There were at least three roads from St Paul to White Bear Lake before 1874, when a map first shows the “St Paul, White Bear and Bald Eagle Road.” Today this is Highway 61. It crossed Keller Creek near today’s Frost Avenue and was probably a county road. In 1904, a concrete bridge over the creek was built exactly on the 45th parallel, which is halfway between the equator and the North Pole. It had two arches – one to allow cars to travel underneath on Keller Parkway and a second for launches or boats to pass underneath on Keller Creek.
In the early part of the 20th century, this dirt road became part of a national auto trail system known as the Mississippi Valley Highway. It extended from Ely, Minnesota to Gulfport, Mississippi and was identified by colored bands on telephone poles.
In 1920, the Minnesota constitution was amended to create 70 state highways referred to as “Constitutional Routes.” Constitutional Route 1 (also known as Star Route 1) ran from St Paul to the Canadian border along the Mississippi Valley Highway. The newly-created Minnesota Department of Highways realigned the highway through today’s Maplewood in 1921, paved it with asphalt on a concrete base and installed the first state highway signs. There was a formal opening on August 27, 1921, when 800 automobiles paraded from St Paul to White Bear Lake on the highway.
A federal system of marking interstate highways was established in 1926 to replace the earlier auto trails system. New signs for U.S. Highway 61 were erected on the same sign posts as Constitutional Route 1 signs. In May 1934, the state removed the Constitutional Route 1 signs and it was simply U.S. Highway 61. Major construction in 1951-53 created the road we use today by straightening it, widening it to four-lanes, replacing the 1904 bridge and building a cloverleaf interchange at Highway 36.
Cathy Wurzer has many stories of places along the highway in her book “Tales of The Road – Highway 61” that includes the KSTP radio transmitter in Maplewood.