There’s Dirt On Them Thar Streets-Part 1

August 31, 2012

36.2 miles

Dirt road

I planned this ride for a couple of weeks and thought about it for well over a month. I studied my official City of Saint Paul map, planning, strategizing, considering options and reviewing routes. Why I even took the day off just to make this journey to a part of the city to which I’d never been. The destination was Highwood, or Highwood Hills, on the far east and south side of Saint Paul. If this isn’t the farthest point in Saint Paul from my house, it’s really close to it.

Every ride has some sense of discovery but this was different and I enthusiastically loaded my bike with water, camera, zoom lens, map, voice recorder and other necessities. I got going about 9:30, planning to hustle through Highland Park and jump onto eastbound Shepard Road. That scheme was upended by a good-sized yard sale on a virtually hidden sliver of Eleanor Avenue wedged between Lexington Parkway and I-35E. Several items piqued my interest but I quickly reconsidered when I thought about my wife’s reaction to the treasures and the hassle of carrying them on the bike all day.

The next stop was on Shepard Road, about a quarter-mile southwest of Randolph. There was a historical marker about Fountain Cave, (called IN-YAN TI-PI by the local Dakota peoples) commonly said to be the site of the first permanent structure in what became Saint Paul. Miscreant and whiskey trader Pierre “Pigs Eye” Parrant built a log cabin at the mouth of Fountain Cave in 1838 from which he sold liquor to soldiers and Native Americans.

A visitor to Fountain Cave in 1870

A visitor to Fountain Cave in 1870. Photo courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

IMG_0239B

Peering into Fountain Cave in 1875. Photo courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

From 1850 through 1880, after “Pigs Eye” and other settlers were forced from the area, Fountain Cave became a popular tourist spot. Human encroachment gradually diminished the appeal of the cave. (Sewers were run into a stream(s) that flowed into the cave. The requisite effluent quickly diminished the appeal of Fountain Cave.) The 1960 construction of Shepard Road led to the burying of the mouth of Fountain Cave leaving only historical markers as reminders.

Looking west at the intersection of Shepard Road and Randolph Avenue. The school bus awaits a green light to turn left onto Shepard. On the left, the green roofed structure is a new interpretive display of area history.

Looking west at the intersection of Shepard Road and Randolph Avenue. The school bus awaits a green light to turn left onto Shepard. On the left, the green roofed structure is a new interpretive display of area history.

I was surprised to discover that Randolph Avenue continues east at Shepard Road. (On the “Randolph, Randolph and Nothing But Randolph” post I mistakenly said Randolph ended at Shepard.) This segment of Randolph literally was Shepard Road until a mid-1990s rerouting shifted Shepard away from the Mississippi River to its current location. The goal, by all accounts successful, was to improve public access to the Mississippi River.

Now an eastern extension of Randolph Avenue, this was Shepard Road prior to the mid-1990s realignment. On the left, two-way traffic now flows on the old Shepard’s westbound lanes. What were the eastbound lanes are now a walking/biking lane to the right of the cement island.

Now an eastern extension of Randolph Avenue, this was Shepard Road prior to the mid-1990s realignment. On the left, two-way traffic now flows on the old Shepard’s westbound lanes. What were the eastbound lanes are now a walking/biking lane to the right of the cement island.

Island Station in 2012.

Island Station in 2012.

The condition of Island Station today is a metaphor for the inauspicious life of this old power plant. St Paul Gas Light Company began construction of the Island Station coal plant in 1921. According to the website http://islandstation.com, a more efficient method of burning coal to generate electricity was invented, rendering Island Station out-of-date while still under construction.

Construction of Island Station Power Plant  Courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society

Construction of Island Station Power Plant in 1923. Courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society

Nevertheless, the plant was completed and began producing electricity at three-fourths planned capacity in 1926 and did so until 1943. At that time, Island Station was relegated to off-peak generation, which amounted to six to 10 weeks of power generation per year. Plant owner Northern States Power Company decommissioned Island Station in 1976 and used it for storage for years.

Some window frames of the abandoned Island Station. You’ll notice there is not a single pane of glass left in this section.

Some window frames of the abandoned Island Station. You’ll notice there is not a single pane of glass left in this section.

A private developer purchased the idled plant in 1985 with plans to convert it to housing. In the nearly 30 years since then several similar proposals have come and gone as the elements, animals and vagrants further the deterioration of Island Station.

Island Station windows

Note the deterioration of brickwork.

From this angle, it is much more difficult to see the indignities neglect has foisted upon Island Station.

From this angle, it is much more difficult to see the indignities neglect has foisted upon Island Station.

Two great blue herons attempt to settle a dispute.

Two great blue herons attempt to settle a dispute.

There's a great view of the Mississippi River from the bike path next to Randolph Avenue.

There’s a great view of the Mississippi River from the bike path next to Randolph Avenue.

Xcel Energy’s High Bridge natural gas powered generating plant came on line in May 2008 replacing a coal-fired plant built in 1923.

Xcel Energy’s High Bridge natural gas-powered generating plant came on-line in May 2008 replacing a coal-fired plant built in 1923.

A side note here. I spent several minutes in front of the High Bridge plant surveying and taking a couple of photos. As I was looking through the camera viewfinder I heard an engine. The sound caught my attention because it was unusual; neither car nor truck. I lowered the camera as an Xcel Energy security guard got out of a small utility vehicle unmistakably painted John Deere green. He came up to me and very politely told me his boss sent him to find out what I was taking pictures of. I explained my biking project and handed him the business card I give to anyone I meet while riding. In hopes of resolving the situation quickly and painlessly for both of us, I also offered to show him the pictures I’d shot. He seemed relieved by the overture and reviewed the three pictures I shot of the plant. He explained, again very politely, that picture-taking of some aspects of the plant made folks inside uncomfortable. Satisfied that nothing I took a picture of would violate company security, he thanked me for cooperating, got on his John Deere and drove back into plant property.

The Cathedral of Saint Paul is framed by electrical components at the High Bridge Power Plant.

The Cathedral of Saint Paul is framed by electrical components at the High Bridge Power Plant.

A decorative wall with a river motif hides High Bridge power plant equipment.

A decorative wall with a river motif hides High Bridge power plant equipment.

My bike and I pose across the street from the High Bridge Power Plant with Downtown in the background.

My bike and I pose across the street from the High Bridge Power Plant with Downtown in the background.

What a great place to relax and watch the river ease on by.

What a great place to relax and watch the river ease on by.

The sun passing through a picnic table casts an interesting shadow pattern on the ground.

The sun passing through a picnic table casts an interesting shadow pattern on the ground.

The High Bridge Dog Park, in the shadow of the High Bridge.

The High Bridge Dog Park, in the shadow of the High Bridge.

Shepard Road morphs into Warner Road at or near the Robert Street overpass, adjacent to downtown but you won’t notice the change unless you glimpse a street sign.

Barges line both sides of the Mississippi along Warner Road, just east of Downtown.

Barges line both sides of the Mississippi along Warner Road, just east of Downtown.

The skyline of Downtown Saint Paul as seen from Warner Road.

The skyline of Downtown Saint Paul as seen from Warner Road.

The new and old of the Lafayette Freeway. Concrete supports stand ready for the new bridge beams and deck. Behind them, the soon to be replaced bridge still carries vehicles.

The new and old of the Lafayette Freeway. Concrete supports stand ready for the new bridge beams and deck. Behind them, the soon to be replaced bridge still carries vehicles.

One of the barges that frequently dock along Warner Road.

The chains that bind. A couple of these heavy-duty restraints shackled the barge in the background to the riverbank.

Among the docked barges were several being readied for a journey. I watched rapt as a deckhand handled steel mooring cables with the speed and dexterity that most of us move ropes.

Among the docked barges were several being readied for a journey. I watched rapt as a deckhand handled steel mooring cables with the speed and dexterity that most of us move ropes.

Soon, the tug “Mary J” and two barges were on their way upriver, likely to pick up more barges loaded with grain or other agricultural products for the long voyage to St. Louis, Memphis or New Orleans.

The tug “Mary J” works her way upstream.

The tug “Mary J” works her way upstream.

The pilot of the tug "Mary J" concentrates on the two barges he's pushing.

The pilot of the tug “Mary J” concentrates on the two barges he’s pushing.

The "Mary J" moves two barges upriver. Downtown Saint Paul is in the background.

The “Mary J” moves two barges upriver. Downtown Saint Paul is in the background.

I could have spent more time watching the river traffic but with many miles to travel, I mounted my bike and resumed the ride east on the Warner Road bike path.

Looking northeast along Warner Road. Indian Mounds Park sits on the bluffs above the railroad tracks.

Looking northeast along Warner Road. Indian Mounds Park sits on the bluffs above the railroad tracks.

Hunger descended upon me quickly as I road up the long hill at the eastern end of Warner Road. I cut north along the edge of Indian Mounds Park to Burns Avenue and there, answering the call of my grumbling stomach, was Obb’s. Lunch break!

obb's

Obb’s was among the safest places in Saint Paul when I arrived as several police officers and a few Ramsey County deputies enjoyed meals there while I ate.

Obb’s was among the safest places in Saint Paul as several police officers and Ramsey County deputies enjoyed meals there while I ate.

I ate a large and very tasty walleye filet and a salad, all washed down with lots of water.

Because of the length of this ride and equally lengthy post, it makes sense to split the day into two posts. Part two of “There’s Dirt On Them Thar Streets” will be posted later this week.

4 thoughts on “There’s Dirt On Them Thar Streets-Part 1

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