Monday, January 26, 2009

Stillwater, MN

This past weekend was one of those weekends where we came to Sunday evening after a day of cleaning, cooking, eating and travelling and I felt confused as how the entirety of Saturday and Sunday had passed without us seeming to notice it. I guess in some ways that is a mark of a weekend well spent, we were having such an enjoyable time that we didn't even notice the time passing. Saturday was the busiest of these days (Sunday was spent at church and doing some fast and furious loads of laundry and dishes.)

It began early in the morning. Jim had been invited to spend a good chunk of the day out at the Hudson, WI Rod, Gun and Archery Club. One of his coworkers lives over the border in WI and knows of this club. It is perhaps the nicest gun club I have ever been inside of. I think it is because of the rich hunting and fishing history of the area-- the club was established in 1924 and had a wonderful lodge. I took the opportunity to explore the border areas of the state that we haven't taken full advantage of, despite their reputation as quaint and removed from the hectic nature of the Twin Cities.

Hudson is the last city on the border of WI and MN and typically when we are driving through it we are either beginning our long road trip back to MI or are almost home after a long drive, so we tend to zip passed the city, which lies on the shores of the St. Croix River. It is somewhat funny that we have just discovered this area since it is the same river and general area that we will be enjoying in February for the Winter Picnic I recently blogged about. However we found it, I am happy that we did, because I find myself longing for places with a small town feel that are not simply a suburb of The Cities, but independent communities. Hudson is a wonderful small town that hosts events such as the 20th Annual Hot Air Affair where they launch hot air balloons in the dead of winter. While it would be lovely to watch, I certainly don't envy those who will be flying the balloons in the frigid air.

They also have The Octagon House Museum, which I am so excited to see, but is only open during the warmer months of the year. In my college years, I think that we actually discussed this building during an Art and Architecture lecture, and to just happen to come across it was a delight, even though I could only see it from the outside. In Hudson, I also tried to get some pictures from the Lakefront Park .(which is somewhat a misnomer because it is really on the river, although the river here widens to technically be a lake) Jim was wearing long underwear for the day because he was going to be outside for part of it, but I was dressed only in my typical coat and shoes, and not ready for the frigid sub-zero early morning air and only got a few shots of the I 94 and Stillwater Lift Bridge.

The said Stillwater Lift Bridge is a curious structure, which makes even I who drive over The Mississippi River sometimes 8 times a day hesitate. The bridge has a reputation for getting stuck in the UP position and delaying traffic, sometimes for as much as 3 hours and many miles on HWY 36 for those who live in WI, but work in MN. They are discussing eventually altering the bridge and using it only for foot and bike traffic over the river, and replacing it with a modern alternative. The bridge was built in 1931 and has been essentially unaltered since then, and the fact that I had to drive over a structure that was so reputed to malfunction made me nervous.

However, I wanted to explore the city, made famous as the "Birthplace of Minnesota" and once held the first seat of territorial government and now sells antique books and home decor. Really, it is an absolutely perfect example of a quaint small town, and I can't believe it has taken us this long to discover it. We were bemoaning (or really I was feeling sad about) our lack of a Traverse City experience that we had when we lived in MI, except for Duluth, which is really a large city and difficult to navigate, and lo and behold, we have another city that is probably more quaint than TC just 40 minutes from our home on the other side of the Twin Cities.

Unfortunately, it was still early when I arrived at Stillwater, and many of the businesses were keeping "Winter Hours" during this time where many of the tourists and day-trippers were kept at bay by the cold temperatures. However, I made note of several places I wanted to visit, and several options for food once Jim was done in WI. I am already anticipating a summer of visits (probably briefer than I am used to due to diaper changes and feedings) of trips to the Warden's House Museum-- memorializing the Minnesota Territorial Prison, which housed criminals such as the Younger Brothers, who were members of Jesse James' gang.

When I eventually picked up Jim (after a day of shopping and some photography while soaking in the humidity of the Tropical Room at the McNeely Conservatory) we decided to eat at "Shane's on Main" a restaurant offering hot sandwiches, and a view of the lift bridge from the back room. The staff were very friendly and offered us better seats if we were cold sitting by the windows and jokes about the bridge and their view of it frozen in mid-air at times. We were able to both eat soup and homemade sandwiches for under $20, and several more restaurants were similarly priced. (We'll see if this holds true in tourist season.)

Also visited were the now open Midtown Antiques Mall, St. Croix Antiquarian Booksellers and several other home decor. stores. While compiling this list I am also making plans to visit the Antique Radio Company where they sell and repair antique radios, the Chef's Gallery, The Stillwater Farm Store and The River Market Community Co-op for some fresh produce. Wow, that is quite a list, and I haven't even discussed the local state parks that we are now so excited to visit and the riverfront that was too chilly to explore much. That should probably be left until it actually is warm enough to explore, and till we find out how we survive the Winter Picnic.

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