Fort Road Federation Annual Meeting Reflects a Neighborhood and Its Connections
by Erik Hare
The crowd took their seats slowly, grudgingly giving up the moment to catch up with neighbors they hadn’t seen in a while. The formal program of the Fort Road Federation Annual Meeting started off on April 12 with the same kind of connection, a brief talk by former Mayor George Latimer. As Mayor 22 years ago, he had butted heads with many of the people in the room, who had their own ideas about how the community should develop and proceed, different from the city of St. Paul’s big plans. But through a few jokes, salty comments, and heartfelt statements of respect he made it clear: what makes the West Seventh community strong are the neighbors that make it work.
Photo: Community stalwarts Richard Miller and Karen Avaloz present the
2012 Community Award to a pleasantly surprised Betty Moran.Credit: Jerry Rothstein
Neighbors, that is, and their connections that become community — something beyond each and every one of us.
Not every city has organizations like the Fort Road Federation to knit together the commitments and connections into one coherent whole that can make a difference. But they should.
The Fort Road Federation is one of many District Councils throughout the city, an organized form of citizen participation in the nitty-gritty details of how the city is planned and run. It was under Mayor Latimer that they were organized in 1976, bringing communities together to work on their own problems and help guide city planning. It was a bold experiment in many ways, but it reflected the unique way St. Paul has always been organized. This is a city of 17 small towns (represented by the District Councils) but one Mayor.
Outsiders and the city staff probably know the Fort Road Federation more for what it has prevented from happening than anything else. As the western edge of Downtown, tucked between the tall bluffs of the Cathedral and the Mississippi River, a lot of traffic is funneled through West Seventh on its way from somewhere to somewhere else. To us, however, it is home, and massive projects like Interstate 35E, a Shepard Road interchange, or a dedicated busway down the middle of West Seventh would have turned us into little more than the gap between here and there.
But at the Annual Meeting we spend more time talking about the incredible work being done by so many people to make their neighborhoods stronger — work that has benefited from the organization and influence of the Federation. The Little Bohemia Neighborhood has been tackling the ravages of bulk foreclosure and vacancy, rehabbing some houses and taking down some to make way for new development. Marit Brock gave us all an update on how they are progressing. It’s a process much like the successful “Brewery Breakthrough” in 1995 that changed around an entire neighborhood on the edge with 44 new or re-made units.
And then there is the old Schmidt Brewery itself, a development about to move ahead in earnest after five years of negotiation and planning. The developer, Dominium, will create 261 units, and the Federation itself will rehabilitate the Rathskeller and some commercial space around it. It’s an impressive project that will place the soul back in the heart of the community at this great landmark old brewery, and a daring venture for a community to undertake on its own.
But these are only the big projects. There are the community gardens of shared 12×12 plots. The Healthy West Seventh project links United Family Medicine to smaller projects to promote wellness rather than wait for patients to show up sick at their practice on West Seventh. The Great River Passage master plan for the Mississippi through St. Paul has been guided and shaped by the great vision and care of Kent Petterson and many others.
Plus there was time out to honor our great community organizer Betty Moran for her 40 years of service in what was once a neighborhood on the edge, dotted with crime and general bad behavior, now recognized as one of the great communities of St. Paul, in no small part because of her tireless efforts. As Richard Miller said, “She leads from within.” They had to sneak the award onto the program because Betty has always shied away from recognition, deferring to the many people of the community who make things happen. But without her organizing, many small voices might have remained just that had she not been there to make one strong arm of action.
The Annual Meeting of the Federation is a time to catch up with what’s going on both with neighbors and with the neighborhood itself. A pile of bricks becomes a strong wall only when mortar fills the spaces in between, laid down with care and skill. The strength of the Federation is in both the people and their connections, but it all starts with care and commitment. That is what makes a great community in any city.
back to top
Theresa Neal Builds Trust at Journeys Secondary
by Jerry Rothstein
Theresa Neal was appointed interim principal of Journeys Secondary School in February, after Hamilton Bell was appointed principal of Farnsworth Aerospace Mag School. The program philosophy and practice at Journeys is in harmony with her educational philosophy and her passion for kids.
Ms. Neal has joined Journeys without leaving her existing responsibilities in the school system, and these are extensive. She oversees 16 other programs in the Care and Treatment and Corrections branches, including RiverEast (elementary and secondary), Riverside (including the New Connections program), Boys Totem Town, Juvenile Detention Center, Transitions for Success, five hospitals (providing school programs when children have longer-term illnesses) and the Emily Program (both residential and day programs). In order to devote the time she needs to dig into the Journeys effort, she has been able to delegate some of her work in the other areas to teacher leaders.
A St. Paul native, Neal grew up in the Rondo and lives there now. She sees it as a strong community that has come through many challenges and retained its integrity. After undergraduate work at Augsburg College, she did graduate work at the University of Wisconsin River Falls and postgraduate work at St. Mary’s University. She was a Humphrey Fellow at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, and started her now 33 year career in St. Paul Public Schools as a school social worker. She held that role for 20 years, going on to positions as assistant principal and principal. Her extensive work in Special Education draws on her range of education and experience.
Theresa Neal is energized by “My passion for kids — especially those whose life brings challenges they didn’t ask for, where adversity seems to reign much deeper than opportunities for joy.” Her goal is to find ways to help maximize their strengths and talents, she says. “At Journeys, staff may have only a short time to be with some students, yet the chance to tap into each child’s potential is always being sought.”
Theresa and her staff have been working on a new program design for the school that addresses some structural difficulties. Mornings are now spent on core academic work — reading, math, writing, socials and so on — and project-based special learning, which emphasizes social and life skills in real-world environments, occupy the afternoons. Partnership with the YWCA and local manufacturers, and an emerging construction trades program, are strengthening project-based learning.
An expanded presence for The LAB [see Community Reporter, March 2012] with its visual arts, wellness, performance arts and poetry work, is enriching everything that happens at the school.
Outreach and community involvement are very important for Neal. She has already met with the Little Bohemia Neighborhood Association, which offers the following remarks about Neal and Journeys in general:
“We were quite concerned when Hamilton Bell was transferred so suddenly, and worried that such an important new program would be left without strong leadership. We soon learned that we are very fortunate to have an interim principal with Theresa Neal’s level of experience. Some of the Little Bohemia residents were familiar with her work in other programs, so she came into the neighborhood with a strong reputation. Once we had the opportunity to meet her it was clear that Principal Neal has the strength and experience to assure that Journeys will be successful. We are impressed with the structural changes she has already implemented and appreciate her realistic assessment of the challenges ahead. She has already taken steps to assure that the school program is building ties to the neighborhood as well.
“The only area of concern is that Theresa Neal is currently only the Interim Principal. We hope that she will be named as the regular principal of Journeys in the near future, to make certain that Journeys has strong and consistent leadership.”
Student who come to Journeys have usually struggled in the traditional school environment and need the kinds of alternatives Journeys provides. The possibility of transferring back to the regular school is always open, but always as a managed process that determines the best options for each individual.
Theresa Neal believes strongly that each student is entitled to a strong, dynamic and supportive environment where clarity of structure and direction can be counted on by the child. From the school’s perspective, accountability and structure allow for high expectations that can be accomplished. She says, “It is in building trusting relationships between staff and students in academic and personal development that we have a chance to develop trust and learn the kids’ strengths and abilities that we can build on together. Then we see remarkable resilience and courage in these students, and our hope is that within their transformation, we see personal growth and increased academic success.”
back to top
Oldest Remaining Firehouse Awaits Its Fate
by Jerry Rothstein
On a short block of Leech Street between West Seventh and Ramsey there’s a building — painted thickly with an indescribable color and displaying a For Sale sign — that is the oldest remaining municipal building in St. Paul.
It was built in 1871 to house the Hope Engine Company No. 3, one of the St. Paul fire companies that provided the city with rapidly improving protection against fire in an age of high vulnerability.
The story of the development of St. Paul’s fire services is fascinating. W.B. Hennessy, in his “History of the St. Paul Fire Department” (Pioneer Press Co. 1909), states, “The fear of fire was about the only fear that the forefathers of this city felt.” In the 1840s and early 1850s, the city’s main issue in fighting fires was the lack of a water supply. Situated on the bluffs above the river, access to river water was almost always out of reach. Instead, volunteer fire crews concentrated on getting to the fire before it could grow, removing flammable materials from the fire’s path to prevent it from spreading, and hoping for some water nearby that the bucket brigade could use.
The formation of the first organized volunteer company was led by R.C. Knox, a carpenter, after a chapel on Rice Park was destroyed by fire with no effective action. Knox sought public subscriptions — in the absence any civic action — for buying ladders, hooks, axes and ropes. At one fire, a farmer’s wagon was commandeered, leading to the establishment of the Pioneer Hook and Ladder Company in 1854, the year that the City was incorporated. Other volunteer companies followed, including the Hope Engine Company, the Minnehaha, Trout Brook and, on the West Side, Rescue Company No. 5.
In 1855, the City formed the St. Paul Fire Department, but it was still composed of the volunteer companies, with variable financial support for equipment and buildings. These companies represented a remarkable socio-political phenomenon. Each company, “in its house,” provided social gatherings and public functions like parades, and a place for any citizen with public aspirations to become part of a subtly powerful political force.
Hennessy says, “The volunteer fireman was the most important factor in the politics of St. Paul for many a day.” When the volunteer companies were called out to a fire they “ran with the machine” to get there. [The machines were wheeled hand pumpers, pulled by hand in the early days, later replaced by steam pumpers pulled by horses until motorization began around 1910.] Those who ran with the machine were embedded in the city’s social and political structure, and if you did not “run with the machine” any effort to “run for office” could be perilous.
The fire stations were neighborhood-based, independent social clubs where young men and their families, friends and neighbors gathered and worked together, while providing an increasingly effective fire service. From 1855, when the St. Paul Fire Department was a nominal creation of the new city, until 1877, when the volunteer department went out of existence to give way to the paid department, the volunteer companies served with “clean repute” and used the new resources provided by the City to excellent effect. In general, the volunteers supported the creation of a paid department, though in particular situations there was resentment, disbanding of companies and political clashes between companies.
For example, the Hope Engine Company voted to disband in 1867 even though it had acquired its first steam pumping engine the year before. Total loss of the first Jefferson School generated new demands for the City to acquire modern equipment, but the Hope Company refused to accept an engineer appointed to them by the City. They were quickly replaced by a new company, St. Paul Hose, which inherited the Hope’s engine, hose cart and house.
In 1868, former Hope members reorganized and established the Hope Hose Company No. 2. It was this company, along with Hope Engine Company No. 3, for which one of the new buildings of 1871 — our Leech and Ramsey structure — was constructed. The Hope Company received a steam engine and hose cart in 1872. A bit earlier, in 1867, the City’s water system was opened, and in 1873 the first fire alarm system, with 15 signal boxes, was brought on.
These infrastructure developments were seen, correctly, as signs of the demise of the volunteer-based department. The City continued to encroach on volunteer traditions. It prohibited operation of the houses on Sundays, when the major social activities took place. By January 1877 the St. Paul Fire Department and its organizational structure had completely replaced the volunteer department.
As part of the St. Paul Fire Department our building, known as Hope Engine Company No. 3, continued in active duty until 1965.
College of Design Class Reimagines Fire Hall
Some West Enders are starting to think of ways to preserve and restore the historic fire hall. The property for sale includes land that can be developed for many purposes. A developer who would see the value in restoring the exterior and developing a contemporary purpose for the interior could be out there!
Prof. Abimbola O. Asojo’s class in “Lighting Design and Life Safety Issues” in the University of Minnesota’s College of Design, have just completed an assignment to determine the lighting needs of a new enterprise for the fire hall space. West End architect and metalsmith John Yust provided resource materials for the project. The Community Reporter was invited to the project presentations in April, where eleven three-person teams explained their ideas.
The proposals centered on creating a restaurant in the space—many kinds were imagined, including sushi, pizza, New Orleans cuisine, family friendly, more sophisticated for the evenings, and even a soda fountain. In each case, the students analyzed lighting needs, emphasizing environmental and historical concerns, and sifted through what seems to be an overwhelming variety of contemporary lighting products. Some bulbs now have working lives of more than 30,000 hours.
Some designs used natural light very effectively, and one brought fire into the equation, in a Hibachi grill setting, for warmth, visual and historical interest. Many of the proposals imagined a strong relationship with children and families at United Hospital and Children’s-United that would offer quiet, safe and relaxing spaces where respite is possible.
back to top
A War that Changed Minnesota and the Upper Midwest Forever
New exhibit at the Minnesota History Center and other initiatives mark 150 years since the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862
Throughout this year, the Minnesota Historical Society will offer many new ways to learn about the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, how it shaped the state and the Upper Midwest, and how its bitter consequences are still felt today.
“No series of events in Minnesota history is as important as the chain of events that led to the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 and its terrible aftermath,” said Stephen Elliott, Minnesota Historical Society Director and CEO. “These shocking events are central to the story of Minnesota. They produced historical traumas that still echo in those living today.”
With these new initiatives, funded in part by Minnesota’s Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, the Society intends to encourage discussion and reflection about the war, its causes and aftermath.
Major initiatives include the exhibit, Minnesota Tragedy: The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 that opens June 30. Documents, images and artifacts relating to the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 will be displayed.
The “Truth Recovery Project,” is a process through which exhibit staff members are meeting with descendants of those touched by the war. Meeting participants are taking an active role in shaping the exhibit by discussing the significance and interpretation of artifacts and primary sources from the Society’s collections.
The final exhibit will incorporate multiple points of view on the war, its causes and its aftermath. Visitors will be encouraged to look closely at the primary sources in the exhibit, to consider the Society’s longstanding role in shaping public perception of these events and to draw their own conclusions about what happened and why. Throughout the exhibit, visitors will have opportunities to add their own comments and reactions to the ongoing interpretation of this critical point in Minnesota history. Society staff members are recording dozens of oral histories from Dakota elders and settler descendants to be entered into the Society’s permanent collection.
An interactive website, usdakotawar.org, will tell stories of the war and its aftermath through oral histories, photos, journals, letters, newspapers, government documents and other primary resources. The site will also provide resources for classroom use. The site will debut in phases throughout this year.
In May, the Minnesota River Valley Scenic Byway Mobile History Tour will offer multiple perspectives and stories told by descendants of those touched by the war in this media-rich cell phone tour of significant places along the Minnesota River Valley. The tour will also be available online and by phone from any location.
38: U.S.-Dakota War by Rob Thomas In 1862 Mankato was the sight of the largest mass execution in American history. This new play examines the war by framing the story with the trials of Dakota warriors, the politics of President Lincoln and Governor Ramsey, and the letters and diaries of the men and women who were caught up in this tragic moment in our country’s history. A reading by members of The Playwrights’ Center, May 6, 7p.m. at History Theater, 30 E. 10th St. St. Paul.
Photo: Little Crow, the great Dakota leader. Credit: Minnesota Historical Society
back to top