Second Street: Bench to Balcony

Exciting news was released recently. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported that Saint Paul is considering a plan to reinvent Second Street again, this time into a pedestrian-friendly river balcony:

Lisa Switkin, a senior principal at the company [James Corner Field Operations], described the balcony as a series of overlooks along the river, linking many of the existing institutions at the water’s edge in St. Paul.

“These are kind of like a string of pearls. They really draw you in from the city, and they’re visible from the river as well,” she said.

The balcony would be anchored by the Science Museum and Xcel Energy Center in the west, and Union Depot and Lambert’s Landing in the east. Representatives from James Corner Field Operations said they were struck by the opportunities they see in existing infrastructure in downtown St. Paul and at the river’s edge.

Their designs included the creation of park areas, watch platforms, sport courts, sandstone steps, food and drink kiosks, public art and event spaces. Among the biggest changes proposed was the transformation of E. 2nd Street, which would be closed to traffic and turned into a pedestrian-only space.

Currently Second Street is easy to miss. A quick turn off Kellogg Boulevard after the Wabasha Bridge sends you down an arcaded one-way viaduct below Kellogg Park that leaves you off near the Mississippi River. In Joseph Farr’s 1895 interview with the Saint Paul Pioneer Press (brought up to date by a Ramsey County Historical Society publication Joseph Farr remembers the Underground Railroad, and the second 1905 interview with the Saint Paul Globe story) suggest how convenient the street was as the members of Saint Paul’s underground railroad brought fugitives up from the steamboat landing to William Taylor’s barbershop near present day Kellogg and Wabasha. Second Street, known as Bench Street until 1872, has a more gentle slope that must have made transportation easier than the steep slopes of Jackson or Sibley Streets.

For my drawing of Joseph Farr and the Underground Railroad, it was a challenge to illustrate what Second Street looked like at the time. Frustratingly few images from the pre-Civil war era. I ended up combining a few images that hinted at what Joseph Farr might have seen in his mind’s eye during the 1895 interview.

1862 Photo of the City of Saint Paul (image credit to Minnesota Historical Society) – While the image is fuzzy, you can see the white steeple of the First Presbyterian Church to the far left and the slope of what was then Bench Street making its way down to the steamboat landing:

1883 Map of Saint Paul (image credit to Library of Congress):

George Earl Resler’s etching of Second Street (image credit to Minnesota Historical Society) from the early 1900s before the the massive renewal project of 1927-1932:

William Taylor’s Barbershop 1852

Researching for my drawing Joseph Farr and the Underground Railroad, there were frustratingly few images that exist from the time that William Taylor led efforts to help escaped fugitives and even fewer images much less records of Black people. It made it all the more amazing that in 1895 and 1905 newspapers captured Joseph Farr’s story and his likeness, even if it was decades afterwards. To commemorate the story, I was led to use creative license – especially for the image of William Taylor’s barbershop.

First, the portion of the interview that inspires the barbershop image, from the 1895 version:
“One Sunday morning in the summer of 1852 the boat brought up a fine looking, well dressed young colored fellow. He had plenty of clothes and was much better dressed than was common with colored people at that time. Berry brought him straight to my uncle’s house, which was right across the street from my uncle’s barber shop on Third street. When he came into the house he sat down and begun to cry at a tremendous rate, and kept at it while Berry took my uncle and myself off to one side and told us that the young fellow’ was a girl and that [she] had got away from her master at Galena. The owner had brought her North, and when Johnson went and proposed to her that she escape she was tickled to death. It was easy enough to get her out of Galena, but the trouble was to get her to a place of safety. And the master would know that she had come on to St. Paul and would soon be after her. She was young and fine looking and would probably be worth a couple of thousand dollars in the South, so it was a sure thing that there would be a great effort made to find her.
“Well, she stayed with my aunt that night, and we intended to get her away the next day if possible. The next morning I was at work in the shop with Taylor and James Hywadin, when in comes a big man dressed as the southerners were always dressed in those days, with a wide-brimmed light hat and expensive black clothes, and as soon as I laid my eyes on him I knew that he was the fugitive’s master and that it would be all day with her. ‘See here,’ said he to Taylor, ‘I understand that you know all about the fugitives that come here, and I suppose you know where my girl is. I lost a girl and I am going to have her back. Find her for me and it will be worth $30 to you.’
My uncle kept him talking for some time. The minute he came in Hywadin went out the back door and across the street to the house. I looked over there and saw the girl sitting at the window. Fortunately her master didn’t look in that direction…”

Curiously enough, the price for the escaped fugitive went up to $50 for the 1905 interview.

St Paul Almanac has an informative article about William Taylor, First Fiddler of Minnesota. Sadly, no images of the man or the barbershop. I ended up casting my research net beyond Minnesota to other areas of the pre-civil war. The image of a barbershop in Richmond, VA below served as a framework for what ended up as an educated guess of what Joseph Farr might have looked like as a young man helping his uncle in his barbershop. also provided essential information on William Taylor and the role of barbers in Minnesota’s history.

Educated guesses of what that barbershop looked like probably fall short of the actual thing, but my image serves as a placeholder until a real photo ever surfaces.

William Taylor’s Barbershop from Joseph Farr and the Underground Railroad

Read more about William Taylor in the Mississippi Park Connections post on Barbers, hairdressers, and Black liberation in 19th Century Minnesota.