Sibley Historic Site in Mendota

Over Memorial Day weekend, I was lucky enough to attend the pre-grand opening of the Sibley Historic Site in Mendota with several of my DAR friends. After a brief reception, we were given a private tour of the buildings at the site while reenactors from the fur trade era set up tents and replicas of a birchbark canoe and bateau on the lawn. The site is open to visitors on Saturday and Sunday from 1:00 until 4:00 pm, Memorial Day through Labor Day. Even if you can’t make it to one of the tours, there are interpretive signs and a small self-guided audio (via your cell phone) tour.

The Sibley House was built in 1836 for Henry Hastings Sibley. Sibley lived in the house for eight years before marrying Sarah Jane Steele. In May 1840, their home served as the temporary territorial headquarters while Territorial Governor Alexander Ramsey visited Sibley in Mendota.

The people of Minnesota elected Henry Sibley to be their first governor on May 11, 1858. He narrowly beat out his friend Alexander Ramsey for the job. In 1862, Sibley moved to St. Paul and sold his home in Mendota to St. Peter’s Catholic Parish. The house was subsequently leased to several parties but was later abandoned. Railroad transients took over the house and used the hardwood floors, stairway, and millwork for fires. The house was left in ruin.

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Duluth’s Incline Railway

Last fall I was able to cross a few stops in Duluth’s west end off of my to-do list. I wanted to walk the path that once ran alongside the Incline Railway for several years, but it always got pushed down on my list because I haven’t spent a lot of them in this part of town. I decided to park along Skyline Parkway (between N Sixth Avenue W, and N Eighth Avenue W) and walk down to Fourth Street W where the pathway appeared to end. Even though there are a few houses close to the walkway, it still feels like you’ve discovered a hidden piece of history.

The Incline Railway (a.k.a. The Seventh Avenue West Incline, and later the Duluth Skyride) was built in 1890 by Highland Improvement Company to transport people and horses up and down the hill. Two separate tracks ran a half-mile up the hill, rising to more than 500 feet above Lake Superior. The original trolly cars were large enough to hold four teams of horses with a wagon, or up to 250 people per car. Cars ran every fifteen minutes, and a one-way trip took about sixteen minutes.

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Japanese Garden at Normandale Community College

Earlier this week I visited the Japanese Garden at Normandale Community College in Bloomington. The garden is only two acres in size, but there is plenty of room for quiet contemplation. It was designed by Tokyo-based garden architect Takao Watanabe and dedicated in 1976.

Visitors enter through a cedar gate and are greeted by the sound of a waterfall in the distance. The more than 300 trees in the garden require artful pruning to create an overall feeling for the landscape, and the lagoon is stocked with nearly 200 goldfish whose ancestors were brought to the garden from Loring Park Lake in Minneapolis. Two bridges cross the lagoon, one is a flat bridge, and the other is a zig-zag bridge designed so that evil spirits, who follow a straight line, cannot cross. Three hand-carved granite lanterns from Japan also dot the landscape. The Bentendo (hexagon-shaped building) and drum-shaped bridge were constructed with funds donated by Military Intelligence Service Language School veterans who were stationed at Fort Snelling during World War II as a memorial to their time spent in Minnesota. The garden is a cozy alternative to the Charlotte Partridge Ordway Japanese Garden at Como Park and well worth a trip when your spirit needs renewal.

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Forgotten Minnesota Turns Five

This year marks the fifth anniversary of the Forgotten Minnesota website. The first article was posted on January 3, 2011—about two days after I decided to start a website. It all started as something to keep me busy after my job of ten years was made redundant. My goal was to write a short history of as many places as I could find throughout the state. It wasn’t long before I found that goal to be impossible. After digging into several places, I found it difficult to keep the articles short since brevity has never been my strong suit—there was just so much more to each story than I could tell in 500 words. I found that I enjoyed researching, writing, and posting more when I allowed myself to dig into the story and not be guided by a word limit. After realizing that, I was on my way.

The first year was tough. I wasn’t confident enough in what I was doing to let anyone other than friends and family know about the site. The site averaged 50-75 hits per month, but each new reader boosted my confidence. People started emailing me leads and offering their expertise, and with that came more and more hits. Forgotten Minnesota slowly grew by word of mouth. In May 2014, an article about me and my website was published in the Star Tribune. Within an hour of the article going live on the Star Tribune website, Forgotten Minnesota had more hits than it had in the previous month. Email and phone calls started pouring in, and I knew that I was doing something that connected with people.

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Historic Park Island Hotel Threatened With Demolition

The Park Island Hotel in Center City opened in 1900. The secluded, lakeside property offered guests nearly 3,000 square feet of space to relax on the main level alone–including a large dining room and a lounge at the back of the hotel that overlooked the lake. Twenty guest rooms were located upstairs. Some rooms had a private bathroom while others shared. The long dock featured a bandshell at the midway point. Bands and orchestras played in the bandshell on weekend evenings, drawing guests and locals to the lake.

As with so many other hotels from this era, the Park Island Hotel fell out of favor with travelers once automobiles became common and vacationers sought destinations farther north. The hotel was forced to close. More recently, the historic building served as a group home for adults with developmental disabilities. During that time, the aging building was only minimally maintained. When the maintenance costs became too high, and the building became unsafe for residents, it was abandoned.

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