Sylvan Sights Around a Cemetery

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the author’s blog, “Saint Paul by Bike — Every Block of Every Street.”

21 miles
October 18, 2021
Como, North End

The map of the October 18, 2021 ride

Sylvan means relating to, or inhabiting, the woods. Although the ride didn’t start that way, the arboreous nature revealed itself as I went along.

6 way intersection
Looking west along Front Avenue at the six-way intersection of Dale Street, Como and Front avenues. Dale is the border between the Como and North End neighborhoods.

A pair of pillars topped with lights is all that is left of Schroeder’s Bar and Grill, the long-time neighborhood saloon at 605 Front Ave. The establishment suffered heavy fire damage in November 2014, resulting in demolition of the building.

Schroeder's Leftovers
Two pillars mark the entrance to the parking lot of Schroeder’s Bar and Grill at 605 Front Ave. A November 2014 fire damaged the building beyond repair.
Schroeder's pillar
The pillars look new and, surprisingly, the glass on the light remains unbroken.
The entrance to Crossroads Elementary School at 543 Front Avenue.
The entrance to Crossroads Montessori School at 543 Front Ave.

A few turns of the pedals along Front Avenue and I came to Crossroads Montessori School. Built in 1998, it is one of the city’s newer public schools.

Crossroads elementary
Crossroads Montessori as seen from Front Avenue and Mackubin Street

Crossroads has some interesting ties to early St. Paul. First, the school’s name comes from when this part of Como and the North End was a crossroads of both streetcar and railroad lines in the early 1900s.

The area near the intersection of Dale Street and Front and Como avenues was the crossroads of railroad and streetcar lines, as this section of the 1916 G.W. Hopkins Company map of St. Paul shows. A: streetcar lines; B: Great Northern Railway through-lines; C: Great Northern Dale Street shops; D: Crex Carpet Company/future site of Crossroads Elementary School. Courtesy University of Minnesota Borchert Map Library

The 1916 G. M. Hopkins map (above) clearly shows how the neighborhood was rife with rails. Streetcar lines ran along Como Avenue, Dale Street and Front Avenue west of Dale. A mere five blocks due south of Front Avenue, several Great Northern Railway through-lines passed by, and the railroad’s Dale Street Shops were just south of that.

Crex Carpet Co.
The Crex Carpet Company factory on Front Avenue and nearby homes, date unknown. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society. Photo by Charles P Gibson

Then there is the history of the factories that preceded Crossroads Elementary on the 500 block of Front Avenue. According to the Winter 2006 Ramsey County Historical Society magazine, National Grass Twine Company, headquartered in New York, purchased a St. Paul farm implement manufacturer in 1898. After the purchase, the company expanded the Front Avenue factory and began production of twine from wild marsh-grown wire-sedge (carex lasiocarpa.)

An aerial shot of the AGT/Crex Carpet Company factory at 509 Front Avenue, circa 1928. Photo by F. Paul Wright and courtesy mnopedia.

Just five years later, in 1903, the renamed American Grass Twine (AGT) ditched production of twine in favor of wicker and rugs. Although wire sedge-based twine was of substandard quality, it made excellent rugs and wicker for furniture, and sales of “Crex Carpets” took off. AGT employed nearly 900 employees, at least half of them women and girls, at the Front Avenue factory and another on the East Side.

Crex brand rugs and runners made in St. Paul were sold by local stores like Schuneman Evans in downtown. This ad is from a 1909 edition of the St. Paul Globe. Courtesy
Crex Carpet ad
An advertisement for Crex Carpet Company in the February 1909 edition of The Ladies Home Journal. Courtesy University of Wisconsin Library

Five years later came another name change, to Crex Carpet Company, a play on carex stricta. Business thrived for Crex until the early 1920s, when Japanese and Chinese manufacturers brought significantly less expensive grass rugs to the U.S. market. Profits quickly eroded and turned to losses. Crex shuttered its St. Paul factories in 1934 and filed for bankruptcy a year later. There’s a great deal more to the story of Crex Carpet Company, including how the 10,000 acres of marshland AGT owned in Minnesota were harvested. Click here and here to learn more of the story.

The Crex factory laid idle for some time, until the John Wood Company’s Superior Metalware Division moved in. The plant was retooled for production of wire crates, metal milk and ice cream cans, and metal pails. Although the plant operated in the late 1950s, it is unclear how long Superior Metalware operated before closing the Front Avenue plant.

Superior metalware plant
This drawing of the Superior Metalware Division factory at 509 Front Ave. is from the John Wood Company’s 1953 Annual Report.
John Wood
A Superior Metalware Division advertisement in a 1957 edition of the Journal of Milk and Food Technology for metal milk crates produced at the Front Avenue plant in St. Paul.
Crossroads and RiverEast Schools
Crossroads Montessori School and grounds take up a full two blocks that was the location of Crex Carpet Company and its predecessors, and later, John Wood Company Superior Metalware Division. RiverEast School is one block north. Google Maps

Crossroads Montessori is on a full two blocks of land surrounded by Kent and Mackubin and Front and Lawson. Another much newer St. Paul school, RiverEast, is just a block north of that, on the site of a former packaging factory.

RiverEast back
If the back of something is opposite the front, then this is the back of RiverEast School. The address of the school is 1055 Mackubin St. Mackubin is a block east of Kent, from where I shot this.

A school wasn’t the first choice for this spot, previously 1050 Kent St. and now 1055 Mackubin St. The St. Paul Planning Commission in 2006 recommended owner-occupied, single-family townhomes or condominiums for the 5.5-acre Jefferson Smurfit land. Instead, RiverEast Elementary and Secondary replaced the long-vacant plant. The food box, bag and pet food bag manufacturer and printer closed about 2006 and the building and property sat unused for about 10 years. I visited this site in 2016 when the abandoned plant stood in decay.

RiverEast building
“Houses” (similar to wings) of RiverEast School and part of the playground. Kent Street is to the left.

RiverEast Elementary and Secondary is a construction amalgam. One section of the old Jefferson Smurfit factory was incorporated into the new school building; most of it was demolished and replaced by new construction. The RiverEast website says the school is designed for up to 80 students in kindergarten through eighth grade with mental health needs. Break-out rooms provide space for therapy, and individual learning and small-group rooms are a few of the special design elements that architects included in the school.

Jessamine and Jessamine
Jessamine and Jessamine (Avenue and Court)

The stopover at RiverEast complete, I rode another block north along Kent, which ended at its intersection with Jessamine Avenue. East a block is the unusual intersection of Jessamine and Jessamine — Avenue and Court. The homes along Jessamine Court have, in the vernacular of the U.S. Postal Service, curbside mailboxes, a rarity for St. Paul.

Jessamine mailboxes
Curbside mailboxes sit along the east side of Jessamine Court.

A path along Jessamine Street, below, takes walkers and bikers into the 24-acre Marydale Park.

Marydale Path
The path that runs around Loeb Lake and through much of Marydale Park: Jessamine and Jessamine is the intersection in the background.
Marydale Path
The path on the south side of Loeb Lake.

Loeb Lake is home to fish, turtles and birds, including a raft or paddling of ducks, and a waddling, badelyng or badling of ducks.

Mallards on Loeb Lake
Mallards on Loeb Lake enjoyed the 70-degree October day almost as much as I did.

Heading east on the path leads into some woods and to a small, unnamed pond that held a surprising amount of wildlife.

mottled wood duck
A male wood duck in eclipse (mottled brown autumn) plumage warily watches as I take his picture.

After the passing foray into Marydale Park I emerged from where I entered, at the Jessamine-Jessamine intersection. From there I rode half a block east to Mackubin and turned south to the main entrance of RiverEast School.

The front (Mackubin Street) side of RiverEast School
The two similar homes at 331 Lawson (left) and 329 Lawson (right) are about two feet apart. That’s getting close to the neighbors.

From there, I rode south on Mackubin another block to Lawson Street and my next stop, 331 and 329 Lawson Ave. W. What struck me about these two is the distance — or, more accurately, the lack of distance — between them.

Homemade sidewalk
The homemade sidewalk at 1020 Farrington St. is actually along Lawson Avenue.

Not far away, the homemade sidewalk, or obstacle course, along Lawson Avenue actually belongs to 1020 Farrington St. By the look of it, lacking a dedicated walking area, a do-it-yourselfer added moderate-size rocks and covered them with concrete to create a place that only the surest of foot would be safe walking.

A closer look reveals the unevenness of the walkway.

Eight more blocks east on Lawson and it ends at Sylvan Street and Oakland Cemetery, continuing the theme of the ride.

Sylvan sign
Sylvan Street is so sylvan here the street sign is covered by leaves.

Sylvan Street is a north-south roadway that runs nearly the entirety of the North End. A portion of Sylvan Street and the surrounding area were truly “relating to the woods” on this warm mid-October day.

Eleven blocks of Sylvan Street border the western edge of Oakland Cemetery, which opened in 1853.

Peering through the cyclone fence at the western edge of Oakland Cemetery, I saw Sylvan Street on the far right.

Oakland Cemetery is stunning –– peaceful, bursting with history, natural beauty and with abundant places to walk or ride.

Trees & markers
Trees cast long shadows on a group of grave markers.
Lotsa space at Oakland
Surprisingly, the oldest cemetery in the Midwest has plenty of open space.
Few graves have been placed on the north end of Oakland. Magnolia Avenue West, left, is beyond the north side of the cemetery, and Jackson Street, background, is to the east.
Many grave markers
As a nondenominational cemetery, grave markers reflect the diversity and migration patterns of those who have lived and died in St. Paul since 1853.
The leaves on most trees were far from peak color, but the gold hue of one maple tree provided a gorgeous background to one memorial.
The main gate to Oakland Cemetery at Jackson and Sycamore streets

On my ride through Oakland Cemetery I met one of the caretakers, who told me a couple of engaging stories about working there. We hope to meet again during the 2022 biking season for a formal interview. No doubt that will include some of the lengthy history of the Midwest’s oldest cemetery.

Happening upon the unanticipated is one of the joys of roaming the streets of St. Paul. In this case, it was the delightful little Lyton Park. If cemeteries aren’t your thing, this unique spot might be.

Lyton Park
Lyton Park splits Park Street for one block. Northbound traffic goes to the right and southbound to the left.

Lyton Park is equidistant — just two blocks — from Sylvan Street and Oakland Cemetery to the east and hectic Rice Street to the west.

Lyton Place, looking west
Lyton Place looking west toward Rice Street from the park
Lyton Place facing east.
Looking east along Lyton Place: That’s Oakland Cemetery at the street’s end.

Three quaint statues of children and with animals are the signatures of Lyton Park.

The Girl on Dolphin
The Girl on Dolphin statue
Boy on turtle
The Boy on Turtle, and in the background, the Girl on Goose statues

One hundred twenty years ago, this North End neighborhood was new, bustling with immigrants from Great Britain and other parts of Europe. Some of those houses remain on Park Street across from Lyton Park. Others were replaced in the 1990s with structures that drew on the originals.

Workers' homes
Some of the smaller homes, built more than a century ago for workers at nearby factories, remain. 816 Park St., foreground, was built in 1889, and 808 Park, background, is four years older.
More Park
Two of the newer homes along Park Street, 794 and 800, were built in 1991 to resemble the original style homes constructed more than 100 years earlier.

The North End isn’t one of St. Paul’s fancier neighborhoods. It doesn’t boast the opulence and elegance of Summit Avenue mansions or the architectural cachet of University Grove in Saint Anthony Park. But there is much to love here, including the extraordinary Oakland Cemetery and the joyful Lyton Park, as I discovered on this ride.

Wolfie Browender

About Wolfie Browender

Pronouns: He/Him/His

Wolfie Browender has lived in Saint Paul with his wife, Sue, since 1986. His two adult daughters also live in the Capital City, one Downtown and the other on the East Side. Wolfie bikes for fun and exercise. Follow his travels along the more than 800 miles of streets in his quest to ride every block of every street in Saint Paul on his blog Saint Paul By Bike at