Camden Industrial Area: Nature, History, Liberian Food, and Even Some Industry

Editor’s Note: Max Hailperin is walking each of Minneapolis’ 87 neighborhoods, in alphabetical order. He chronicles his adventures at  allofminneapolis.com and we’re sharing them here at streets.mn, at a pace of one or two walks per week.

All of MinneapolisThe Camden Industrial Area is nearly a misnomer, in that a large proportion of this thin strip along the North Minneapolis riverfront is within the North Mississippi Regional Park rather than being devoted to industrial use. Notice how much green there is in the official map, reproduced below. Also, even the portion zoned for medium industry in practice includes other land uses, including two restaurants, a child-care center, a Hindu temple, and a residence.

Camden Industrial Area

Camden Industrial Area

My walking route started and ended at the intersection of 42nd Avenue North and Lyndale Avenue North, and it also passed through that point approximately midway through the walk as I transitioned from an initial northward loop to a subsequent southward loop. (Each loop also included a short back-and-forth spur, shown in red on the route map below.)

The route protrudes beyond the industrial area in two places, highlighted with grey shading on the route map. In the northern loop (for which I enjoyed the company of my Less Pedestrian Half), we continued as far as 49th Avenue in order to connect from the park trail to Lyndale Avenue. The actual boundary between Camden Industrial and the Lind-Bohanon Neighborhood is on the 48th Avenue alignment, where there is no street.

The other place I ventured out of the industrial area was when I headed south from the intersection of Lyndale and 42nd Avenue. I continued on Lyndale to 41st Avenue, where I was able to turn onto Washington Avenue. This portion of the boundary between the industrial area and the Webber-Camden Neighborhood appears to reflect a prior street layout in which Washington Avenue continued it’s diagonal course to the 42nd Avenue intersection, where it connected up with the Webber Parkway.

First things first, though. We began by heading east from the 42nd and Lyndale intersection onto the Camden Bridge, which spans Interstate 94, the park, and the Mississippi. Once we had crossed the interstate and were above the park, we descended a set of stairs to gain access to one of the park paths and proceeded across Shingle Creek on a footbridge.

Shingle Creek

Shingle Creek

Due to a slight navigational error on my part, we followed the creek as far as the point where it passes under the interstate before we returned to the main north-south path. The creek was pretty enough for this to be a nice bonus.

Much of the park is occupied by restored prairie. The serene visual environment, full of plants and pollinators, contrasted with the busy auditory environment full of noises from the adjoining interstate. The interstate has sound walls lining it, but the prairie paths are approximately level with the top of those walls. Nonetheless, it was a lovely walk on a temperate afternoon.

Restored Prairie with Interpretive Sign

Restored Prairie with Interpretive Sign

Interpretive Signs Show Flora and Fauna

Interpretive Signs Show Flora and Fauna

Flora

Flora

Access to the River

Access to the River

More Flora

More Flora

Yet More Flora

Yet More Flora

Still More Flora

Still More Flora

Even More Flora

Even More Flora

As we neared 49th Avenue (and crossed the invisible border into the Lind-Bohanon neighborhood), we reached the Carl W. Kroening Interpretive Center, a 2002 addition to the park that contains a quite interesting mix of historical and environmental exhibits regarding the area. Apparently the entire area had been a buzzing hive of sawmills and lumberyards, processing logs that were floated down the river. (Among the products produced were the shingles that gave Shingle Creek its name.)

Carl W. Kroening Interpretive Center

Carl W. Kroening Interpretive Center

Less Pedestrian Half (Outside the Interpretive Center)

Less Pedestrian Half (Outside the Interpretive Center)

Once we exited the park and crossed the interstate on 49th Avenue, we were able to turn south again on Lyndale Avenue. We passed several businesses that made good use of the available space, including traffic control device rental, general storage, and direct marketing. Then at 45th Avenue, we saw a nice design response to the park being separated from habitation by the interstate. Rather than providing access via an unpleasant steel pedestrian bridge over the freeway, the park landscaping continues to Lyndale at 45th by way of a tunnel under the freeway.

Entry to North Mississippi Regional Park at 45th Avenue via Tunnel

Entry to North Mississippi Regional Park at 45th Avenue via Tunnel

Continuing South on Lyndale, we encountered one of the few true industrial buildings in the industrial area, in the sense that it is currently used for manufacturing. Hirshfield’s Paint Manufacturing is a fourth-generation, family-owned business dating back to 1894. Although the current building only dates to 1957, I find it as attractive an example of its period as the 19th and early-20th century buildings further down the block in proposed C.A. Smith Lumber Historic District.

Hirshfield’s Paint Manufacturing (4450 Lyndale Ave N, 1957)

Hirshfield’s Paint Manufacturing (4450 Lyndale Ave N, 1957)

The Historic District is named for its former occupant, the C.A. Smith Lumber Company, though a considerable portion was occupied by a subsidiary, the Northwestern Compo-Board Company, which manufactured its namesake composite board for wall and ceiling applications as well as later branching out into blackboards and other products. We struggled to make out the ghost sign on its building, which said “The Compo-Board Company.” Although the original building dates from 1892, substantial reconstruction has happened since that time.

Former Comp-Board Building (4430 Lyndale Ave N, 1892+) with Part of the Ghost Sign

Former Comp-Board Building (4430 Lyndale Ave N, 1892+) with Part of the Ghost Sign

Next door, at 4400 Lyndale Avenue North, a striking Queen Anne building from 1903 originally housed the lumber company’s offices, though the not-so-ghostly sign reflects its subsequent occupant, the Machine Specialties Manufacturing Company. Today it seems to be used as a residence, the only one I spotted in the industrial area.

Former C. A. Smith Office Building (More Recently Machine Specialties), 4400 Lyndale Ave N, 1903

Former C. A. Smith Office Building (More Recently Machine Specialties), 4400 Lyndale Ave N, 1903

I haven’t been able to find a range of dates for the Machine Specialties Manufacturing Company, but it was “a small-business custom machining and welding shop” that “manufacture[d] the Addicks Shovelveyor line of grain handling equipment.”

The 4300 block of Lyndale provides a contrast to the historic industrial buildings by featuring single-story commercial buildings in the strip-mall style. Occupants include two restaurants (Northside Steakhouse and City Afrique) and a child-care center. We returned for dinner at City Afrique after I was done with the walk.

Once back to 42nd Avenue, my Less Pedestrian Half split off and I continued south alone, taking the corner from Lyndale to Washington Avenue that protrudes into the Webber-Camden Neighborhood, as previously noted. Although this protrusion is quite small, it is disproportionately interesting because the triangular area between the two avenues and the interstate holds the Camden Gateway sculpture garden. Rather than wait until I’m back for the W portion of my alphabetic journey, I decided to pretend it was within the industrial area and photograph most of the garden’s half-dozen sculptures, which were commissioned from Zoran Mojsilov in 1996.

Along Washington Avenue, I once again found a variety of establishments that weren’t exactly industrial but did take good advantage of the available space, such as a towing impound lot, propane and oxygen dealers, and the MHDS Vishnu Mandir. Only at the southern end did I find another manufacturing facility, Precision Associates.

That doesn’t mean the intervening businesses were without interest, however. For example, the Historic Stone Company provided a striking example of form following function, using some of their inventory of salvaged stone to decorate the boundary of their property.

Historic Stone Company: Form Follows Function

Historic Stone Company: Form Follows Function

The Minneapolis Oxygen Company caught my geeky eye because of the logo on their signage. The main sign has a sans serif M inside a circle with a subscript 2 outside the circle. The M presumably stands for Minneapolis, and a moment later I recognized the circle as a letter O. The subscript of 2 is presumably on the O, not the M, so as to make the chemical formula for ordinary diatomic oxygen.

Minneapolis Oxygen: M O2

Minneapolis Oxygen: M O2

The building’s entry portico roof, which looks like a recent addition, has an updated version of the same logo. The O is no longer formed by a geometer’s compass but rather by a calligrapher’s brush, and the M has switched from an upright sans serif typeface to an italic slab serif.

Minnesota Oxygen Entryway With Updated Logo

Minnesota Oxygen Entryway With Updated Logo

This version of the logo is essentially the same as the one on the current web site, with the only difference being the gaps at the lower-left and upper-right of the O.

Turning toward the river on Dowling Avenue, I encountered quite a change of scenery. Contrary to what the green shading on Google Maps would suggest, this area of riverfront is not parkland — far from it. The cul-de-sac at the end of Dowling switches names to “Port of Minneapolis Drive,” revealing the historic identity of this area as the northernmost barge port, just south of the railway bridge that limited further navigability. However, barges can no longer even get this far since the Upper St. Anthony Lock was closed to control invasive carp. As a result, the port area (extending also north along 1st Street) seems to have been given over to concrete recycling.

Jumbled piles of pavement, culverts, and other less recognizable concrete await being ground up. Elsewhere a huge claw-marked pile of gravel presumably reflects the end product. These large-scale features are set off by incongruous details. Flowers grow through the rubble, and two seemingly pristine cubes of bricks sit in front of the gravel pile, looking rather lonely.

Concrete with Rebar and Flowers

Concrete with Rebar and Flowers

More Ruble Awaiting Recycling

More Ruble Awaiting Recycling

Flowers Adjacent to the Concrete Recycling

Flowers Adjacent to the Concrete Recycling

More Flowers Adjacent to the Concrete Recycling

More Flowers Adjacent to the Concrete Recycling

Gravel Pile with Brick Cubes

Gravel Pile with Brick Cubes

After backtracking out of this dead end, I retraced my steps on Washington Avenue northward almost to where it crosses the interstate, but then I bore off riverward again, this time on Soo Avenue. The name of this avenue is clear enough as it passes under the Soo Line (now Canadian Pacific) before continuing to the boat launch at the southern end of the North Mississippi Regional Park.

Soo Line Bridge Over Soo Avenue

Soo Line Bridge Over Soo Avenue

Boat Launch at End of Soo Avenue

Boat Launch at End of Soo Avenue

The boat launch is almost all there is to the portion of the park situated between the Camden Bridge and the railway. However, this doesn’t result in a small, cut-off area of parkland. Rather, it is integrated with the portion north of Camden Bridge by paths under the bridge.

Path Under Camden Bridge

Path Under Camden Bridge

Instead of going that way, which would return me to the restored prairie from the start of the walk, I climbed the stairs back up to the bridge. We had gone down the stairs on the bridge’s northern walkway, whereas now I was going up the stairs to the southern walkway so that I could get a somewhat different view. In particular, I had a birds-eye view of the paths in the boat-launch area where I just had been.

Paths Near the Boat Launch

Paths Near the Boat Launch

I also walked out to the mid-point of the river and looked south. Beyond the railway bridge, the Lowry Avenue Bridge (which I visited on a previous day) sticks up as a small arch where the river curves out of sight to the right.

View South From the Camden Bridge

View South From the Camden Bridge

Turning around, I followed the bridge back to my starting point at Lyndale. One last look southward from the bridge let me see what may be the only surviving remnant of the once dominant lumber industry. Industrial Lumber & Plywood is situated between the Soo Line and Soo Avenue.

Industrial Lumber & Plywood

Industrial Lumber & Plywood

After I met back up with my Less Pedestrian Half, we returned to City Afrique, which seems to be the only Liberian restaurant in Minneapolis. Luckily, the food we had there was so tasty that I have no reason to want to go elsewhere.

I ordered the plantain fufu with okra sauce. The fufu came as a perfectly smooth, round portion. It looks otherwise in the photo only because I had already torn off and swallowed a first sample (with okra sauce) before I took the picture.

Okra Sauce at City Afrique

Okra Sauce at City Afrique

Plantain Fufu at City Afrique

Plantain Fufu at City Afrique

On its own, the fufu has a very mild flavor, analogous to eating plain mashed potatoes. However, swallowing each piece of it together with some of the aromatically spicy sauce made for a very tasty meal. The sauce also contained substantial amounts of chicken and meat (with bones and, in the case of the chicken, skin). This added to the highly satisfying nature of the meal. I had enough appetite to eat it all (and enjoyed doing so), but I wonder if the size of these dishes was really intended for less than one per person.

The check rice and gravy also included substantial chicken and meat in the gravy. The seasoning was different than in the okra sauce, but again very tasty. Being able to sample some of each was a welcome luxury. The check rice (which is to say, rice cooked with finely minced greens) was even more generous than the fufu — we wound up leaving some of it just based on quantity.

Check Rice and Gravy at City Afrique

Check Rice and Gravy at City Afrique

Even if you never find yourself needing any historic stone, oxygen, or other items sold in the Camden Industrial Area, it is well worth a visit for the park (together with the interpretive center and sculpture garden just outside the industrial area) and for this restaurant. I certainly would be glad to return for another meal.

All of MinneapolisThis article was published August 27, 2016, on the author’s All of Minneapolis blog. The original version is available there.

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3 Responses to Camden Industrial Area: Nature, History, Liberian Food, and Even Some Industry

  1. Adam Miller
    Adam Miller March 21, 2017 at 10:53 am #

    A tiny bit more (but not much) on Machine Specialties here: http://ghostsignsmpls.blogspot.com/2014/06/in-saddle-again.html

  2. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke March 21, 2017 at 11:14 am #

    Great stuff here, Max!

  3. Max Hailperin
    Max Hailperin March 21, 2017 at 11:57 am #

    Thanks, Adam and Bill, for your support. Happily, Adam’s info is consistent with mine.

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