Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Amtrak Adventure - Day 30 - St Paul, Minnesota

Day 30 dawned with our arrival in St. Paul, Minnesota. The stop had been planned mainly as a convenient break in the otherwise lengthy journey from West Glacier to Chicago and I had no idea what to expect, but what a delightful place it turned out to be. 

St. Paul is relatively small with a population of under three hundred thousand. With a compact downtown and surrounding areas it is both an easy and pleasant city to stroll around. Just around the corner from our hotel, Hotel 340, is the impressive Landmark Center, a former post office and court house which has been turned into a cultural center and includes the Visitor's center. 

Next to the Landmark Center is Rice Park, an attractive city park dotted with adorable sculptures of Peanut cartoon characters - the city was home to Charles M. Schulz the creator of the cartoons. 

Another famous person to call St. Paul home was F. Scott Fitzgerald. He was born in the city in 1896 and is honored with this statue:

In the summer of 1919 he spent time rewriting 'This Side of Paradise', which would become his first published novel, while living with his parents at 599 Summit Avenue, St. Paul:

The house was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1971
Summit Avenue is lined with well-preserved Victorian homes, including the former home of James J. Hill, whose company built the Great Northern Railway from Minnesota to Seattle. Known as the 'Empire Builder', Hill's home in St. Paul was the largest and most expensive house in Minnesota at the time, with 42 rooms, 13 bathrooms and 22 fireplaces. It also contained technical systems which provided central heating, gas and electric lighting (in case the electric failed), plumbing, a security system and a communication system. 

From the outside the house looks more like a fortress:


but inside it is filled with mahogany woodwork and elaborately carved oak to stunning effect:

the entrance lobby which doubled as a ballroom

the family room

Hill's library

Hill and his wife died without a will and family members purchased the house from the estate and donated it to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul who used it until 1978 as an residence, office and school. Prior to it being handed over, one of Hill's daughters took detailed photos of every room fully furnished. When the house was acquired by the Minnesota Historical Society they were able to use the photos to return the house to how it was when lived in by the family. They used only the Hills' original furniture and belongings, most of which has been donated to the Society over the years by various family members.

A tour of the house made for a fascinating insight into life in the late 1800's and early 1900's for a couple who had started with nothing and become one of the richest families in the area.

Next to the Hill house is St. Paul's Cathedral,  which has to be one of the most stunning cathedrals I have seen. Situated on a hill, the dome and spires are visible from almost everywhere in St. Paul.

The huge interior is just as impressive. 

It all made for an excellent day of sightseeing marred only by the sight of another historic building, namely the State Capitol, which unfortunately was wrapped in scaffolding.

It seems that wherever you go nowadays you will encounter construction or renovation! Tours of the Capitol building have been suspended until 2017 although it is still possible to tour the Capitol Mall and monuments. An outdoor event was just ending as we arrived so we gave the Mall a miss. Maybe next time:-)

Verdict: St Paul is definitely worth a visit. 

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