This city was to be the last stop before hitting the finale of the Swedish story at Stillwater. Our short stay revealed the full story of the Mid-West, the commercial exploitation of its resources and the significance of the Mississippi.
Once again we were amazed to find waterfalls in the centre of a city. But it was the falls that resulted in the development of St Paul as early settlers could not pass further north on the river. Here are a couple of glimpses of those earlier times.
Fort Snelling was built to protect the commercial interests of the in-comers.
Although we would have liked to stay longer, we also had to make our turn at the St Anthony Falls to reach our goal – Stillwater.
Just setting off for the twin cities, Minneapolis–Saint Paul, our target destination after 34 days on the road.
We began to suspect that all was not well further down the tracks. The upside was that we made great friends with our fellow travellers in the hot and steamy waiting room as we shared texts and info about the delay.
Six hours later we boarded our train! The delay was due to torrential rain washing away the tracks in both directions.
I have included this photo of a train because this is where we spent the next 24 hours – in a siding in Portage! The track damage was extensive and rail maintenance had been out sourced to Canadian contractors, hence the wait! All was not lost, however, as these photos reveal of our romantic on board dinner that night, courtesy of Amtrak.
Actually, I could not face steak at 3 am but Paul loved it and we were both so impressed that it happened at all!
I have spared you the other realities of the 24 hour delay but instead refer you to Henry Moore’s depiction of London Underground Tube shelters during the WW2 blitz.
In our trip planning we chose a stop over in Portage, Wisconsin for two reasons: it was half way between Chicago and St Paul, MN and I liked the name, knowing it was often associated with settler travel. What we did not know was just how much this delightful town had seen of the evolving story of America. It had many claims to fame!
It started with the Native Americans who appreciated a good route when they found one. Prior to European settlement in the late 17th century, the shores of the Fox River and Green Bay were home to roughly half the estimated 25,000 Native Americans who lived in what is today Wisconsin. They used this important water route between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi and this helped the first fur seeking Europeans to establish their trade routes to the Gulf of Mexico. Portage stands at a key watershed. It is the place where you unload and carry your stuff to the next stretch of water!
Some of the earliest ‘management of the Indian problem’ was carried out from forts and agency houses nearby. I will let the sign boards speak for themselves.
Here is the Native American’s perspective –
Portage was also home at different times to three men who became world renown for their contributions to the American story. Here I am, a humble student, outside the very home of Frederick Jackson Turner famous for his Frontier Thesis.
If, as Turner claimed, the ‘Frontier made America,’ John Muir spent his life campaigning to save its precious wilderness for future generations.
Widely regarded as the father of America’s National Park system, Muir emigrated from Scotland with his family in 1849 to a farm near Portage.
The third famous person I stumbled upon was Frank Lloyd Wright. Although his “Prairie Style” architecture does not feature here, Portage has developed a great town trail for visitors to view the Society Hill Historic District. The large and gracious homes reflect the wealth and high society living here between 1870 and 1910.
As you have guessed, we learnt so much of all this from the delightful Town Museum, located in the former home of Zona Gale.
It was the view from Zona Gales’ lovely lounge window that gave us the first portent of weather problems to come.
A warning about this had woken us up at 3.00am in our hotel room when my phone suddenly burst into life with a scary tornado message!
Before I regale you with the storm story which follows, I could not leave Portage without sharing a couple more of its joys:
And … seeing is believing, this is Portage library on a wild and wet Wednesday!
Chicago was everything it claims to be as a global city.
Constant technological development, the energy of its inhabitants and its position as a network of trade and migration were in evidence everywhere we went.
Fortunately, I had two ways in to explore the plethora of things to see and do! One of the main drivers for this trip was my interest in Scandinavian immigration and here I was at the door for Swedish Americans. In 1890 Swedes comprised the third largest immigrant group and in 1900 Chicago was -after Stockholm- the world’s largest “Swedish” city. It was the undisputed capital of Swedish America and the nerve centre of an entire ethnic culture. Today much of this story is brought to life in the Swedish American Museum.
The exhibits explore the struggles and triumphs of the immigrant experience, following their arduous journey to build a new life and community in Chicago. I will leave these photos to help tell their stories.
My second entry point into Chicago’s riches came via my studies in American Modernity and in particular through reading the wonderful novels of Theodore Dreiser. The heroine in Sister Carrie (1900) is interested in Chicago from the moment she steps off the train from Wisconsin, overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the place. Two important locations in the novel are still there!
Carrie tries to find work as a shop girl but glittering palaces like Marshall Field had no openings for ‘country bumpkins.’
This was the very first restaurant in a department store and it is also the longest continuously-operating restaurant in the nation. There is a great story about Mrs Hering’s chicken pot pie and the girl in the Millinery department.
The Tiffany Ceiling
‘Visitors to the Macy’s store can’t help but look up when walking through the building’s first-floor cosmetics department—it provides a distant view of a shimmering vaulted ceiling that covers 6,000 square feet and comprises 1.6 million pieces of iridescent glass. The dome ceiling was designed by renowned glass artist Louis Comfort Tiffany (it’s the largest Tiffany mosaic in existence) and crafted by a group of 50 artisans who worked atop scaffolds for over 18 months to complete the project.’
In the novel, Carrie spends much time awaiting assignations with her admirers. I just had to find the ‘clock!’
‘According to legend, Marshall Field decided that this corner should have a clock after he discovered notes wedged in the corners of the store’s new glass plate windows that pinpointed times and places to meet friends, family members and business associates. Field determined that a clock could serve as a rendezvous spot for shoppers and also make them mindful of the time.’
For us two, that meant boarding the 14.15 Empire Builder to Portage!
Our suitcase trundle to a city centre hotel zig-zagged through street caverns of even more monumental buildings than we had seen elsewhere.
Guess who built this one?
I have included some retro-research on Rockefeller that may be of interest: “In 1855, at age 16, he found work as an office clerk at a Cleveland commission firm that bought, sold and shipped grain, coal and other commodities. (He considered September 26, the day he started the position and entered the business world, so significant that as an adult he commemorated this “job day” with an annual celebration.) In 1859, Rockefeller and a partner established their own commission firm. That same year, America’s first oil well was drilled in Titusville, Pennsylvania.”
Cleveland’s position on Lake Erie, the Erie Canal and later railroads stimulated its growth as a transhipment point for lumber, copper, coal and farm produce. Here is another example illustrating the successful combination of individualism and commercial enterprise in the ‘land of opportunity.’ The Rose Building still stands and is now the HQ of Medical Mutual of Ohio.
Everyday life for the people of Cleveland was improved by the sponsorship of libraries by Andrew Carnegie, another self-made industrialist who led the expansion of the American steel industry.
We caught this exhibition on show in the fantastic Central West library.
After World War 2, the fortunes of Cleveland followed the familiar economic decline and dereliction endemic to the Rust Belt. But fortunately, some visionaries in the 1980s proposed a revitalisation strategy. We took a guided cultural and architectural tour which revealed some of the ‘gems’ – old and new.
And no visit to Cleveland would be complete without a visit to…
We only had an overnight stop in this “Rust Belt” city but we did get a real feel for its rich economic and industrial history. Just take a look at the scale of City Hall.
We took a taxi to the rusty reminders of this former hub of American industry.
The ever helpful information board explained the dissolution of this amazing site.
So, imagine our excitement when we found we could kayak all the way through Elevator Alley!
My photos don’t really do justice to the experience so click here if you want more. As you can see, the area has really re-invented itself but without pulling its soul apart. This site will show you more.
One other memorable site we managed to squeeze in was the location of the final chapter of the Underground Railroad story. This tortuous route came to a climax at Broderick Park.
We all know Niagara Falls is one of the global tourist honey pots and it is grossly overcrowded and highly commercialised.
But keep the faith, just start exploring and it gets really interesting! First up, photos from Paul’s helicopter trip help make sense of the geography and location of the falls at the border between USA and Canada.
You can get away from the crowds by rambling through the islands between the falls.
Paul also took an aerial shot of our hotel. So what, you might think?
This is a very pleasant, rather trendy boutique hotel but it was not our visit that made it famous! It was another Marilyn who came here in 1953 and who was mobbed as she descended these stairs to the hotel lobby.
26 year old Marilyn Monroe arrived on June 2nd 1953 to begin filming of the movie, “Niagara”. But you will not find this scene in the movie. Marilyn was here to visit a dentist for some emergency treatment and the news sped round the town!
Another hotel with a very different story…
Once again we had connected up with the Underground Rail Road history. The story of the hotel features in a fantastic exhibition at Niagara Falls railway station. The penny dropped for me at last – Canada was the freedom goal.
‘The permanent exhibition at the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center, One More River to Cross, features the rich stories of the Underground Railroad in Niagara Falls, the crucial role of its location and geography, and the action of its residents – particularly its African American residents.’
These last photos give just a flavour of the desperate events that took place at Niagara Falls – a World tourist hot spot…
Rochester is a great city-full of interest and surprises. Incorporated in 1834, it was the Erie Canal, the abundant water power and railway linkages that made it one of the early boom towns of the “West.”
There are 3 waterfalls on the Genesee river which powered the grist mill in 1789 that started the settlement.
The industrialists developed the town big time.
Their legacy exists in the renovated lofts, creative work spaces and trendy eateries that were everywhere. We loved staying in a city that had a Niagara-like water fall bang in the middle of town!
George Eastman, Kodak founder, ploughed money into the town and this is just one of the benefits.
We loved the elegant tree lined streets, much favoured by the industrialists who made their fortunes in flour milling, clothing, shoes, photographic and optical instruments.
The museums, libraries and archives are to die for. And so are the wonderful staff! We met Gabriel Pellegrino, Librarian, who was a mine of information.