Sunday, August 28, 2016


The older I get, the more I realize that special events like reunions and weddings are worth making every effort to attend. I guess this is the reason I found myself in Minnesota recently. A reunion that provided a special time with cousins who are now living across the country—I will forever cherish the time we had together.
We rented an Airbnb that was located in the Groveland Macalester area of Saint Paul, mainly because it was close to our son's apartment, whom we also wanted to spend some time with. From the moment we opened that gate and walked up two flights of stairs to the top floor of this old Victorian home, I knew I was in the right place. We were surrounded by lush green trees on a quiet residential street looking very much like it did in the '70s when I lived nearby on Palace Avenue. It was comfortable and convenient to Grand Avenue with its many shops and restaurants—including Cafe Latte, 850 Grand Avenue, for the best latte in town.
Few cities in the Midwest can match the rich architectural history of Saint Paul. The best way to experience it is with a leisurely stroll along Summit Avenue—ranked as one of America's ten best “Great Streets” by the American Planning Association. It is just west of downtown Saint Paul and extends 4 ½ miles west to the Mississippi River where Saint Paul meets Minneapolis.
We started our leisurely walk at the James J. Hill House, 240 Summit Avenue. This 36,000 square foot structure was completed in 1891 for railroad executive James J. Hill, his wife, and ten children. It is built from large blocks of stone with sturdy pillars and rounded arches on a property that overlooks downtown Saint Paul and the Mississippi River area. Tours of the house are available. However, we chose to walk around the grounds to enjoy the outside on this beautiful summer day.
From here we walked to the nearby Saint Paul Cathedral, 239 Selby Ave, which is perched on top of Summit Hill with a dramatic vista of downtown. I've always enjoyed the sight of this cathedral when driving through Saint Paul. The architecture and lighting at night are stunning. The impressive structure, built in the shape of a Greek cross, was the dream of Archbishop John Ireland in the early 1900's and completed in 1915.       
Next we headed back down Summit Avenue toward the west and enjoyed looking at the many Victorian homes and historic mansions that were built in the late 1800s by the prominent citizens of the day. In the 1890s it was the place to live, however, it declined in the 1930s and many homes were turned into rooming houses or went vacant. In the '60s and '70s it turned around as many discovered that the Victorian homes could be purchased affordably and restored over time. The Hill District is again one of the most fashionable places to live in Saint Paul.
In addition to being the site of the Governor's residence, authors F. Scott Fitzgerald and Sinclair Lewis both lived on Summit Avenue at one time. Garrison Keillor, creator and longtime host of the popular A Prairie Home Companion, still has a home here. His independent bookstore, Common Good Books, is located nearby on Snelling Avenue.
Here is a favorite poem that Keillor wrote upon opening his bookstore:
                                           A bookstore is for people who love books and need
                                           To touch them, open them, browse for a while,
                                           And find some common good – that's why we read.
                                           Readers and writers are two sides of the same gold coin.
                                           You write and I read and in that moment I find
                                           A union more perfect than any club I could join:
                                           The simple intimacy of being one mind.
                                            Here in a book-filled room on a busy street,
                                            Strangers — living and dead — are hoping to meet.

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