Exploring my own backyard series: Twin Cities walking tours (part I)
This post contains recommended links to products and services. While you will not accrue any additional costs to support my blog, I may receive compensation if you purchase these products and services. I was the guest of the Minnesota Historical Society while taking these walking tours; however, opinions and experiences are all mine. I’m a history geek so, of course, I’m going to love them.
Whenever I travel, I typically take a walking tour with a local guide to learn more about the city, its history, people, culture, architecture, etc.
I’ve lived in the Twin Cities for 26 years and this past week was the first time I took a history tour here in my home state.
Well, that’s not entirely true.
I went on four tours – three in St. Paul and one in Minneapolis – sponsored by the Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS). And I took two more this past weekend, and a few others scheduled later this summer into September. And there’s so many more! Check out MNHS’s history tour schedule for details.
I plan to post individual posts for all the tours I’m taking. Meanwhile, enjoy a sample of what you can experience when strolling down memory lane in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Hill District Walking Tour | St. Paul, Minnesota
I’ve driven through and past this area over the years, but last weekend was the first time I actually got out of my vehicle to walk through the historical Hill neighborhood and admire all the beautiful homes.
We walked along old streetcar lines (the first ones were horse-drawn) while learning about the rise and fall, and the rise again, of St. Paul – from a rural summer retreat for the wealthy, to its not-so-glamorous days, and its journey to restore its status as an upscale historical neighborhood.
Stories and the homes of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald (St. Paul native) made its way into the narrative and photo op stops as well (see the Fitzgerald walking tour section below).
Tour duration: 2 hours (moderate walk, mainly sidewalks, some uneven terrain)
Remaining 2019 tour dates: July 27; Aug. 24; 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.
F. Scott Fitzgerald Walking Tour | St. Paul, Minnesota
Loved this tour where we explored F. Scott Fitzgerald’s old stomping grounds in the beautiful and historic Hill District / Summit Ave neighborhood.
Our tour began where the Fitzgeralds lived at one point, The Commodore. While our tour did not take us inside to experience the cool art deco bar, my husband and I stopped in afterwards. Lots of mirrors and jazz music.
Other photo stops included where Fitzgerald wrote his first novel, This Side of Paradise. It was an overnight success selling out in three days. I was surprised to learn that his more-known classic, The Great Gatsby, was not well-received or well-liked initially. It only became critically acclaimed after his death.
Tour duration: 90 minutes (moderate walk, mainly sidewalks, some uneven terrain/cobblestone)
Remaining 2019 tour dates: July 27, 28; Aug. 24, 25; Sept. 28-29 (most have a morning and two afternoon slots; check the MNHS website for the most updated schedule)
Nooks and Crannies Tour | St. Paul, Minnesota
Tour Minnesota’s own Downton Abbey in St. Paul. This 36,000+ square-foot home of James J. Hill took three years and 300 workers to build. Completed in 1891, the home was named a National Historic Landmark in 1961.
James J. Hill was a railroad magnate back in the day. The Minnesota Historical Society now operates the home and the three acres it sits on.
This particular tour gives visitors behind-the-scenes access to a back staircase, dust chutes, secret panels, a silver safe, gatehouse, the huge attic with its original theatre stage, and more.
Remaining tour dates: The Nooks and Crannies tour is offered every Tuesday now through Aug. 27.
Tour duration: 90 minutes
Disasters of the Riverfront Walking Tour
Fascinated. That’s how I felt after walking away from this walking tour. Special shout-out to Marty, our tour guide. I was so impressed by his storytelling skills and knowledge about Minneapolis and its flour milling history – and the disasters along the Mississippi River and St. Anthony Falls.
Explosions. Structural collapses. Tunnel collapses. Fires. Bridge collapses. Floods.
Minneapolis has definitely seen its share of disasters. Some natural and some caused by humans.
For about 50 years, Minneapolis was considered the Flour Milling Capital of the World. You’ll probably recognize two of the leading millers: Pillsbury and General Mills (formerly Washburn-Crosby company, best known for Gold Medal flour).
I learned many things on the tour, but the most surprising fact was discovering that flour dust is more explosive than gun powder.
Here’s an example of its power (and this was only with a tablespoon of dust).
We also learned about the Eastman Tunnel Collapse in 1869, which threatened St. Anthony Falls and the milling district. The falls were restored and protected by an apron, dam, and underground dike built by the US Army Corps of Engineers.
Our tour ended by viewing the new I-35W bridge in the distance. I say new although it’s been here for more than a decade. Those of us who lived here in 2007 remember one of the city’s most recent disasters – the tragic I-35W bridge collapse in 2007 that killed 13 people and injured 145.
While the tour did not include the I-35W Remembrance Garden, my friend and I walked a short distance down from the Mill City Museum on West River Parkway to pay our respects.
Tour duration: 90 minutes (moderate walk, some uneven terrain)
Remaining 2019 tour dates: Aug. 11; Sept. 22; 1 to 2:30 p.m.
And these are just a sample of the fascinating history walking tours in the Twin Cities. I’ll share more photos and my experience for each walking tour in the coming weeks.
Don’t let the summer pass you by without taking the tours yourself – whether you’ve lived here your entire life or visiting for the first time. For dates and times for all history tours, go to the Minneapolis Historical Society’s website.