The Humboldt Industrial Area has hardly any public streets to walk. The interior is devoid of them aside from one cul-de-sac portion of 47th Avenue North, shown in red on the route map. Even the perimeter isn’t all public right-of-way: the southern border is the historic Soo Line, now Canadian Pacific Railway. That railway is the defining feature of the industrial area, which mostly consists of the Humboldt Yards and two large rail-served facilities. From the standpoint of land area, everything else is just filling in the gaps, though in some interesting ways. Aside from the 47th Avenue cul-de-sac, my path consisted of the remaining three sides of the perimeter: Humboldt Avenue North on the east, 49th Avenue North on the north, and Osseo Road on the west.
Starting out from point A, I was immediately at Humboldt Avenue’s grade-level crossing of the railway. Looking northwest, I found the headlights of a locomotive shining in my eyes, so I decided it wasn’t a good spot to linger.
Once I was north of the tracks, I encountered a green area accented by the yellow of dandelions. This expanse of lawn between the tracks and the first industrial buildings was my initial exposure to one of the Humboldt Industrial Area’s notable properties: it contains a surprising amount of green space. The industrial buildings at the northern edge of the lawn belong to the U-shaped Metal-Matic complex. As I passed the northern building, the sounds were suggestive of metal tubing being cut into finished lengths: bizzzzt, clank; bizzzzt, clank; bizzzzt, clank.
Immediately after Metal-Matic, I turned west on 47th Avenue North. The first thing I saw was a sign for “Broadway Equipment: Home of Auto Butler.” This confused me a bit, as it was next to a blank wall of the Metal-Matic building. However, I quickly realized it was referring to the driveway on the opposite side of 47th Avenue, which indeed leads to the Broadway Equipment building via a lot that displayed a used example of their car-wash equipment.
The same 47th Avenue North cul-de-sac also provides access to AA Container Sales and Forest Specialties. (Looking at their web page, I see that Forest Specialties has two locations: this one off Humboldt Avenue and another in the city of Humboldt, Iowa. File that under strange coincidences.) However, the main destination at the end of the road is the shipping area for Owens Corning asphalt roofing shingles. Looking north where the northern railway siding crosses 47th Avenue, I could also see that Owens Corning is one of the two big facilities served by that line. You can see the towers of their Trumbull roofing asphalt plant and a row of pink-wrapped bundles of shingles lining the alley connecting the plant to the shipping area. (“The color PINK is a registered trademark of Owens Corning.”)
In addition to the bundles of shingles emanating from the Owens Corning manufacturing plant, I had seen other bundles at Forest Specialties. This concentration of shingle manufacturing and distribution struck me as fitting when I backtracked to Humboldt Avenue and found myself walking alongside Shingle Creek. The creek was named for its proximity to shingle manufacturing, though that was wooden shingles near where the creek empties into the Mississippi River. (At the time, logs from northern Minnesota were floated down the river to to lumber mills along the Camden shore.) File the more recent production of asphalt shingles further up the creek as just another coincidence.
The strip of land between the creek and Humboldt Avenue is another of the nice green areas within the Industrial Area. It is owned by the Park Board and serves as a pedestrian and bicycle connection between Creekview Park (north of 49th Avenue North in the Shingle Creek neighborhood) and Webber Park (southeast of here in the Webber-Camden neighborhood). That connection continues along Shingle Creek Drive. Beyond the lush plant life, I was interested to see a roundabout for pedestrians and cyclists, a rarity.
Turning onto 49th Avenue North, I quickly came alongside the Owens Corning property. Even here, the bushes rising above the fence were as notable as the structures rising above the plant’s vaulted roof.
After passing a smaller General Electric location, I quickly came to the industrial area’s other big rail-served facility, General Mills’s Soo Elevator. Here I was interested to see trees growing even inside the fence.
To the west of the elevator, a concrete-block commercial building has space for multiple tenants. My eye was drawn to the signage on the portion devoted to Create IT, Inc., a producer of hair-care products. Aside from the company’s name, the glass door has two signs with bold arrows pointing to “MAIN ENTRANCE” and “BABIES NEED BOXES.” Say what? I did a double take. All I could think of was the phrase “baby needs a new pair of shoes.” It seemed so incongruous to have the one very normal, almost predictable sign (main entrance) juxtaposed to this other quite abnormal sign, as though the two were counterpoints, like a main entrance and an employee-only entrance. This became less puzzling when I passed the next door and saw that it was signed with what was clearly the logo of an organization called “Babies Need Boxes.” This is a non-profit organization that “facilitates the worldwide distribution of Baby Boxes, which are safe sleep spaces for infants up to 6 months of age that come filled with a variety of essential childcare products.” So as with all my walks, I learned something new. Here, I learned that an “industrial area” can house not only industry and green space, but also a non-profit. Instead of producing shingles, they produce healthy families.
Another area of green space with grass and trees lies to the west of this building. At the transition into this area, I could see Ryan Creek disappear into an underground pipe. The green space is where the above-ground creek approaches 49th Avenue North from the southwest. Until the middle of the 20th century, it stayed above ground as it meandered a bit around the 49th Avenue alignment, then turned back toward the northeast to its confluence with Shingle Creek near the intersection of 50th and Knox Avenues North. Now it is channeled due west along 49th Avenue, emptying into Shingle Creek near the bike/pedestrian roundabout. This was part of a broader project to drain the area north of the avenue for development. (Some historic maps don’t use the name Ryan Creek, instead referring to it as the south fork of Shingle Creek.) A battered no-trespassing sign on the green space indicates it is private property of the Soo Line, contrasting with the bright CP sign at the driveway. Regardless of the railway’s name, it’s hard to look at this view and imagine it is part of a rail yard.
At the northwestern corner of the industrial area, there’s just enough room left between this Ryan Creek area and Osseo Road for one last building along 49th Avenue North. Noticeably more recent than others I had seen, it dates from 2006 and would look at home in a suburban industrial park. As the sign on the corner indicates, tenants include Cinequipt, pinta acoustic, and thyssenkrupp.
All that was left was to turn south on Osseo Road and exit back out of the industrial area. Because Osseo Road crosses the railroad tracks on a bridge, I was able to get a photo of the Humboldt Yards without needing to stare down a locomotive.
Editor’s Note: Max Hailperin is walking each of Minneapolis’ 87 neighborhoods, in alphabetical order. He chronicles his adventures at allofminneapolis.com, where the original version of this article was published May 19, 2018. We’re sharing them here at streets.mn.