Playing Tourist

September 5, 2014 § 2 Comments

How often do we miss the glimmers of history tucked away in our communities because we never think to venture outside our comfy neighborhoods or don’t believe a place is interesting unless a guidebook tells us it is?

I’m finding it impossible to drive anywhere without wondering what is two blocks or three blocks off my path, so when I’m alone and have the time, I usually follow my instincts and head off the destined route.

Rarely am I disappointed.

If you’re an offbeat cat like me, I recommend taking a walk or a drive through a neighborhood that isn’t on your radar. Drive along a road you’ve never been on or open a local map, close your eyes, and plop your finger down and follow where it lands.

Today I purposely got lost in St. Paul’s Payne-Phalen and Dayton’s Bluff neighborhoods. I came across many old (yet new to me) buildings that piqued my curiosity. These structures may have as storied a history as any other Twin Cities landmark — and those histories may be seedier and more entertaining than those of popular tourist stops like the Minnesota State Capitol and St. Paul Cathedral. I particularly enjoy exploring working-class neighborhoods and finding hints of the life left behind, illuminated through faded hand-painted signs, crumbling facades, and cornerstones with dates from the early 20th century.

After my excursion I attempted to do some online research of the buildings, but I haven’t found much. The exception is the Catholic Church of St. Casimir, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Its website reveals a remarkable history that includes a scandalous murder in the confessional area and a fire started by unruly boys.

As I’ve mentioned before, I need to make a visit to the Minnesota Historical Society Library and start researching some of these places, or at least try and unearth some old photos that show these decaying yet remarkable sites in their prime. Maybe just to get a glimpse into who inhabited and worked in these structures and what gave them stamina to survive, especially when other nearby buildings were razed long ago.


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