May 20, 2016 Macalester-Groveland, Desnoyer Park 10 Miles
Stonebridge. Today, it’s little more than a two block long street in Macalester-Groveland. From the 1910s into the early ‘30s, however, Stonebridge was the grandest estate in Saint Paul. To this day, the mystique of Stonebridge remains fascinating to local historians because of estate’s size, extravagance and relatively quick demise.
Oliver Crosby, an inventor, and co-founder of American Hoist and Derrick, purchased a large piece of land (28 or 40 acres, depending upon which article you read; I calculated its size as 38 acres.) in 1907 for his new estate.
The Stonebridge property extended from St. Clair Avenue on the north, south to Jefferson Avenue, and from Montrose Boulevard (now Mount Curve) on the east to Mississippi River Boulevard on the west.
The Stonebridge mansion, designed by Clarence H. Johnston, was properly large – 20,000 square feet, 24 rooms – and finely decorated, but it was the grounds of Stonebridge that were the most spectacular feature of the estate.
Among the amenities, according to separate articles by Jay Phaender and Larry Millett, were two man-made lakes (one of which Crosby named after his wife, Elizabeth), waterfalls fed by a reservoir on the property, at least one large sunken garden, a greenhouse, and a 100 foot long pergola. Crosby, an early lover of cars, had a nine-car garage built to house his Stutz Bearcat and other vehicles.
Oliver Crosby and his wife Elizabeth moved into Stonebridge in 1916, nine years after purchasing the property. I haven’t been able to determine why it took so long for the family to move to the estate.
The Crosbys entertained regularly, according to reports, often outside amongst the lavish gardens and pergola.
Scenes from at least one movie were shot at the magnificent Stonebridge Estate. The Society Page of the July 14, 1921 edition of the Minneapolis Morning Tribune (below) mentions the shoot for the silent film “Free Air”, written by Sinclair Lewis, a short-time resident of Saint Paul.
Oliver Crosby’s time at Stonebridge was short – only six years – as he died in 1922 at the age of 67. Elizabeth remained for six more years, until her death, in 1928.
Author Larry Millett says in “Once There Were Castles” that in 1928, nearly all of the Stonebridge land was sold. Only three acres around the mansion, and the house itself, remained with the Crosby family. Son Frederic Crosby and his family were the last to live at the estate. They moved to Stonebridge shortly after his mother’s death, and lived there for seven years. After that, the vacant mansion slowly decayed. Ownership fell to the State of Minnesota in 1944 for failure to pay taxes. Several times the legislature considered making Stonebridge the Governor’s residence, but the proposal never passed. The end came for Stonebridge in June 1953, a mere 37 years after its completion.
There are a few remnants of the Stonebridge Estate that you can see if you know where to look. The most prominent and apropos is the stone bridge, after which the estate was named. It is easily seen from Mississippi River Boulevard. The bridge sits on the driveway for 280 Mississippi River Boulevard, just beyond two white brick pillars.
With the visit to the former Stonebridge complete, I went north on Woodlawn Avenue to Goodrich, then Cretin and to Summit. At Summit I went left, and investigated the western-most block of the city’s premiere street. There are a dozen homes of disparate styles and eras on the long block between Cretin and Mississippi River Boulevard.
This block of Summit, like all the others west of Lexington Parkway, is divided by a grass boulevard between the east and west bound lanes. There are many interesting items in the boulevard, including benches, memorials, markers and monuments.
The first was an off-kilter bench with weathered wood slats and rusting, fading green cast iron.
I was quite surprised to see the mention of the 1977 Women’s National Marathon, a race I’d never heard of, forged into the cast iron. An Internet search turned up only two stories about the Women’s National Marathon Championship, which was held on October 23, 1977. The race was a really big deal because it was the first marathon championship in the U.S. solely for women. According to an article by Sarah Barker in the September 29, 2017 edition of the StarTribune newspaper, 88 women from across the country ran the historic race, 79 of whom finished.
The Marathon started several yards from this bench, on Mississippi River Boulevard at Summit. The course stayed within Saint Paul’s borders except for a couple miles along the East River Road and Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis. Leal-Ann Rinehart of California won the historic race.
A short distance from the commemorative bench is a boulder affixed with a small plaque.
Moving back east along Summit toward Cretin Avenue, I rode past the Saint Paul Seminary, which since 1987 has been the Divinity School for the University of St. Thomas. The Saint Paul Seminary website says that James J. Hill, a Methodist, donated half a million dollars to build and endow the school to honor his devoutly Catholic wife, Mary.
Architect Cass Gilbert, designer of Minnesota ‘s stunning State Capitol, included St. Mary’s Chapel in the 1891 plan for the Seminary. However, Minnesota architect Clarence H. Johnston ultimately got the commission for the Chapel, which was completed in 1905. St. Mary’s Chapel remains in daily use by seminarians, priests and others. More than 3000 priests have graduated from the Seminary in more than 100 years.
There is a Historical Walking Tour courtesy of the University of St. Thomas.
The Frey Science and Engineering Center dominates the southwest corner of Cretin Avenue and Grand. It opened to students in the fall of 1997.
I finished this leg of the ride at 8:11, giving me another 30 minutes until the 8:41 sunset. Plenty of time to explore more, so I rode north to St. Anthony Avenue in Desnoyer Park – I-94’s south frontage road. Because of it’s relative seclusion, train cars here get tagged almost nightly, something I noticed as I drove to and from work each day for many years. I looked forward to seeing this up close with all the colors, angles and photo opps.
I didn’t expect to meet a graffiti artist since it was still light and relatively early. I’d love to talk with someone who has tagged these train cars, the bridges, or others. It would be a fascinating story for the blog.
Now at 9:11 – 30 minutes after sunset, light continued to cling to the horizon. It doesn’t look like it but I did need to turn on my head and tail lights as I headed the two miles home.
Here is the route for this ride.
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