Dave and Sharon Jasper had never heard of a place called Grey Cloud Island on the Mississippi River.
But after a tip from their real estate agent, the couple crossed a bridge and drove through a thick wooded area by St. Paul Park. Finally, they emerged from the forest and spied a solitary house sitting on a point surrounded by hypnotizing water on two sides.
It was October and the trees were awash with fall color. “We saw the lay of the land, the river and the isolation and beauty of the place,” Dave recalled of the island setting. “I told Sharon ‘I think this is it.’ ”
The couple had nearly given up the search for a retreat that would combine the recreation of their Wisconsin lake place with the proximity of their suburban Bloomington home.
With 12 acres of private land and an endless Mississippi riverfront, the Jaspers bought the jaw-dropping property in 2003.
Although it feels like you’re in the heart of the wilderness, Grey Cloud Island is bordered by Cottage Grove and St. Paul Park and is only 13 miles from downtown St. Paul.
“We could check everything off our list — it had it all,” Dave said.
Today the property is on the market for $1.595 million and includes an expanded 5,000-square-foot, five-bedroom house. A trail winds down to a dock where Dave ties up the pontoon to cruise down the river.
The 2,000-acre Grey Cloud Island is in Grey Cloud Island Township and falls within the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, a unit of the National Park Service.
The island also is home to abundant deer and wildlife and is known as a sacred site because of its large concentration of American Indian burial mounds.
Residents drive across bridges over Grey Cloud channel, to get from the mainland to the island. There’s about 125 homes on the island, according to the Washington County Historical Society. “Everyone knows each other and most people have lived here a very long time,” Dave said.
“It’s a hidden treasure,” said Re/Max agent Becky Varon, “and only 25 minutes from the airport.”
Joseph Shiely, who owned the J.L. Shiely gravel mining operation on the island, originally built the home for his family in 1977. Today the company is called Aggregate Industries.
When the Jaspers moved in, they discovered their new getaway wasn’t as magical as the setting.
There wasn’t enough space (or bedrooms) for the couple’s large family of adult children and grandchildren to stay over and celebrate holidays. And the garage was detached — a big drawback for our Minnesota climate.
To create private guest quarters, the Jaspers built a 1,500-square-foot addition and an attached two-car garage.
The new structure includes an apartment above the garage with two bedrooms, living room, full kitchen, bath and washer/dryer.
On the main floor, Dave built an artist studio and a glassed-wall greenhouse to cultivate orchids, which links the house to the addition.
Inside spaces are steeped in a rustic lodge vibe with vaulted-beamed ceilings and a massive wood-burning stone fireplace. Brazilian walnut floors and Western red cedar trim warm up the rooms. For in-floor heat comfort and energy savings, Dave installed a geothermal heating and cooling system. Low maintenance features include fiber cement siding and a metal roof.
On the grounds, there’s a swimming pool and hot tub for entertaining. Finally, Dave added a spacious wraparound deck to take in the rolling river curving north toward St. Paul.
He is retired and plans to downsize, and move to Minneapolis or St. Paul.
But city living will never compare to being surrounded by nature and the majestic Mississippi.
Mornings on the deck are especially serene, “when it’s really calm and the river is as flat as glass,” he said. “It’s a good place to meditate.”
Becky Varon of Re/Max Advantage Plus, 612-669-7772, has the listing.