In the early 20th century, trains chugged along the St. Croix Valley Railway, rolling over scenic bridges and past rolling waterfront vistas lined with trees. Today, an old-fashioned locomotive still runs from Osceola, Wisconsin to Marine on St. Croix, Minnesota?a 10-mile route that transports passengers across state lines and into the past. Inside the period-accurate passenger cars, Minnesota Transportation Museum staff relay facts about area history and refute the wildly inaccurate science in The Little Engine That Could. Regular round-trip rides run twice every Saturday and Sunday from May to October, but special-event trains and rides with dining service often round out the schedule.
Dedicated to the preservation and celebration of the state?s storied past, the Minnesota Historical Society dutifully curates 26 historic sites and museums that help visitors delve into days of yore?from the Forest History Center in Grand Rapids to the Jeffers Petroglyphs in Comfrey and Split Rock Lighthouse on the North Shore.
Explore the Minnesota History Center?s collection of artifacts, local artworks, and hands-on exhibits at the History Center in St. Paul, from Civil War battle flags to Prince's suit from Purple Rain. Temporary exhibits include American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, on display through March 16, and Toys of the '50s, '60s and '70s, opening May 24. Mill City Museum in Minneapolis chronicles the linked histories of the flour industry, Minneapolis, and the Mississippi River, sending visitors through history as they traverse each floor on an eight-story elevator ride that depicts a working day at the mill. As a bonus, baking-lab demonstrations produce balmy bread samples and historically accurate stomach rumbles.
In 1905, the Minnesota State Capitol building opened to the public; more than a century later, it continues to welcome more than 120,000 visitors each year to the home of the state government’s three branches. Designed in the Beaux-Arts style by acclaimed architect Cass Gilbert, the building lays claim to world’s second-largest self-supporting marble dome, a title the dome maintains by working a second job as the back-up roof of the Metrodome. Within the white Georgia marble and Saint Cloud–granite exterior of the edifice, 67 senators and 134 representatives wrangle with politics while striding through stately corridors and chambers decorated by murals, sculptures, and paintings carefully selected by Gilbert to complement the building’s elegant style. Hand-painted arabesques and local flora swirl overhead on the vaulted ceilings, and the brushstrokes of John LaFarge depict legal concepts above the bench of Minnesota’s supreme court. Visitors can drop into the rathskeller café, which evokes a German eating hall with restored murals, for a bite to eat and a toast to the health of the state’s royal family.
Epic Vow Wedding Photography owner Nicole Daniels carefully pairs members of her shutter squad with engaged couples for wedding shoots befitting each client’s personal style. Photographers snap an average of 100 high-quality digital images during four-hour nuptials and anywhere from 200 to 400 pictures at ceremonies exceeding five hours. Nicole digitally edits the strongest shots herself, ensuring that any facial blemishes, lipstick smudges, or ghostly apparitions are eradicated from final prints. Along with a trio of packages, Nicole preserves colorized and black and white photographs by mounting images on hardboard masonite or canvas, assembling shots in a softbound or wave-accordion album, or creating metallic prints.
Twin City Model Railroad Museum totes visitors through time with meticulously detailed model panoramas of Twin Cities railroads from the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. The museum itself dates back to 1934, when a group of modelers formed the St. Paul Craftsman Club. Today, thanks to countless volunteer hours, as well as scientific advances that have produced microscopic train conductors, the museum has grown into a world-class facility that chugs along with stunning displays and special exhibits. Inside, visitors marvel as the Empire Builder zips above St. Anthony Falls on the Stony Arch Bridge and as freight trains haul cargo to and from industries. Train enthusiasts can also take tours of the O-Scale exhibit, beginning in a reproduction of the St. Anthony Falls milling district and ending in the Minnesota Transfer Railways switching yard.
At the Minnesota Transportation Museum, the history of rail and transit comes to life. Guests can explore the Jackson Street Roundhouse, a former engine maintenance facility that now features in-depth exhibits on railway history, restored vintage steam engines and railway equipment, and one of the last operating roundhouse turntables in the country. After seeing the history on the page, visit the Osceola & St. Croix Valley Railway to feel the power of the rail underfoot as you take a scenic ride on a vintage coach.