rise/fall on Doswell Avenue. This is 2382.
And at 2300 Doswell. Some serious engineering went into the design of the two-story retaining wall!
Some serious engineering and construction went into the design of the two-story retaining wall at 2300 Doswell!
This unusual mixed roofline of 2204 Scudder, at Atty Street is the result several additions, not hills. The additions are especially prevalent above the single car garage in the alley.
This unusual mixed roofline of 2204 Scudder at Atty Street is the result several additions, not hills. The additions are especially prevalent above the single car garage in the alley.

The rise and fall of the streets levels out somewhat where Doswell and Como Avenues meet. Just northwest, at 2323 Como at Luther Place, sits the lovely St. Anthony Park Lutheran Church, built of cream colored stone.

The front of St. Anthony Park Lutheran on Como Avenue. The tables were a perfect spot on a nice day.
The front of St. Anthony Park Lutheran on Como Avenue. The tables were a perfect spot to hang out on a nice day.
The Parish House, constructed of the same stone as the church, is faces Luther Place.
The Parish House, constructed of the same stone as the church, is faces Luther Place.

Not coincidentally, an entrance to Luther Seminary is immediately north, on the other side of Luther Place. The Zvago, a senior living co-op, was built in 2019 on property that Luther Seminary sold.

The road to several Luther Seminary buildings and The Zvago, a senior living cooperative with 49 one and two bedroom homes.
The road to several Luther Seminary buildings and The Zvago, a senior living cooperative with 49 one and two bedroom homes.
The front of The Zvago, which shares the parking lot with Luther Seminary.
The front of The Zvago, which shares the parking lot with Luther Seminary.
Gullixson Hall built about 1948, was the second major campus building.
Gullixson Hall, built about 1946, was the second major campus building. It is named for one-time Luther President President Thaddaeus Franke Gullixson.

I rode to the end of the parking lot where I came to Gullixson Hall. The library, offices, classrooms and computer lab are inside. The Old Muskego Church marker touched my instinct to explore for a couple of reasons. First, the arrow, pointing toward a tree and brush-shrouded hill grabbed me much like a headline pulls one into a news story.

Second, the sign itself was unlike any other near or on the Luther campus.

Lastly, many years ago I had a college roommate from Muskego, WI, a Milwaukee suburb, and I wondered if this church had a connection to that place. Turns out it does. The church (sometimes simply called Muskego Church) was built in the Muskego Settlement in southeastern Wisconsin beginning in either 1843 and was dedicated in March of 1845. Old Muskego Church was constructed on “Indian Hill,” a site that was sacred to the Potawatomi Indian Tribe prior to displacement by Europeans.

The Old Muskego Church in Wisconsin in 1843, prior to its purchase and relocation to Luther Seminary. It is reportedly the first Norwegian Church in the U.S. Courtesy Wisconsin Historical Society
The Old Muskego Church in Wisconsin in 1843, shortly after construction was completed. A little more than 60 years later the church was purchased, taken apaart and moved to Luther Seminary. It is reportedly the first Norwegian Church in the U.S. Courtesy Wisconsin Historical Society
The Old Muskego Church and the historical marker explaining its significance as the first Norwegian Lutheran Church built in the United States.
The Old Muskego Church and the historical marker explaining its significance as the first Norwegian Lutheran Church built in the United States.

Old Muskego Church served a congregation of about 270 people until 1869 when it outgrew the building. The church was moved pretty much intact to a nearby farm and used for storage and a larger church was built in its place on on “Indian Hill.”

The steps to the front entrance of the Old Muskego Church.
The steps to the front entrance of the Old Muskego Church.

The Muskego Church was purchased, dismantled and moved to its current spot on the Luther Seminary campus in 1904. There it was reassembled and covered with light colored wood siding that was removed about 1970. While not original to Saint Paul, Old Muskego Church is almost certainly the oldest building in the city.

Old Muskego Church at Luther Seminary in 1915. The light colored siding was put on over the original wood to protect it. Courtesy MnHS
Old Muskego Church at Luther Seminary in 1915. The light colored siding was put on over the original wood to protect it. Courtesy MnHS

The church, according to the 1975 National Register of Historic Places nomination form, “represents a beautiful example of pioneer log construction with old world craftsmanship in addition to being an historic site of national significance.”

The unevenly cut logs indicate they were hand cut and hint at the age of the church.
The unevenly cut logs indicate they were hand cut and hint at the age of the church.
The back and south side of the church.
The back and south side of the church.
A house sits behind the church on Luther Seminary property.
A house sits behind the church on Luther Seminary property.
The front of the Old Muskego Church as shot through a window on the north side.
The front of the Old Muskego Church as shot through a window on the north side.
The view looking from the front door of the church toward the historical marker and Gullixson Hall.
The view looking from the front door of the church toward the historical marker and Gullixson Hall.
Looking east on Hendon Avenue, the two Hendon Triangles are the grassy areas to the left and right.
Looking east on Hendon Avenue, the two Hendon Triangles are the grassy areas to the left and right.

The Hendon Triangles Park is but a block away from the Muskego Church as the crow flies, but several blocks by bike. The unusual park is two small triangular tracts of land that together are less than an acre. The Hendon Triangles are each bounded on two sides by Branston Street, and bisected on the third side by Hendon Avenue.

The southern triangle, sometimes called ‘Monkey Island,’ because of the monkey bars there, also has swings and a slide.
The southern triangle, sometimes called ‘Monkey Island,’ because of the monkey bars there, also has swings and a slide.
The northern triangle is mostly open space.
The northern triangle is mostly open space.

My last photo stop on the trip was at a home with a contemporary take on the retaining wall. The owners of 2141 Knapp Street used steel plates as low-maintenance retaining walls and planters.

The retaining walls worked well with the contemporary home at 2141 Dudley.
The retaining walls worked well with the contemporary home at 2141 Knapp
The weathered (rusted) steel makes terrific planters too.
The weathered (rusted) steel makes terrific planters too.

This was a pleasant and educational ride around St. Anthony where I unexpectedly came upon what is almost certainly the oldest man-made structure in Saint Paul. Delving into the history of the Old Muskego Church and Langford Park added to that intrigue.

5 comments

  1. Another excellent adventure, Wolfie! I’ve walked in this neighborhood in the past and enjoyed some of the funky architecture, but you found a real gem! Good job, and thanks!

    1. Gary, thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed this one. I had never heard of the Old Muskego Church so “discovering” it was one of several high points of the trip. St. Anthony Park is, as you said, a wonderful neighborhood. However I wouldn’t trade it for the experiences you had at and around Williams Hill!

  2. I spent grades 7-12 at Murray High School located in St. Anthony Park. While some of what pictured was very familiar, much was new. Thank you!

Leave a Reply