Today’s activities focused on exploring St. Paul. Our day began at the Landmark Center, which was originally a Post Office and Federal Courts Building, but is now a visitor center and office building.
The Federal Courtrooms in the building became famous when they tried a number of gangsters there. For the longest time, there was an understanding between St. Paul law enforcement and the mobsters and it was a safe haven. That eventually changed, and this building is where that happened.
The building was designed by the Treasury Department, and all 33 Federal Buildings authorized in 1891 look very similar from the outside. Many of those buildings have been razed through the years, but not this one (although it was slated for demolition at one time so that a parking lot could take its place). Another one of its sister buildings that escaped demolition is the Old Post Office in Washington D.C. Stephanie and I visited it several years ago, and were similarly impressed by it at the time. See that trip here.
The skylight which covers the impressive atrium was once painted over and covered in asbestos to assist with maintenance. During the renovations that led to today’s refurbished building, they found marble countertops that were hidden under government issued green paint. It makes you wonder if we are blind to treasures today that future generations will shake their heads at.
Following our visit to the Landmark Center, we went for a walk through the downtown area. Rice Park sits right next door to Landmark, and its historical marker had us laughing pretty good. It recounted all of the famous activities which had been performed there, which included the Mayor of Memphis, Tennessee, providing a gift of two squirrels to St. Paul. KK remarked that this would be a good way to plant more trees.
The visitor center had suggested we visit the Ramsey County Courthouse and we obliged. The building is in the Art Deco style, which we are well familiar with since Tulsa is full of Art Deco buildings. A three story white onyx statue of a Native American dominates the interior.
The very friendly security guard told us that we needed to visit the basement and the rest of the first three floors, so off we went. The building had six elevators, and the elevator doors were decorated with reliefs that told the story of the area. They were fantastic.
The basement was by far the most informative of the floors, but the 3rd floor did have a great view of the head of the statue. One fun fact about the building was that it had a 4 million dollar budget, but due to cost efficiencies caused by the Depression, they were able to add exotic marbles and rare woods to the building. Apparently the government has always had an issue with coming in under budget.
When we got in the elevator, a man got in with us and told me that I needed to take the group to the library down the street. The man was wearing a t-shirt that said, “I am a retired librarian” and his hat said “LIBRARY” in big yellow block letters. I don’t want to jump to conclusions but this guy might have been prejudiced. (We did visit the library, and I’ll admit it was impressive.)
While driving into St. Paul this morning, we drove past a dining car restaurant called Mickey’s Diner. When it was time for lunch, we decided to give it a try. This place was a hoot and you got a ton of food.
The dining car had been shipped by rail to St. Paul from New Jersey in 1937, and it has been operating continuously ever since. I suspect the employees may have also come from New Jersey given their personalities. Our waitress, Stacy, and the cook, were throwing out zingers to customers and each other nonstop.
Cook (to Stacy): We need some silverware down here!
Stacy (without even looking up from what she is doing): Use your fingers!
Cook: That’s what I told him. He flipped me off.
Since we did not have to be to our next location for an hour, we drove around Lowertown and admired some of the sights from the comfort of our vehicle. The skyways are plentiful between the buildings, which allow pedestrians to move around town without being outside. Helpful in the wintertime, I’m sure.
Driving past the Union Station railroad station, Stephanie read to us that in its heyday 35,000 passengers a day were served. This led her to ask why every city has a Union Station or Union Depot. Turns out the answer is that a Union Station is one where tracks are shared by two or more railroad companies, for convenience and economic reasons. Good question, Stephanie. Keep ‘em coming.
Our afternoon activity was a 3pm tour of the Summit Brewery. St. Paul and the metro area is home to many breweries and we thought this would be something fun. We were right. This tour was a blast.
Eric was our tour guide, and he was able to tell us the history of the brewery and keep us entertained at the same time. The building was built from the ground up for this brewery and yet they had a substantial amount of equipment that was used. The copper vats came from a brewery in Germany, and there was also equipment from Sierra Nevada and Coca-Cola.
We were fortunate in that the production line was going strong when we visited that part of the brewery. Eric said in the 2 years that he has led the tour, we are the 3rd group that has seen the production line in operation. He attributed that to numerous breakdowns they had on the line today. Bad for Summit, but good for us.
To top it off, Summit had a gift shop, which allowed us to stimulate the economy since the tours are free.
To round out the afternoon, we drove down Summit Avenue from downtown to the Mississippi River. This is said to be the longest stretch of Victorian architecture in the United States. This was a gorgeous drive. At one point, we had to detour off of Summit because of police barricades. I found out later this was because of protests being carried out in front of the governor’s mansion.
Summit Avenue ends at the Mississippi River, and we drove along Mississippi River Boulevard for a number of miles before we turned back toward home. In this area, the river is fairly narrow and has gorged its way with bluffs on each bank.
We happened to pull over at a scenic turnout where we could see the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers. Fort Snelling still stands at this location.
We grilled pork chops and asparagus on the deck of the rental home tonight. The weather was perfect. We are starting to see the attraction of visiting Minnesota in the summertime.
Following some cake and ice cream to celebrate Marissa’s birthday, we got to resume the Phase 10 card game we had started on the first night of our trip.
More days like this please.