The sculpture gardens of the North High Bridge Park
St. Paul's High Bridge was completed in 1895, and destroyed by a tornado in 1904.
In 1987 a new bridge replaced the old. A half-acre park was landscaped at the north end of the bridge. This was planted in a variety of crab apple trees, conifers, and dwarf honeysuckle. A large center circle, 84 feet in diameter, was mounded in a simple design with sod with seven linden trees at the perimeter. However, it soon became obvious that the center plantings were in trouble:
In 1988 Joe Landsberger was designated by a neighborhood committee to form a North High Bridge Task Force under the neighborhood "Federation" and plant a garden in the center space. The neighbors agreed that this was an important gateway into the Uppertown Neighborhood, and an ideal spot for river viewing and casual conversation. However, we were unaware of the severity of the growing conditions in the park, and all plantings died.
1n 1993 the City of St. Paul was proceeding with its federally mandated sewer-separation project. In the Uppertown Neighborhood, huge underlying rock formations had to be cut out with giant saws to make way for the new sewer pipe. This rock was limestone with some calcite and dolomite, often called Platteville Limestone, and was then used for landfill. However, under some urgency, Joe Landsberger got permission from the local community council (West 7th/Fort Road Federation/District 9 Council), the St. Paul Parks and Recreation Department, and surveyed some of the neighbors for the possibility to have some of the rock used for landscaping purposes.
In the third week of July, 1993, twelve dump trucks of stone were piled in the park. This upset a couple neighbors, who thought the stone was being simply stored by the city. A petition was passed around to get the rock removed. The City Parks Commission also voted for removal. Due to much misunderstanding, little consideration was given for the garden plan.
The High Bridge Task Force neighbors called a community meeting to discuss the issue, as well as consider the park’s neglect before the rock. On August 2, Joe Landsberger, as Chair of the Task Force for the West 7th/Fort Road Federation and District 9 Council, presented a plan. He was so eloquent that about fifty people--with only one dissenting vote--agreed to proceed with the garden.
It should be added that instrumental to the park's development was the proactive cooperation of St. Paul's Parks Department Director of Operations, John Poor. He facilitated and generally made life easier for the neighborhood, and on schedule! His example was followed by many within his department including TK Walling (arborist), John Wirka (principal designer), Tim Agness (landscape architect), and Poor's successor, Tom Knutson.
proceeded immediately in twice-a-week volunteer sessions. The goal would be to
build the walls and garden above the existing barren level. It soon became
apparent, however, that the size and weight of the stones outmatched the energy of
the neighbors. A neighbor, Marion Stanberg, came forward with a bobcat and donated
hours of time in building the garden’s walls. The garden now measured about 870
sq. feet, in an irregular circular shape.
The City of St. Paul Parks and Recreation Department workers brought in an ideal soil and compost mix and filled in the walls. The Minnesota Hemerocallis Society donated the first day lilies after its 1995 spring plant sale at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. The garden became a day lily demonstration garden! Students from the St. Paul Open School came forward, washed the roots and planted them. Those first 21 varieties included Fire Fly, Painted Lady, Colonial Dame, Princess Moonbeam, Juanita Hammonds, Bingo, Lemon Delight, John Allen, Buff Apricot, Egyptian Spice. Sun’s Eye, Big Country. A weeping tamarack was also donated to provide an unusual accent.
The neighborhood, however, was once again faced with a dilemma: what to do with the remaining stone, which still stacked quite tall in several piles. The idea of the Watcher was born, as well as the concept of the park becoming a sculpture garden.
The neighborhood continued its maintenance schedule and in 1996 the daylilies thrived. Added to them were some Peruvian daffodils which added a nice contrast of white. Some gayfeather/liatris added a touch of purple for another contrast. More varieties of daylily were planted in Spring 1996: Canadian goose, Lady Inara, Pretty Fancy, Fire Tree, Merry Sandman, Yellow Ribbon, Clifford, Bitsy, Princess Moonbeam, and Fanny Frills.
A second garden was made from the last stone. In the center of this garden the City of St. Paul donated a weeping crabapple: Red Jade. The park was also featured on the 4th Annual Healing Gardens Tour to support the work of the Center for Victims of Torture. Joe Landsberger was recognized in 1995 as an Honored Volunteer by the St. Paul Department of Parks and Recreation for the North High Bridge Park development.
The park, as well as its first sculptures, was dedicated Halloween 1995 in a snow storm! The park was decorated with carved pumpkins, and a couple hardy neighbors stood at the entrance to distribute treats for the tricksters!
1997 brought a third planting of daylilies, and a grove of trees was planted: two Ash and two Kentucky Coffee Trees, but these succumbed to the elements, and were later replaced with Hackberry and Ash Trees. An adjoining, eastern parcel of land along the bluff was added in 1998.
In 2005 a butterfly garden was added and maintained through the efforts of Edie. Since then, aside from the addition of sculptural elements, maintenance has been the key.