Visiting My Childhood Neighborhood


A person might not feel old simply because his grade school has been torn down.  (I attended two, both are gone.)  But when trees that were planted after the school was torn down look old and established, well…age is a relative thing.  And trees grow quickly in these modern times.

I wandered the old neighborhood and discovered a lot of large trees, some very large.  That does indeed make a guy feel just a bit old.  And there’s more than just trees.  Changes are everywhere.

This picture of Minnesota Highway 52 is a where hillside of trees — “The Woods” — stood when I was boy.   This was route Minnesota Highway 3 and known as the Lafayette Freeway when it was built.

Highway 52...Once hills, woods, and fields.

Highway 52…Once hills, woods, and fields.

I have memories of my mother taking my younger brother and I into those woods on a sled on snowy morning shortly after we moved into that neighborhood.  It was a deep, quiet snow, and we watched bigger kids run in a small field near the woods.  I picked dried wild flowers sticking up through the snow and to this day the scent of winter dead flowers and weeds is special to me.

In the summer we flew kites in that field, a lush field of clover and grass.

The field and woods are gone now, buried beneath many feet of dirt hauled in to build up a grade appropriate for the freeway that is there today.

Since 1974?

Since 1974?

That freeway buried the hills and lots where a half dozen houses once stood across the street from my childhood house.  Now a walk bridge ends in a space that would have been thirty feet above the rooftops of some of those houses.

Used to be houses here...about 30 feet beneath this spot.

Used to be houses here…about 30 feet beneath this spot.

We did have fun with the freeway construction.  There was a time when we could crawl through the storm sewers that now run beneath the freeway.  When that got sealed up we could still crawl around construction equipment, build campfires, and bike all the way to St. Paul on one end and who-knows-where on the other end.

My first grade school is gone completely.  In the picture of the new development the school would have been where the street and cul-de-sac are now.  A tennis court was placed beneath huge oaks where the cul-de-sac is today.  The house on the far right sits where a hill sloped up to the schools softball and athletic fields.

Original Site of Wilson Elementary School.  South St. Paul, Minnesota.

Original Site of Wilson Elementary School. South St. Paul, Minnesota.

I took the picture from a spot where an unpaved driveway led up to an ice skating rink and a warming house.

The Oak Knoll

The Oak Knoll

The picture of a wooded oak knoll is directly to my right.  Those trees were there when I was a boy and are the only trees spared when the school land was developed.   Playground equipment was placed atop the knoll’s left side and the fence on the very right edge of the picture stands where the ice rink would have been.  A few times each winter we would have a school-wide recess (less than 100 students attended kindergarten through 6th grade) when we could skate or slide down the knoll.  The teachers served hot drinks and hot dogs.

It is sad to see the changes.  I cannot find any pictures of the original school or grounds.  None at all.

And this is my boyhood back yard.  We had two mature blue spruce in the yard.  One is gone today.  That tree had an owl in at least one summer.  Owl pellets that could be pulled apart revealing mouse skeletons could be found beneath the tree.   We had a couple playhouses, too.  My mother used one — it had stained glass and plastered walls — as a garden shed.  We got what was once a smoking house.

Childhood Backyard

Childhood Backyard

To the right of the birdbath, which was there when we had the house, was a pear tree, an apple tree, and a grape arbor.  In the summer we set up canvas pup tents and “Indian blankets” beneath the trees and filled them with flashlights, canteens, and things.  Late in the summer the pears started to ripen and fall to the ground leaving a mess of squishy pears that attracted a horde of wasps.  My brothers and I would throw them at each other.  (Bee stings were routine in my childhood.)

We also had a large brick barbecue that has been removed.  One fall my brothers and I raided mom’s garden and made a muddy mash of dirt, water, and rotting tomatoes and had a mud fight.  The next summer tomato plants sprouted everywhere, including in the brick barbecue.

I should add that my brother liked to sleep walk…one the roof of the house.  He never fell off.  (He was a bit more nimble back then.)

The garage was fantastic.  I don’t think Dad ever parked a car in it — maybe the blue Chevrolet for a while — it served mostly as a combination workshop and storage facility.  And it had an upstairs, perfect space for club meetings and so forth.  All of it constructed out of dimension lumber and a nicely planked floor.  It is an amazing space.  I’m happy to see it has survived.

South St. Paul, Minnesota, Residence.There was a workshop in the basement of the house, too.  I was around a lot of tools as a kid — and guys who knew how to use them — makes me wonder where I went wrong!

What would you call those concrete posts?  Posts?  Those are original.  So is the iron gate at the front of the house.  Happy to see that survive.

That swimming pool?  It doesn’t fit.

All in all, a nice house for a twentysomething couple with two — then three — young boys.  When we started adding sisters things started to change.  Eventually we moved and whole milk disappeared from fridge.

I delivered newspapers in that neighborhood.  They let kids do more then and I was up every morning — before sunrise in the winter and at the crack of dawn in the summer — to make my rounds.  I found myself recalling addresses of houses as I walked the neighborhood.  I could remember the names of nearly all the families that lived there, too; maybe only one or two that I missed.  The families, kids, and parents.  Walking is a great way to remember and recall.  It all unfolded like a giant cheat sheet.  I seemed to remember it all perfectly.  That is the fun part of making a return.  Visiting again is like living again.  I felt sad for the changes, but I also felt sad that I had ever left.


6 thoughts on “Visiting My Childhood Neighborhood

  1. Patrick

    I very much appreciate the effort and energy spent on this post. Great stories. I have always been one to get frustrated at our culture’s lack of caring for older and historic structures. Makes me so sad. Constantly tearing down and building new. Makes you wonder if the Sonic Drive In or local Walmart down the street will be state historic markers and protected in a hundred years. Or will we tear those down for brand new strip malls?? 🙂

  2. Walt Marz

    Check your hotmail (might be in the trash). Pics of Miss Edgar and Miss Embalm. I still need to download pic of outside of school.


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