Sepia Saturday: Finding Lost Treasure, Pt. 11

Continuing with excerpts from my great-grandfather David Blumenfeld's diary, which I discovered two years ago.

Looking north across the South St. Paul stockyards

On the advice of an acquaintance, in July 1902 David, still hunting elusive success, takes his wife Lena on the brief train ride from Minneapolis to the new community of South St. Paul to "look the place over." The main industry was the enormous stockyard for cattle en route to the butchers.

Lena felt very disheartened. It happened to be just after a warm rain. An east wind was blowing, the streets were muddy, and there was an awful stench from the cattle pens. It was terrible, she thought.

South St. Paul was a real frontier town with hitching posts all along in front of the saloons and the few business places. Cattlemen and cowpunchers were mostly on horseback, and farm wagons were drawn up along the main street, which consisted of one block on Concord Street. Horses hitched along the curb were flicking their tails in hopeless warfare against the summer pestilence of flies. On the shady side of the street sat a few farmers swapping politics.

It was hardly possible to walk in the mire and the roadway in most places was two feet below the sidewalk level.... A dingy packing plant with many windows and a tall chimney belching forth volumes of smoke darkened the air above and made filthy the earth beneath.

A bit closer in...the Cattlemens'Exchange building is the castle-like structure in the back

The unpaved street was almost impossible to cross from one side to the other. ...There were no real sidewalks, no sewer. Water was obtained mostly from pumps. Outhouses were located at the end of lots and there were stables in the backyards and odorous cesspools.

David and Lena observed the perplexing change in the atmosphere, the clouds curling along the Mississippi River, the stream in the distance, the sky pale as far as they could see, the sound of the animals. Into their disturbed consciousness sank the distant lowing of the animals, the noises of thousands of cattle and swine. Here and there through the alleys men were galloping on horseback, men booted and with long whips. They were calling to each other and driving cattle to the scales to be weighed. These men were mostly Western stock-raisers who came from Montana.

Near the Blumenfeld store (which was beyond the Exchange building seen in the background)

David decided to open shop [there] in August 1902. He began to do quite well and was able to support his family. The next spring David took his family [from Minneapolis] to South St. Paul to make their permanent home there. Lena felt a little improved in health but was very much discouraged with such country life.

Yet it was here the Blumenfelds finally settled. David lived there until his death in 1956 at the age of 91, outliving his wife by ten years. His daughter, my grandmother, raised her own children in nearby Saint Paul.

The Exchange, the only historic building now standing in South St.Paul

Some of these photos were borrowed from the following sites:



And find more fascinating posts at Sepia Saturday blog


  1. What a wonderful diary to have and the supporting photos add to it's interest. I am so pleased that he finally settled down. Altogether it's a wonderful piece of family history to have.

  2. You don't need me to say, you have something very special there, Sean.

  3. These are great pictures of industrial landscapes. It would be fascinating to see modern photos of the same locations.

  4. I'm glad he started doing well. The whole place sounds horrible. The smells, the muck, the bad air...

  5. it sounds like they made a good move. Getting away from the mud and muck and the sad sound of the animals must have been a real relief.

  6. Absolutely fascinating. The swift changes of industrialization were, I imagine, utterly shocking to many--living as I do in the heart of Brooklyn, I can only imagine...

  7. Sean, I hope you decide to make this into a book. You could do it using blurb.com and include all the photos. Would your family appreciate it? I think it's really interesting and if it were my family, I would be thrilled to have the diary illustrated with all the photos you've found. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  8. always glad to read one more chapter, and i feel satisfied as i noticed a building in the first two photographs, and you end your post with that building, in full details.
    well done!!