Book review: Keystones of the Stone Arch Bridge

Two Minnesota icons that I hold most dear are the Minneapolis neighborhood where the Mississippi River pours over St. Anthony Falls and runs along St. Anthony Main, and the candy that rolls out of Pearson’s in St. Paul. When The Minnesota History Center folks sent me a copy of Carolyn Ruff’s “Keystones of the Stone Arch Bridge” I spent many delicious hours delving into both. Summer is beginning to wane and the kids have another month before school starts: August is the perfect month to grab a Nut Roll and explore Minneapolis history.

Ruff’s “Keystones of the Stone Arch Bridge” takes young readers on a journey to 1883 along the Mississippi in Minneapolis. Ten-year-old Swedish immigrant Fritz lives in the Mississippi River Flats with his father, and spends summer agonizing over how to earn money to help his father pay for Fritz’s mother and sisters back in Sweden to make the trip to America so the family can reunite.

At St. Anthony Falls James J. Hill is building the Stone Arch Bridge to carry his trains across the Mississippi River. Six hundred men work carving and placing the limestone and granite stones that form the bridge. But how can a 10-year-old boy contribute to their efforts? Fritz’s uncle helps him land a job working for James J. Hill, and soon Fritz is blistered and exhausted from his job as a stonecutter, yet there is still time for fun.

Fritz makes friends who teach him about the history of his new home. Important characters from Native and African American history make appearances and help Fritz explore Minneapolis. As Fritz masters the art of stonemasonry he records symbols of his adventures on the Stone Arch Bridge’s keystones. All the while, Fritz is determined to help bring his “momma” and sisters home to Minnesota.

“Keystones of the Stone Arch Bridge” shows us history through a child’s experience in the 1800’s. Children reading this book will identify with Fritz and his longing for his momma, but it may be a surprise for them to learn that children often worked long days to help their families. While adult readers may raise an eyebrow at Fritz’s coincidental brushes with historical figures, young readers will absorb the lessons these figures provide.

The book is recommended for early readers 8 to 12 years old, but younger children will also enjoy hearing the story read out loud. Adults and Nut Goodie lovers will want to read the Author’s Note (and this is when the aforementioned Pearson’s Candy reference will make sense) where Ruff describes her Swedish immigrant Grandfather Per, the founder of Pearson Candy Company. Note to Ruff: I hope your next work gives us more of that story.

After reading “Keystones,” I explored various locations mentioned in the book and discovered plenty of places that kids will enjoy. Walk along the Stone Arch Bridge and into Mill Ruins Park to see the remains of a mill. Wander along the river beneath the Washington Bridge where the Mississippi River Flats (also known as Bohemian Flats) once stood to initiate discussions about immigration, and how pockets of the Twin Cities continue to draw people from other countries. At the Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery search for Toussaint Grey’s tombstone, the first African American born in St. Anthony. These landmarks make Fritz’s story come alive while connecting young readers to the history of Minneapolis.

“Keystones of the Stone Arch Bridge,” 68 pages, is available for $7.95 at the Minnesota Historical Society Presswebsite, Wild Rumpus, Red Balloon Bookshop, The Bookcase, and the Minnesota Historical Society Sites gift shops.

The Stone Arch Bridge is located just north of downtown Minneapolis and south of Northeast Minneapolis, near SE 3rd Avenue and SE Main Street

Mill Ruins Park is located at 130 Portland Ave S, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

MinneapolisPioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery is located on the corner of Lake Street and Cedar Avenue South at 2945 Cedar Avenue South, Minneapolis, Minnesota. The cemetery is open to the public from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, from April 15 to October 15.

MississippiRiver Flats (Bohemian Flats) was located near 2200 West River Parkway, Minneapolis, Minnesota.


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