Julie Jo Severson had a unique healing method for getting through the post-COVID blues: She wrote a book about exploring the Twin Cities. Severson, a journalist and author living in Plymouth, has long been an avid observer of local history, snooping on stories from interviewees and crafting Minnesota stories.
It was an advertisement“A script package for any writer, the perfect time for a book,” Severson said. “Many of us these days feel a loss of community, and it was good for the soul to learn about places that transcend generations.”
her new book, The oldest of the twin cities,” is a fun how-to guide to the twins’ twisted history. Comprised of about a hundred short chapters, the book is perfect for browsing over a coffee table or local coffee shop. It’s also an easy permission slip to get out and explore.
““2020 has been a big year, especially in the Twin Cities, with COVID and the killing of George Floyd,” Severson said. “This has been a therapeutic process that has helped me develop a deeper sense of place and a sense of connection to the area. I am someone who thinks this is important.”
tThe pandemic has also put many of the Twin Cities’ oldest institutions — also often their most marginal — at risk. With the shift to online shopping and the closing of every restaurant and bar in the state, it was inconceivable that these historic gems would survive.
TIt was a difficult time writing about him [these] Severson said. “I had to believe and hope that some of them would reopen, and I was constantly checking to see which ones reopened and which ones didn’t.”
Thank God, only one of the topics of the chapter – Mickey dinner – is still in limbo, and the rest of the businesses have reopened. The resulting book offers an entry into the city’s strange nooks and crannies, places that just might knock you out of your routine. The chapter titles say it all: “Nicolette Mall’s Oldest Art,” “Oldest Theater Space,” “Oldest Roundhouse,” “Oldest Cemetery.”
The best thing is that Severson doesn’t take herself too seriously. The book is very interesting. The chapters on “Older Mansion Washburn-Fair Oaks” point to their general approach to the guide. They aim to make people laugh and embrace curiosity.
“wDid you know that Minnesota is home to the oldest magic shop in North America, and the oldest sappho sauna in North America? Severson asked.
(A sappho sauna is an ancient type of sauna that does not have a chimney. The oldest sauna in Minnesota is in Cockatoo, 50 miles west of Minneapolis.)
touring Eagle charm Store in Burnsville, Severson even sat at the same desk Houdini once occupied, during his visit to the store in 1918. Once located in downtown Minneapolis, it has since moved to the Minnesota Riverside suburb. The legacy lives on. As Severson describes it, stepping into the store is like connecting with a lost era of mystery.
It’s not that Severson is unwilling to take a stand. She weighs in on the “oldest bar” question, and inculcates her knowledge of it Newman tape In North St. Paul’s is a former tied house in Ham’s Bear which has been serving all through Prohibition. Severson describes it as “a charming neighborhood spot that appeals to everyone from bikers to businessmen.”
This claim may infuriate residents of St. Paul Spot Bar, which also claims to be the source of the “oldest bar,” but that’s splitting hairs. Both salons are ripe with 19th-century ambiance, and after all, if you don’t have a good quarrel over claims to old-fashioned glory, is it local history?
Fortunately, there are also plenty of chapters that refer to the state’s much longer history before settlement.
“I think only a small percentage of non-Native Minnesotans are familiar with a site known as the Wakan Tepe, a sacred cave located on the bluffs of St. Paul Provincial Park,” Severson said. “The Abode of the Great Spirit,” has been the center of life in the Dakota for thousands of years, but few people really know about this very important place. Fortunately Wakan Tepe Centre It will open at the entrance in the near future.”
The Winchell Trail, an ancient route along the Mississippi River through Minneapolis once used by the Dakota people, was another favorite of mine. Severson describes it as “a haven from complete immersion in the heart of the city,” and offers tips on the best places to hit the river course. A walk along the Twin Rivers presents one of our greatest assets, hidden in plain sight.
In addition to outdoor spaces and parks, there are chapters on the history of the legendary Bryant Lake PowellSt. Paul Midway Booksthe Seward Cooperative SocietyAnd Pilgrim Baptist Churchthe Monte Carlo restaurant, Jack’s Cafeand dozens of other local attractions.
The end result reminds me of a choose-your-own-adventure story: combine the guide in any number of ways to take you on strolls around the area. Anyone looking for a list of places for an out-of-town guest visiting from a historic place – New England or England, England – could do a lot worse.
The last section introduces historic sites on the area’s outskirts, or towns within a day’s drive, and places like Groth Music in Bloomington or the Peavey-Haglin grain elevator in St. Louis Park (known as the “Nordic Ware” tower).
“I like to say that the oldest of the Twin Cities is ancient world history meets modern day,” Severson said. “I don’t consider myself a local expert or local historian, I’m just a very curious person.”