In some ways, a visit to the Old St. Paul Minn. Facebook page is like rummaging around your grandparents’ attic.
There’s a black and white photo of the swing set at the old house where mom fell and needed stitches for her knee. There’s the restaurant menu from your aunt and uncle’s first date. In just three years time, Old St. Paul has been filled with thousands upon thousands of memories and stories and photos of places, people and artifacts from long ago.
An online neighborhood gathering place, Old St. Paul and perhaps hundreds of other sites like it on Facebook and elsewhere reflect a growing passion among people across the country to better connect to their past, to see things as they used to be, to memorialize the lives that once were.
“That’s what this is all about — a virtual oral history of St. Paul,” said Jim Sazevich, a local historian who could tell you the background of almost any home in St. Paul that’s over a century old. “It’s a validation of our memories.”
Sazevich, whose family lived in 13 houses across St. Paul by the time he was 13 years old, said his involvement in Old St. Paul helps weave together childhood memories.
“How do you define your own roots?” he said. “When we were being shaped into who we are, these were the things and places that were important to us.”
The page started in December 2013, simply enough, as a place for Mark Youngblood to show off the old bottles he digs up. The creator of other pages, such as Old Stillwater and Old Menomonie, Youngblood said his main hope was to encourage people to let him root around in their yards. The bottles he finds in what used to be outhouse pits are often pristine pieces of a city’s commercial history.
“It became just a general everything kind of site, with old advertising, family pictures, people’s old houses,” Youngblood said. “I love history.”
So, too, it seems, do the people of St. Paul. In a little more than three years, more than 17,000 people have signed on as members of the site to peruse and post information. The rules are basic: No solicitation, keep the topic on St. Paul history.
Jean Day started posting to the site because her brother hunted for bottles with Youngblood. Born in St. Paul and raised near Selby Avenue and Mackubin Street until she was 4 years old, Day said it has been “a way to connect back with people I didn’t see or hadn’t talked to in years.”
The site has grown beyond what anyone expected, she said.
“People want what was old. There was a comfort level in that. People want to go back to something where they were more connected,” said Day, who belongs to historical and genealogical societies. “Old St. Paul is allowing them to connect, even if they can’t physically do it.”
Those feelings go beyond St. Paul. Old Minneapolis and a number of neighborhood pages offer residents a chance to share bits of their own and their neighborhood’s past.
Jesse Jamison said he started Old Minneapolis about six years ago because he loves the city’s history. His page has more than 70,000 “likes.” Other history-themed Facebook pages that Jamison said he likes are Vintage Los Angeles, Old School Boston, and Old New York — pages that elicit a real connection from people.
“I imagine they are drawn to history pages like ours for the simple, intoxicating feeling of being swept up in nostalgia. The past has so many wonderful memories,” he said. “Sometimes it’s nice to take a little vacation and revisit them.”
Something about St. Paul
Ron Ciccone, whose St. Paul connections stretch back to his grandfathers’ businesses and his wife’s family grocery stores, was one of the Old St. Paul site’s early shapers. Now, he says, he helps keep the conversation going and encourages people to post.
“I grew up in two old neighborhoods, on Grand Avenue and in Irvine Park off of downtown,” said the graduate of St. Paul Central High School. “If I could, I’d be there today.”
Ciccone ended up raising his family in Forest Lake before moving to a condo in Roseville. He “stumbled upon” Youngblood and Old St. Paul and now uses it to maintain and even strengthen ties to St. Paul history.
Out of 17,000 members, he said, about 4,000 are diehards and 1,000 look in every day on the photos and memories that have been shared. The one negative of all that popularity? After the site hit 5,000 posts, the older stuff started to drop off the bottom. Ciccone and the others say they are trying to find a way to save those memories online somewhere.
“It’s just a love of that old darn city,” Ciccone said of his and others’ efforts to bring the Saintly City’s past to light online. “I love Minneapolis, too, but there’s just something about that Old St. Paul.”