Lunchtime tourist

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October 3, 2005 // UPDATED 1:58 pm - April 26, 2007
By: Linda Koutsky
Linda Koutsky

Read any travel magazine today and it's easy to see that historic destinations attract tourists. Quaint tree-lined streets, outdoor caf/s, and the lasting appeal of centuries-old brick and stone architecture are magnets for travelers. And here in Downtown is a well-preserved street of 19th-century buildings that create an enchanting river-town environment.

Log and wood-sided buildings were built on Main Street beginning in the mid-1800s. But even before then, the existing road had been well traveled. Thundering noise accompanied long lines of ox carts on their trade route between Canada and St. Paul. Loaded with furs, the wooden-wheeled carts rambled along the rutted dirt road that eventually became Main Street.

St. Anthony Press published the first historical account of our growing metropolis three years before Minnesota became a state. The 1855 booklet titled "Historical Sketch" documented Father Hennepin's naming of the falls, told stories of early settlers, and commented that the area "was a complete wilderness." But by then, the town was incorporated and more than 3,000 people lived in St. Anthony. Among the many businesses on Main Street were land agents, carpenters, furniture makers, dressmakers, doctors, lawyers, blacksmiths, drug stores, hardware stores, saddle shops, saloons, restaurants, hotels, and a brewery.

Here are a few of Main Street's remaining buildings:

- #117, Pracna Building, 1890, "the oldest restaurant on the oldest street in Minneapolis." Originally a saloon operated by Frank Pracna, a native of Bohemia, who also lived in one of the residences upstairs. Note the carved limestone, fancy brickwork and decorative top.

- #125 (Realtor office and Segway tours), Martin & Morrison Blocks, 1860, formerly a fire station, post office, and hotel. Built of locally quarried Platville limestone like the Pillsbury "A" Mill down the street. John Martin was a steamboat captain and involved with sawmills and banking. Francis Morrison owned the company that built the first bridge over the Mississippi.

- #125 (Aster Cafe), Upton Block, 1855, built by the Upton brothers for their grocery and hardware business. The Minnesota Republican newspaper was published upstairs and wrote that the building "is a very handsome building and reflects great credit on both its owners and builders." This is the oldest masonry building in Minneapolis.

- #201, 1909 built as an addition for the mattress company.

- #219, 1892, Salisbury, Rolph & Co., mattress company warehouse.

LUNCH TIP: Bring your sweater and enjoy the view from the cobblestone terrace at Pracna on Main (#117)

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