Telling the story of her town

During World War II, women filled in the holes in packing plants after men were drafted into service. (submitted photo)
During World War II, women filled in the holes in packing plants after men were drafted into service. (submitted photo)
Concord before  and after — Of the hundreds of bars and  restaurants that existed on Concord Street, only three were left in the 100 block of South Concord when this photo was taken in about 1973.  (submitted photo)
Concord before and after — Of the hundreds of bars and restaurants that existed on Concord Street, only three were left in the 100 block of South Concord when this photo was taken in about 1973. (submitted photo)
Today, Concord Street is now Concord Exchange. (submitted photo)
Today, Concord Street is now Concord Exchange. (submitted photo)
Hillside before and after — Before it was torn down in 1973, The Hillside resided on the south side of Grand Avenue between what is known today as Third Avenue North and Concord Exchange. (submitted photo)
Hillside before and after — Before it was torn down in 1973, The Hillside resided on the south side of Grand Avenue between what is known today as Third Avenue North and Concord Exchange. (submitted photo)
Today, that location is home to an apartment complex. (submitted photo)
Today, that location is home to an apartment complex. (submitted photo)
In 2004, St. Stefan Romanian Orthodox Church was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.  (submitted photo)
In 2004, St. Stefan Romanian Orthodox Church was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. (submitted photo)
After years of economic turmoil, the National Civic League named South St. Paul an All-America City in August of 1990. (submitted photo)
After years of economic turmoil, the National Civic League named South St. Paul an All-America City in August of 1990. (submitted photo)
Stockyards in South St. Paul extended from Concord Street on the west to the river on the east and from Wentworth Avenue on the north to Highway I-494 on the south. (submitted photo)
Stockyards in South St. Paul extended from Concord Street on the west to the river on the east and from Wentworth Avenue on the north to Highway I-494 on the south. (submitted photo)

Lois Glewwe is out with a new South St. Paul history book

One would think writing a book about the place where you grew up would be easy. For Lois A. Glewwe, writing “South St. Paul: A Brief History” was almost too easy.

“What I found out was it was much harder than I thought because I could have written 600 pages easier than I could write 160,” Glewwe explains. “So to condense it down to a readable, accessible level was the challenge. I was constantly cutting and cutting.”

“South St. Paul: A Brief History” is Glewwe’s seventh published book.

Glewwe left her hometown to attend college in Philadelphia. After earning her master’s degree, living in India and going back to Philadelphia, Glewwe says she had no idea if she would ever be living in Minnesota again.

When she finally did move back in 1985, things were not the same as they had been when she left.

“When I left to go to college, Concord Street was still bumper-to-bumper traffic. Both meatpacking plants were in full operation. Concord Street was wall-to-wall businesses,” Glewwe recalls.

“When I returned I said to my dad after I went down there, ‘What in the world happened?’ The whole city was gone.”

Glewwe was hired by the city of South St. Paul to plan its 1987 centennial celebration. Around the same time she signed a contract with the South St. Paul Chapter of the Dakota County Historical Society to write a book about the history of the city.

“South St. Paul Centennial 1887-1987: The History of South St. Paul, Minnesota” was a 528-page compilation of research materials the society had collected.

While working on the big book, Glewwe discovered many South St. Paulites were feeling depressed.

The main economic engine of the city had been the stockyards and meatpacking plants near the Mississippi River.

Even though working in a slaughterhouse was often physically and emotionally challenging, close friendships developed among the employees.

With the closure of the plants and nearby bars, people were missing that workplace camaraderie.

Outpouring of stories

When the city announced plans to celebrate its centennial, residents were asked to bring in photos and stories.

Glewwe had an office in City Hall and recalls, “People would come in and oftentimes end up in tears while they were sharing their stories with me because they just felt like their city was gone. They couldn’t identify with anything anymore.”

That 1987 book has been out of print for many years, but there’s still interest in it and used copies have been known to sell online for as much as $100.

In the spring of 2014, Glewwe was in the midst of working on another project when she got a call from History Press about possibly writing a new book about South St. Paul.

“They felt South St. Paul had gone through so much in the ... 28 years since 1987 that they really wanted to do a new history,” Glewwe says.

Between 1969 and 1979, South St. Paul lost many businesses and jobs, and her new book focuses on how the city has dealt with the changes the past three decades.  

She recalls there were ambitious plans to redevelop the riverfront, but despite everyone’s best efforts, things did not always work out.

After the closure of the huge Armour and Company meatpacking plant in 1979 and the recession in the early 1980s, Glewwe says the city was declared an economically depressed area by the federal government.

Her new book tells the story of the demolition of old landmarks and the gradual turnaround of South St. Paul.

Glewwe adds that despite the many riverfront revitalization projects, the city still faces challenges. Empty buildings persist and there’s still a need for more retail businesses.

“It’s a challenge to hold onto some kind of actual community identity rather than just becoming a bedroom community,” says Glewwe, a former South St. Paul City Council member.

Helpful tutorial for newcomers

She notes that a lot of new families are moving into the city and hopes they will get involved and claim the city as home.

The new book is designed to help readers learn a lot about the city in a very short time.

Throughout, Glewwe incorporates stories from people who attended South St. Paul schools in the 1980s and 1990s.

Glewwe says she wanted to capture their stories and share them with others. On the Conversations of History in South St. Paul’s Facebook page, she asked people to send her a 500-word story on their memories.

“I think [those recollections] have become the heart and soul of the book,” Glewwe says.

Response to the new book has been positive so far. During her first two book signings, she ran out of copies.

She says if people would like to purchase a copy for a Christmas gift, the best place to find “South St. Paul: A Brief History” is the Dakota County Historical Society and Museum, 130 3rd Ave N, South St Paul.

A love of history

When she isn’t writing, Glewwe says she is normally involved with her church, First Presbyterian of South St. Paul, and the South St. Paul Garden Club. But a major focus of her life continues to be her love of local history.

“I retired early from my professional career, so that I could write. So far, that’s working out very well,” Glewwe says.

“South St. Paul: A Brief History” also can be found at Barnes and Noble, Amazon.com, through Arcadia Publishing and Dakota County Historical Society.

Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or staffwriter@lillienews.com.
 

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