As Ashland Avenue Tale
Most people care deeply about where they love, but our block is something special.
Though settlement in Saint Paul generally moved west (and also east) from downtown, it skipped over the enormous Josiah Selby farmstead, meaning my area (Holcombe's addition to Saint Paul) is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city. One block north is the oldest house in the area (1858, though you would scarcely realize that due to alterations), and also the 4th oldest park in Saint Paul, originally set up as a day market for the neighborhood.
Due to the way the streets jog and with the school at the end of the street, my block of Ashland (currently an ironic name due to the loss of ash trees citywide; it was formerly Hennepin) is just one block long from Dale to St. Alban's. It's actually kind of a varied block, as many of the original homes were lost due to an early urban renewal effort. At the far end of the block are several medium-sized apartment/co-op buildings, and at my end are many homes that were moved in from a block away when that block was cleared for the school field. There are some original houses at the far end, and our house, built by Sarah T. Chapin, is the original home at the eastern end.
Maybe sometime I'll write about her, because she was amazing. But that isn't a story about that. Nor is it a story about our wonderful neighbors, and the way we band together and do things, like block clean-ups or taking care of the park.
Dale, at the eastern end of the street, is fairly bust, and there's an auto body shop and a popular bar (Sweeney's). That becomes important later in the post.
Because it's only a block long and Dale is busy, it's a fairly safe neighborhood. There have been burglaries; in the past we have been broken into, and our former neighbors across the street were broken into and the unlocked guns they had under their beds were stolen (we all wondered why there were 3 guns under the bed...). Sometimes someone who has partied a little too hard at the bar needs some help late at night. But it's lively and I have no qualms about letting my teen walk down to meet her friend at the park late at night. In general, one of the advantages of being a close street is that we look out for each other.
The other oldest house at this end of the block was John and Marie's house, two doors down from us. It was an adorable cottage just a little older than my house, that had sat for just a short time east of here and had then been moved in in the 1880s.
You'll notice I said "was."
In 2020, when Marie passed at almost 100 years old, the house was sold to one of those flipper agencies for a ridiculously low price. They in turn sold it to people who immediately tore it down to build a new place. This all happened off the market or we likely would have bought it; even after that we tried to at least move it but to no avail.
So, I mean, I was already bitter about this, given my preservation background.
The up side, though, was that clearly the people who did this must have really wanted to live on our block, right? They understood it was the best block in all of Saint Paul and really wanted to be part of it.
They built a (kind of horrible) new house. And we really haven't seen them since. There's a big front window in which the shade is almost always fully drawn. They have a 2F porch with 2 chairs on it over the front door, that they are never out on. In the entire time they have lived there, I have seen them out of their house less than a dozen times, usually with EarPods in, never acknowledging my wave or hello. We've taken to calling them The Vampires, because their lights are always off and we never see them.
They recently put in a sprinkler system so they don't have to come out and water their lawn. So I guess at least their grass is very green. The rest of us have kind of just adapted to the dry summer this year.
But after they put that in, they just made another addition to their front yard — an alarm system. Now when you walk past on the public sidewalk, there's a bright flashing light and a high pitched sound. Beatrix reports that you can't hear it unless you have earphones in that catch that frequency, but dogs can hear it. I assume it sets off something inside the house. And again, since there's a fairly shallow setback, it goes off every time someone walks past. In a given night between dark and bar close, somewhere between 10-100 people walk past. See where I'm going here? It goes off a lot. It's incredibly annoying.
And so I'm stymied about why anyone would do this.
But I still love my home, and our block. I hope that alarm is gone by the time we give this house to Beatrix when she graduates from college. Our family is here to stay.