August 25, 2021
St. Anthony Park
I’d never thought of St. Anthony Park as being unusually hilly – that is, until this ride. About halfway through it dawned on me that I was getting a nice workout thanks to the elevation changes.
The 1920 edition of the Minnesota Historical Society’s Minnesota Geographic Names – Their Origin and Historical Significance echoed my observation in a much more poetic way. Author Warren Upham opined that St. Anthony Park “is noteworthy for its streets deviating from straight and rectangular courses, on account of the diversities of the contour, which is formed by numerous irregular hillocks, ridges and hollows…”
The first place I explored was Langford Park, a prominent and, ironically, flat street that surrounds the seven-plus acre city park of the same name. This small section of St. Anthony Park is brimming with captivating history, including the tale of a direct link to the first national park in the U.S.
Langford Park – the road and park – according to The Street Where You Live by Don Empson, were named in 1885 for Nathaniel Pitt Langford and his wife, Clara, who moved to Saint Paul just a year earlier.
Nathaniel Langford organized and joined nine others on the 1870 Washburn Expedition to western Montana. This expedition led directly to Congress in 1872 designating Yellowstone as the country’s first national park. Later that year Langford was appointed its first superintendent, a position he held – without pay – for nearly five inauspicious years.
(Diverse Indian tribes lived, hunted and gathered in this area from as many as 15,000 years before and remained after the trip by the Washburn Expedition, according to the National Park Service.)
Lawn signs suspended upon wire supports are about as common as snowflakes in winter. However, a couple dozen of them along the east side of Langford Park brought a smile to my face and a stop to my ride. The Saint Paul Public Library and the Department of Parks and Recreation created Story Strolls in four parks, including Langford Park, in the summer of 2021. The brilliantly simple idea of printing picture books on plastic signs got parents and children out walking and reading. The Digger and the Flower by Joseph Kuefler was the August Story Stroll at Langford Park.
A short distance to the northeast is Langford Park’s historic bandstand, constructed in 1912 for the reasonable sum of $768.58. The bandstand has been a popular place for music, plays and informal gatherings for more than 100 years.
Langford Park has had an important role in the annual St. Anthony Park Independence Day festivities, hosting a post-parade program for decades.
Despite its long history, the 4th In the Park Committee has floated the idea of replacing the bandstand with a larger one to accommodate more uses.
It’s not just the ups and downs of the streets of St. Anthony that caught my attention. I spotted some unusual customization to compensate for the topography.
The rise and fall of the streets levels out somewhat where Doswell and Como Avenues meet. Just northwest, at 2323 Como at Luther Place, sits the lovely St. Anthony Park Lutheran Church, built of cream-colored stone.
Not coincidentally, an entrance to Luther Seminary is immediately north, on the other side of Luther Place. The Zvago, a senior living co-op, was built in 2019 on property that Luther Seminary sold.
I rode to the end of the parking lot where I came to Gullixson Hall. The library, offices, classrooms and computer lab are inside. The Old Muskego Church marker touched my instinct to explore for a couple of reasons. First, the arrow, pointing toward a tree and brush-shrouded hill grabbed me much like a headline pulls one into a news story.
Second, the sign itself was unlike any other near or on the Luther campus.
Lastly, many years ago I had a college roommate from Muskego, WI, a Milwaukee suburb, and I wondered if this church had a connection to that place. Turns out it does. The church (sometimes simply called Muskego Church) was built in the Muskego Settlement in southeastern Wisconsin beginning in either 1843 and was dedicated in March of 1845. Old Muskego Church was constructed on “Indian Hill,” a site that was sacred to the Potawatomi Indian Tribe prior to displacement by Europeans.
Old Muskego Church served a congregation of about 270 people until 1869 when it outgrew the building. The church was moved pretty much intact to a nearby farm and used for storage and a larger church was built in its place on “Indian Hill.”
The Muskego Church was purchased, dismantled and moved to its current spot on the Luther Seminary campus in 1904. There it was reassembled and covered with light-colored wood siding that was removed about 1970. While not original to Saint Paul, Old Muskego Church is almost certainly the oldest building in the city.
The church, according to the 1975 National Register of Historic Places nomination form, “represents a beautiful example of pioneer log construction with old world craftsmanship in addition to being an historic site of national significance.”
The Hendon Triangles Park is but a block away from the Muskego Church as the crow flies, but several blocks by bike. The unusual park is two small triangular tracts of land that together are less than an acre. The Hendon Triangles are each bounded on two sides by Branston Street, and bisected on the third side by Hendon Avenue.
My last photo stop on the trip was at a home with a contemporary take on the retaining wall. The owners of 2141 Knapp Street used steel plates as low-maintenance retaining walls and planters.
This was a pleasant and educational ride around St. Anthony where I unexpectedly came upon what is almost certainly the oldest man-made structure in Saint Paul. Delving into the history of the Old Muskego Church and Langford Park added to that intrigue.
All photos are by the author unless otherwise attributed.