The past year has been unfortunate for those of us who like to travel, and I’m happy to say I’m back on the road again. This time it’s to Minneapolis-St. Paul. I’ve never been to the Twin Cities, but I now have a good reason to make frequent visits – son #2 and daughter-in-law, Alex and Carrie, moved there in October 2020.
We started our weekend with a stop at the Nordic Ware Factory Store in the St. Louis Park neighborhood of Minneapolis. The founder of Nordic Ware, David Dalquist, invented the bundt pan in 1950. As I walked in the store, I noticed an entire wall of these items. I’ve never seen so many shapes for a bundt pan . . . everything from a castle to an octopus to a tractor. I opted for the traditional style in a vintage seafoam green color.
After filling up the back of our vehicle with assorted bakeware and a bundt pan, we headed over to St. Paul and Fort Snelling State Park. The park is undergoing some changes right now – lots of fenced off areas and signage are promising a new visitor center and new visitor experience in 2022.
The fort itself dates back to 1820 when it was built at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers. It served as a military post in some capacity until 1946, and later the area was established as a state park in 1961. Fort Snelling was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960 for its importance as the first military post in the region and its later history in the development of the United States Army.
Currently the fort is closed due to the pandemic so we walked around the outside and then followed the hiking trails to the forest. It’s a nice park to explore.
A not-to-be missed area in St. Paul is Summit Avenue. The 4.5 mile stretch of road features historic mansions on both sides of the street. Something like 373 of the original 440 homes are still there, and you can see all styles of architecture.
Of particular note is 599 Summit Avenue, known as Summit Terrace, and the former home of F. Scott Fitzgerald and his parents. In the summer of 1919, Fitzgerald rewrote the manuscript for his first novel, This Side of Paradise, while he lived there. The home was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1971 for its association with the author.
The Como Zoo can trace its origins back to 1897 when the city of St. Paul received a donation of three deer. More animals were added through the years and facilities were built for them. Today the enclosures are roomy and appropriate for the various species, the walkways and areas for humans are pleasant, and it all makes for an agreeable visit.
Right next door to the Como Zoo is the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory. The building is one of the few glass-domed, Victorian style gardens left in the U.S. This one was built in 1915. The conservatory is a popular place for weddings and receptions. They host about 275 weddings a year.
The building houses some grand tropical plants in its main room with a 64-foot dome. I liked the room where spices are grown – it had an inviting smell. I’m only familiar with the finished product in a jar at the supermarket, so it was interesting to see the plants where the spices come from.
A favorite area in the conservatory is the Sunken Garden Room. It features blooming flowers that are switched out five times a year.
When you exit the conservatory, you can walk through a lovely Japanese garden.
Back in Minneapolis, another outdoor place to explore is the Minnehaha Regional Park. It’s one of the oldest and most popular parks in the city. The main feature is a 53-foot waterfall, but the area also has several historic buildings, as well as plenty of hiking and biking trails and picnic grounds.
Right near the falls is the Victorian-era Minnehaha train station. It’s a charming little building that was completed in 1875 and nicknamed the “Princess Depot” because of its gingerbread trim. It stood on the first railroad line west of the Mississippi River to connect Minneapolis with Chicago. Back in the day, when the city was smaller and the depot was considered out in the country, a steady stream of trains also brought local residents from Minneapolis to the park for a day of picnicking and sightseeing.
The John H. Stevens House (1850) also sits near the falls. It was moved from the Fort Snelling area to Minnehaha Park in 1896. The house is important as the first home on the west bank of the Mississippi River in what is now Minneapolis. There was lots of socializing and planning for the community’s future in the Stevens House. For that reason, it’s sometimes referred to as the birthplace of Minneapolis.
Another home moved to Minnehaha Park is the Longfellow House. It was built in 1907 to resemble the Cambridge, Massachusetts home of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. (Longfellow died in 1882 so he never saw the house or lived in it.)
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow became connected to Minneapolis when, in his poem, The Song of Hiawatha, he gave the young Native American woman the name of Minnehaha. (Longfellow was inspired to use that name after seeing an 1855 photograph of Minnehaha Falls.) The success of Hiawatha made the Falls a tourist destination.
The owner of Longfellow House was a flamboyant Minneapolis businessman named Robert Jones who built the replica house as a celebration of the famous poem and its author. The house was deeded to the Minneapolis Park Board in 1934, following Jones’ death.
I enjoyed my first visit to the Twin Cities. Our activities were geared to the outdoors because of the pandemic, and thankfully it was a beautiful weekend to be outside. I’m looking forward to returning when museums, shops, and restaurants are safer to visit. Minneapolis-St. Paul has a lot to offer!