July 15, 2023
Summit Hill, West Side
Across the River
The half-acre Alice Park, a short block off Cherokee Avenue and the bluff, is surrounded by Alice Street and the horseshoe-shaped Alice Court. Despite regular rides along Cherokee, George Street and other nearby thoroughfares, this was my visit to any of “the Alices.”
Meanwhile, a couple of blocks east of “the Alices” a unicorn lounged in the yard at 248 Winifred Street.
Another two blocks east I stumbled upon a property decorated, and I mean DECORATED, with metal wall art.
The more I looked, the more metal art signs I saw. The amazing display at 173 Robie Street screamed “story” to me. I learned from two of the home’s occupants – the husband and son – that their wife/mother Cheryl, the architect of the extensive wall art, was working until late afternoon. Obviously I shall return!
Hills and More Hills
Saint Paul has an abundance of hills. It’s not San Francisco or Denver hilly, with elevation changes of 2,500 feet and 2,900 feet respectively. The Capitol City’s 420 foot difference between high and low points seems small but the undulation of the Saint Paul’s terrain nevertheless provides a distinctly different and challenging workout, at least for me.
The best-known route to the West Side is via Smith Avenue over the High Bridge. In fact, the elevation of nearly all of the West Side grows significantly as one moves south from the river bluff toward the Saint Paul-West St. Paul border(see the topographic map above). Such is the case with the intersection of Page and Bellows Streets.
The 40 acre notch
If you’ve ever studied a map of the West Side, you’ve likely seen the odd notch in the Saint Paul-West St. Paul border (below). Turns out this spot is more commonly called the “Forty Acres.”
The odd border came to be in 1874, when residents of the City of Saint Paul and West St. Paul Township agreed to let Saint Paul annex a sizable section of the township. The annexation created Saint Paul’s West Side by shifting the Saint Paul (and the Ramsey-Dakota County) border south from the Mississippi River to Annapolis Street.
A major dilemma, however, was the location of the home of the Dakota County superintendent of schools. Philip Crowley lived at 763 Dodd Road and under the annexation, Crowley’s home and property were no longer in Dakota County, a requirement of his job. The parties solved the problem by adjusting the border northward around Crowley’s 40 acre property, keeping it within Dakota County.
A chance meeting with the friendly neighborhood postal carrier is how I learned some valuable information about the Forty Acres, including the existence of a commemorative historical marker nearby in West St. Paul.
I next paused less than two blocks away, at the locale that caused the creation of the Forty Acres, the Philip Crowley House at 763 Dodd Road.
Although unplanned, I spent about an hour exploring the Forty Acres a.k.a. the notch in the border and the surrounding area.
Return to Saint Paul
I came to the unusual corner of Dodd Road, Winslow Street and Morton Avenue where several trees, a couple of bushes, a wood fence and two substantial rocks masked some kind of structure.
Continuing east on Morton about 50 feet, the trees gave way and there appeared a most unusual house geodesic dome house!
No one was outside at 89 Morton and I got no response to my knock on the door so I resolved to stop by later on this tour.
From Morton Street, I took a closer look at the unconventional Dodd-Winslow-Morton intersection.
The strange alignment of the two streets that cross Dodd — Winslow and Morton — was undoubtedly intentional; to reduce collisions at what was, according to old maps, a six-way intersection.
Continuing east and south for about nine blocks, I biked onto Hall Avenue, and a rare couple blocks with no elevation change.
The flat land didn’t last. Not two blocks away, on Wyoming Street West, the hills resumed.
Continuing to flit about the West Side, I found myself at the intersection of Belvidere Street and Gorman Avenue. Gorman runs through parts of the West Side in fits and starts, and the short gravel segment just off Belvidere Street is the most pronounced example.
Moving east back to Hall Avenue, this time in the 700 block, I turned north, and a block later, east onto a private road mundanely dubbed City View Lane.
The geodesic dome house
From City View Lane a zig-zagging trajectory took me briefly onto Hall Avenue again, to Curtice Street next, then Stryker Avenue, to Sidney Street, to Winslow Avenue before finally reappearing at the geodesic dome house at 89 Morton. This time, the homeowner was outside tending to his flourishing gardens as Mexican music quietly glided from a speaker on the patio. Paul said he purchased the house in 2016. “I actually started doing some repairs on the house for my brother-in-law and then he talked me into buying it.”
Although relatively new to Morton Street, Paul is a lifetime West Sider. He grew up on the long-lost West Side Flats.
“The area where I was born, I think it was about half a block away from Lafayette Bridge. So, between Lafayette and Robert Street, that was the area where we grew up.” Paul and his family left the Flats around 1960 after the city condemned the area and began tearing down homes.
The architecture of Paul’s home makes it rare, obviously. but so does its size — about 680 square feet (nearly three times smaller than the average Minnesota home.) “There’s a loft to it, there’s a bathroom, living room and kitchen. So it’s a small space, but it’s all that I need. And the plan wasn’t for my mom to be here, but it ended up being that way, and it works for me. It works for my mom.” Paul told me.
The modest size of the house is advantageous during heating season, too. “We’re facing south so a lot of times we get enough sun here to heat the house. I can turn off the space heaters and stuff like that. I do run my air conditioner a lot during the summertime because it can get hotter inside than outside. Gotta keep it cool for mom. She’s 91 years old.”
With limited space in the house, no basement or garage, much of the exterior work Paul’s done is to boost storage. “I built that onto the carport, he said pointing at a cabinet. “There’s some storage there for hardware and stuff like that for building. I have another storage in the back that I built.”
Professionally, Paul is a landscaper and his talent is evident throughout his property. “I love gardening. I got that from my mom and dad.“
Paul continued, “My mom loves plants, so a lot of the stuff that I put is for her. Of course, all this here,” Paul said gesturing to the many flowers, “hummingbirds love that, so I put a bunch of petunias on there for them. I got that fountain running day and night. The birds love that.”
Paul has many dozens of interesting perennial plants in pots that he shuttles in and out of his house as the seasons change. “That cactus, that goes in. That’s about 12 years old. That’s a pineapple. I got a aloe vera there. Those all go in the house. I got a camelina — that’s a plant from Mexico — up on top there with the red flowers. I got about 50 potted plants that I put in the house.”
Paul’s prowess with plants encompasses more than flowers. “I’ve got tomatoes in the front. I got tomatoes and peppers in the back. I got zucchini squash, cucumbers, onions, lettuce, carrots, tomatillos, raspberries, blueberries. I utilize the space.”
Between the music (in Spanish) that played during my visit and plants that are native to Central America, I asked Paul about his connections to Mexico. He said his parents were both Mexican natives. After they retired they moved from Saint Paul to a farm in the Mexican state of Michoacán, about 230 miles west of Mexico City. “It was an avocado orchard; bananas, they had mangoes, they had coffee, they had everything you can think of. It was a hobby farm for my dad, He retired from here in 1978 and bought the farm in 1979.”
Paul also told me, “I think he worked harder down there than he did up here, but it was a project of love that was from the heart. That’s something that he always wanted since a kid, since he moved up here.”
His folks weren’t totally on their own at the farm, according to Paul. “I’d go down there every winter for maybe 15 or 20 years and work and help them out.”
Although the Michoacán farm has been sold and Paul and his mother no longer travel there, they enjoy pleasant recollections of those years thanks to the appearance and fragrances of the flowers and plants he grows.