Raspberry Island on the Mississippi River, St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
Little islands have always intrigued me. In college, friends and I rented a houseboat for a long weekend and anchored by a small island on the picturesque St. Croix River which flows between Minnesota and Wisconsin. It remains fondly in my memory bank.
Raspberry Island. Its name even sounds delicious! This little island has always piqued my interest. I wondered exactly where it was. On the Mississippi River. Near downtown St. Paul. Under the Wabasha Street Bridge. But I still wasn’t sure where it was.
Raspberry Island: where is it?
Raspberry Island is a small island in the Mississippi River in St. Paul, Minnesota. In fact, it holds the honorable position of being St. Paul’s last true island.
It is literally in the shadow of the Wabasha Street Bridge – invisible while driving over the bridge.
How does one get to it? What purpose does it serve?
This little island is within a short walk from downtown St. Paul or from Harriet Island.
The beauty of Raspberry Island was enhanced in 2008 when a major renovation to the island replaced a rip-rap revetment to protect the riverbank. It now includes a walking path, access points to the river, planting beds, benches, lighting, and parking lot improvements.
It has appropriately been called a little gem of tranquility in the middle of the river that allows for escape outside the hustle and bustle of the city.
But it was not always so…
Raspberry Island from Wabasha Bridge. P.C Cher B, 09 July 2021
My renewed interest in this little island was sparked a few years ago when one of our daughters joined the St. Paul Rowing Club which is headquartered at the Minnesota Boathouse on Raspberry Island’s west side.
She is the one who recommended the FREE 4 hour parking on Harriet Island (not really an island) across the Mississippi on our recent Travel Date to downtown St. Paul. (The parking lot is in the midst of the trees, just above the houseboats, on the top right of this photo).
See more on visiting the island below. . .
Raspberry Island, Wabasha Bridge, looking south from the 18th floor Government Center. P.C. Cher B, 09 July 2021.
It was perfect. We found easy parking and then took a scenic walk across the bridge to downtown St. Paul, ending at the foot of the art deco St. Paul City Hall & Ramsey County Courthouse – and just a few short blocks from the Rice Park area, our Travel Date destination.
Also perfect was that going TO downtown, the walk was UPHILL – which meant our trip back to our car, after walking all afternoon, was DOWNHILL The lookout points and the spiral stairways on the bridge provided good visual and physical access to the island.
A service road from Harriet Island to Raspberry Island was provided for cars – and for the faint-of-heart-and-body who might not want to manage the 3 story flight of open stairs from the bridge!
Travel Tip: Walk on opposite sides of the bridge on each trip to get best views of both sides of the island
Raspberry Island and Minnesota Boat Clubhouse and Wabasha Bridge. P.C. Cher B, 09 July 2021
Minnesota Boat Club on Raspberry Island
Raspberry Island is home to the Minnesota Boat Club, the oldest athletic club in the state.
Since 1870, it has been the one nearly constant factor in Raspberry Island’s identity. The club bought the western end of the island in 1877. At one point, they owned the entire island.
In 1885, a wooden structure was built to house the club. The current boathouse was built in 1910. In 1982, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places*.
*Side note: I have been totally impressed with the number of St. Paul buildings on the NRHP!
This photo shows the main entrance to the building.
The building’s upper level has been home to various night clubs. It currently is available for rent for weddings and other events.
Looking west off of Wabasha Bridge – Minnesota Boat Clubhouse, main entrance. P.C. Cher B, 09 July 2021
The St. Paul Rowing Club uses the site as its base.
This is place from where our daughter and her rowing partners would set off from on their rowing expeditions.
I listened to some interesting tales about getting the heavy, cumbersome rowing boats up and down these steep ramps!
The History of Raspberry Island
What is her story?
Raspberry Island was originally named for the wild raspberries that grew on it. The name appeared on the first map of downtown Saint Paul in 1851.
Early on, the little island was the perfect meeting place for local Native American tribes.
Between 1883 and 1938, its size and function changed. In 1939, the City of St. Paul obtained title to the eastern three acres from the Union Depot Company.
Image from Google Images, St. Paul, MN Gallery, 7/22/2021
In 1948, the City condemned portions of the island. Like other areas of the city (see blog on Swede Hollow, nearby), it had become a health hazard. Except for the clubhouse, numerous structures, including houseboats, were cleared.
Between 1949 and 1968, the island was used by the United States Navy for a training center. It was renamed Navy Island.
During the 1970s and 80s, Raspberry Island was best known as a parking lot for people who worked in downtown St. Paul. (Wow! Talk about a workout before and after work, climbing up and down that steep hill!)
Raspberry Island and Minnesota Boat Clubhouse, south side.
P.C. Cher B, 09 July 2021
During the early 1990s, the island housed a small band shell for occasional concert performances. A fun fact is that in 1994, it is reported that the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra performed Handel’s “Water Music” from a barge while the audience listened from the island!
Raspberry Island resumed its name when the Wabasha Street Bridge was rebuilt in 2001.
Described by the St. Paul Pioneer Press (7/31/2007) as “a sun-baked expanse of dirt and rocks…as desolate as ever,” “a humble sliver of land,” and “a peaceful sandbar” . . .
. . . the little island lacked its own identity for decades.
But that was about to change…
Raspberry Island, Wabasha Bridge, Shepherd Road.
P.C. Cher B, 09 July 2021
In 2007-08, the island was redesigned by St. Paul Parks & Recreation, financed by a grant from the State of Minnesota. This created a welcoming site to help people connect with the Mississippi and a respite from the city which looked down upon it.
The commitment to maintaining the esthetics of Raspberry Island Regional Park earned it a prestigious award in the Public Landscape Design Category in 2009.
Photo from Google Images. 7/22/2021
Visitors to Raspberry Island
Admission to Raspberry Island is FREE. Visitors can enjoy the Mississippi River and the St. Paul skyline by day or by night along the Riverwalk pathway. Summer features music in the park at its stunning illuminated band shell built in 2004 by the Schubert Club of Minnesota. Limited parking available on the island; suggested parking on Harriet Island (see parking)
It is an unforgettable location for weddings, celebrations and musical performances.
Restroom facilities were also added to the Minnesota Boat Club building.
Raspberry Island, east side, P.C. Cher B, 09 July 2021
Raspberry Island: The little island that could…
Raspberry Island is no longer a stranger to me. I know where it is. I know how to get there. It holds a fond place in my heart and puts a smile on my face.
Lisa L. Heinrich, perfectly sums it up in her blog post “Raspberry Island: the little island that could.” “Raspberry Island has all the makings for an identity crisis. It has long lived in the shadow of its sibling and neighbor, Harriet Island. It sits literally in the shadow of the Wabasha Street Bridge. Its size and function have been altered…its name changed… Yet this plucky island survives and thrives as a city park and longtime home of the Minnesota Boat Club…A little gem in the middle of the river…” (lisastories.com/2018/09/15/raspberry-island-the-little-island-that-could).
Culinary Stop on the Mississippi
We wrapped up our Travel Date on the Mississippi with a culinary stop at the seasonal home of City House, right on the river, located in a restored grain elevator. Just upstream from Raspberry Island, it is across from the Harriet Island Pavilion. We sat on the patio and enjoyed watching river barges and kayak rowers glide along the river.
The reasonably priced, simple menu, served from a food truck had vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free options – and their award-winning Cabano. A variety of local craft beer, cider and wine are on tap.
While not far from Rice Park, it was a steep walk downhill (and back up!) so we drove and found easy on-street free parking. City House is on a bike trail and provide bike racks for guests. Pets on leash are welcome. Live music is provided on some weekends. (cityhousemn.com)
Map of downtown St. Paul with places visited on our Travel Dates and included in my blog.
- Minnesota Capitol (top left)
- Cathedral of St. Paul (center left)
- Swede Hollow & St. Paul Brewing (off the map on top right)
- Rice Park, Landmark Center, Herbies on the Park and Government buildings (center)
- Raspberry Island, Harriet Island, and City House on the Mississippi River (lower center and right)
- Self-guided tour by Cher and Skip B (09 July 2021)
- City House (dining) cityhousemn.com
- lisastories.com/2018/09/15/raspberry-island-the-little-island-that-could (07/06/2021)
- Minnesota Boat Club – minnesotaboatclub.org
- Ramsey County – ramseycounty.us
- St Paul Government info – stpaul.gov
- St. Paul Visitor info – visitsaintpaul.com