Plymouth author Julie Jo Severson releases Oldest Twin Cities: A Guide to Historic Treasures.
Julie Jo Severson’s latest guidebook highlights some of the Twin Cities’ oldest sites. From neighborhoods to natural landmarks, downtown bars to small town ice cream shops, the Plymouth author’s Oldest Twin Cities invites you on a journey back in time to the roots of Minneapolis, St. Paul and beyond, including a few tales from St. Croix Valley.
Plymouth Magazine profiled your first guidebook, Secret Twin Cities: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure in the December 2020 issue. What was your inspiration behind the first book?
The inspiration behind both Secret Twin Cities and Oldest Twin Cities was primarily my desire to provide local readers with a new way to connect with their metropolitan home by highlighting the rich, complex and quirky legacies that make our region unique. I’m someone who believes that having a feeling of connectedness to our local heritage and those special places in our midst matters.
For Oldest Twin Cities, how did your research process differ? How was it similar?
The main difference was that the process for Secret Twin Cities was completely subjective as I meandered through a field of unlimited possibilities in search of hidden gems. The selection process for Oldest Twin Cities was, of course, a bit more objective, although I got rather creative with the categories.
Once I selected each topic, though, the research process for both books was essentially the same. I started off by reading as much as I possibly could, one subject at a time. Then, I visited each site to experience it firsthand while also connecting with building managers, business owners, museum directors and local historians for perspective, fact checks and updates.
How did you come up with your “oldest” categories?
This journey took lots of surprising turns and so did the categories. I started off with a short list of obvious choices: Oldest Library, Oldest Brewery, Oldest Church, etc. But from there, each bit of research, each conversation and each day trip led me to new discoveries, which eventually resulted in a dynamic and unexpected medley including categories like Oldest Natural Spring, Oldest Documented Cave and Oldest Magic Shop.
How long have you been participating in the Twin Cities Writing Studio at ModernWell? How has this group supported your writing journey?
I’ve been a member since Julie Burton and Nina Badzin first launched the group in 2015, first at the Hopkins Center for the Arts, now at ModernWell, a women-centered coworking space in Minneapolis. It’s been my go-to for brainstorming and connecting with other creatives and freelancers. These book projects are a direct result of contacts I made thanks to that inspiring community.
Do you have any plans for additional guidebooks in the future?
At present, I’m focusing on promoting the books and scheduling group presentations while chiseling away at other small writing and editing jobs on the side. As a freelance journalist, though, I always sense there’s another cool project lurking around the corner.
Where can people find your books?
They’re available throughout the metro and from online retailers. I also sell them at my book site, secrettwincities.com, where I personally sign the books and donate a portion to Give Hope MN.
Oldest St. Croix Valley
Oldest Twin Cities features a handful of sites located in the St. Croix Valley. One of them is Scandia’s open-air Gammelgarden Museum, which tells the story of early Swedish immigration through a collection of five historic buildings. One of them is a log sanctuary known as the Gammelkyrkan, considered Minnesota’s oldest Lutheran church building. Severson writes: “The museum offers guided tours and special events, which include traditional Swedish celebrations, Mid-Sommar Dag, Fiddling Fest, and interactive activities such as making butter, crafting hand-carved wooden toys, and playing old-fashioned games.”