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St. Paul: a View of the Past, and Bold Predictions of the Future

St. Paul and the Mississippi River. This viewpoint is looking northwest with Dayton's Bluff in the background. Raspberry Island sits in the foreground. Population, 1,500.

St. Paul, capital city of Minnesota, has one of the most interesting early histories of any city in the region. From it's geography, to Native history, to a settler with a great nickname, and ultimately to a city shaped by the industrial revolution, St. Paul was always destined to be a major player in the upper Midwest. It makes sense to briefly walk through the history of the city, and reflect on some of the visions the city had for it's future back in 1886.

There is not a great starting point for this story, so I will kick us off with a brief geology lesson of the region. During the last ice age, St. Paul and by extension most of Minnesota was covered by an enormous glacial ice sheet. The pressure of the ice cut into the land, leaving behind icy deposits that eventually melted and formed kettle lakes throughout much of the state as well as present day St. Paul such as Lake Phalen and Lake Como. As the ice sheet continued to melt, the surge of water draining away from the glacier carved deep and wide gorges where present day Minnesota and Mississippi rivers meet. The high bluffs along each side of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers in this area are result of glacial runoff.

Anthropologists can date the first human history in the area to about roughly 1,500 to 2,000 years ago. The Hopewell Native Americans were the first to inhabit the area for it's plentiful access to resources. They chose a high bluff east of present day downtown St. Paul as a resting place for their dead in the form of burial mounds. These burial mounds exist today as Indian Mounds Regional Park. These burial mounds built over several decades remind us of the diverse people and cultures that flourished in St. Paul long before European settlers arrived in the area in the 1800s.

The land to the east of the Mississippi river fell into the hands of the United States in 1787 with the expansion of the Northwest Territory. All land to the west of the Mississippi quickly followed suit in 1803 via the Louisiana Purchase. in 1805, the Mdewakanton Dakota transferred 100,000 acres of land to the U.S. Government in the form of Pike's Purchase. This land was used to establish Fort Snelling as a military outpost to protect the territory from a potential British invasion via the Mississippi river to the north. By 1837, The U.S. Government annexed even more land from the Mdewakanton and other Native American tribes throughout Minnesota in a series of disproportionately unfair treaties in 1837.

The first settlement by European immigrants in St. Paul occurred in 1838 when two men settled near a bend in the Mississippi river about four miles downstream from Bdote, where the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers converge. The first settler, known as Pierre "Pig's Eye" Parrant, was a French fur trader who settled and opened a saloon that welcomed Native Americans, trappers, and traders passing through the area. The second settler opened a nearby farmstead on a bluff overlooking the river valley. By the early 1840s, a few dozen settlers erected homesteads along a single dirt road next to the saloon. The villagers first adopted the name "Pig's Eye" for their village as homage to Parrant. For four years the village was known to locals as "Pig's Eye" until the catholic chapel of St. Paul was opened. The missionary assigned to open the chapel convinced the villagers that the name "St. Paul" would attract more businesses and grow the community more than "Pig's Eye". The villagers agreed, and St. Paul became the formal name of the burgeoning community. Today, you can still find Parrant's namesake in the form of Pig's Eye Lake to the southeast of downtown St. Paul.

Not much was to be said about St. Paul until about 1847. In this year, the first survey of the town site was conducted. Later that same year, the territory of Minnesota formed a governing body with the arrival of Governor Alexander Ramsey. With the organization of the government, Between 1860 and 1885, St. Paul's population blossomed over twelve fold from 10,000 to 120,000. With the massive growth of the city came industry, factories, brownstone apartment buildings, dwellings, opulent houses, a downtown core, churches, schools, and colleges. St. Paul was touted as being "one of the most handsome and solidest looking cities in the United States. Evidences of prosperity are apparent on every street - in fact, in every block - and strangers who come here invariably pronounce it the wonder of the nineteenth century." (The St. Paul Globe, December 25, 1886).

A view of St. Paul from nearby Dayton's Bluff. Population: 120,000.

In truth, St. Paul had all the tools in its tool belt to be a successful major city in the United States. The City Beautiful Movement took hold, leading to beautification projects and the development of extensive public services. By 1885 St. Paul had 28 public parks, state and city libraries, opera and playhouses, over 80 churches and 30 public schoolhouses, public markets, six colleges, city ordinances to beautify office buildings in the downtown district, a burgeoning streetcar public transit system, four daily newspapers and dozens of weekly newsletters.

The prominent parks in the city at this time being Como, Rice, Irving, Central, Lafayette, Merriam, St. Anthony, and Smith. a summer series of concerts occurred at Rice, Summit, and Central parks. To this day, St. Paul still has an outdoor summer series of concerts in their many parks.

The St. Paul Globe building was a pioneering example of the City Beautiful Movement. The newspaper quickly outgrew its first headquarters built in 1883 at 17 Wabasha Street. With need for more office space, The Globe sought to make it's presence in St. Paul a powerful one. Erected on the corner of Cedar and Fourth Streets in 1887, the Globe's second headquarters was a proud landmark of St. Paul. At ten stories high, the Globe building housed all of the newspaper's employees as well as additional office space for other businesses. The Globe opened its sister office in Minneapolis in 1889 at 22 S. Fourth Street. For a time, the Globe buildings were the tallest structures in Minneapolis and St. Paul until their demolitions in 1958 and 1959, respectively. In St. Paul the Degree of Honor building - a nondescript cube of glass and concrete - was completed in 1961 on the grounds that the St. Paul Globe Building once stood. Like most of the great architecture of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in St. Paul and Minneapolis, aging Romanesque Revival style buildings were out of favor and were prime targets for the Urban Renewal act of the 1950s and 1960s.

The Little Sibling Complex

By the 1880s, St. Paul was attempting to rival their objectively larger competitor, Chicago. St. Paul boasted that the birth and growth of the city "reads more like a fairy story or a romance than a truthful recital of facts." (The St. Paul Globe, December 25, 1886). St. Paul even went as far as claiming that their future would be much brighter and even more promising than it's adversary on the shores of Lake Michigan (not you, Milwaukee). The Globe touted that "it's not a dream, but a reality that by 1910, St. Paul will not only equal Chicago in size and importance, but surpass it."

Objectively, there were several things that contributed to Chicago's Midwest dominance: it's prominence as a shipping port, it's location as a crossroads and railroad hub for the United States, and it's control of the lumber, grain, and livestock industries. Regardless, St. Paul had a logical business case that it could cut into some of Chicago's dominant industries.

By the late 1800s St. Paul's railroad network was fast building, roads were being constructed to connect St. Paul to other nearby communities, the city was quickly securing business contracts thus becoming a rivaling commercial center to it's adversary to the southeast, and St. Paul had already shattered the monopoly that Chicago had for decades - the livestock and meatpacking industry.

By the late 1800s, St. Paul became the largest railroad hub in the upper Midwest.

The development of the live stock industry in 1886 in South St. Paul was a practical business decision - there was no sense in shipping livestock from Minnesota to Chicago; having it slaughtered, dressed, and packed, then shipped back up to Minnesota.

South St. Paul plotted land for business development, railroad tycoon Alpheus Beede Stickney quickly purchased the land to create the St. Paul Union Stockyard Company. This company quickly became the livestock center of the upper Midwest. The location of the stockyard was on the main line of the Minnesota & Northwestern railway, lying directly on the west bank of the Mississippi river roughly five miles south-southeast of downtown St. Paul. Erected at the stock yard was a pork packing house, hog killing house, lard refinery, beef killing house, smokehouse, ice houses, and 36 miles of transfer rails.

An aerial sketch of the St. Paul Union Stockyard Company plans in South St. Paul, 1886.

By 1886, the Stockyards Exchange Building was erected. Constructed of brick and Minnesota limestone, this building was 60 by 100 feet and four stories high and contained principal offices for the stockyard. With the quick development of the stockyard industry, local businessmen established the city of South St. Paul in 1887.

The Stockyards Exchange Building. The building is still in used today for weddings and events.

The St. Paul Union Stockyard Company employed tens of thousands of laborers and was a pioneering force in the economy of St. Paul and the surrounding area for over a century. Today, all that remains of the St. Paul Union Stockyard Company is the Stockyards Exchange Building and the entrance gates to the stockyards. The rest of the area has been redeveloped for light industrial usage.

All that remains of the entrance to the St. Paul Union Stockyards. Located at the intersection of Armour Avenue and Hardman Avenue in South St. Paul (courtesy of Google Maps).

In truth, St. Paul did pose a threat to Chicago's economy in the late 1800s, St. Paul was bold enough to claim by 1919 it would be the larger and more powerful of the two cities, but the former never surpassed the latter in terms of population nor economy. St. Paul did become a powerhouse in its own right in the industries of grain, livestock & meatpacking, lumber & logging, banking, and logistics. Duluth and Sault Ste. Marie simultaneously chipped away at Chicago's market share as great lakes shipping ports. Businesses quickly learned that shipping products to St. Paul via Duluth's port was faster and more profitable than shipping products and goods to Chicago with a final destination of St. Paul.

Move over, Chicago.

With the success of the stockyards and other industries of St. Paul came the development of land opposite of St. Paul on the southern bank of the Mississippi. Confusingly, much of the land south of St. Paul was established as the city of West St. Paul. West St. Paul grew as the first suburb when the Minnesota & Northwestern railroad established their railyards and depot within its city limits.

In 1886, The Globe claimed that West St. Paul was projected to grow their population to 75,000 by the year 1919 (today, its population is just under 20,000). Plans were made to span bridges over the Mississippi every two blocks to increase connection and communication between the two cities. In actuality, only three bridges were built to connect the two: Smith Avenue (colloquially known as the St. Paul High Bridge), Wabasha Street, and Robert Street bridges. Decades later, Highway 52 was built across the Mississippi connecting St. Paul to it's southern neighbors.

During these times, St. Paul and West St. Paul knew they had to enlist a strong public works department to keep pace with their rapidly growing cities. St. Paul especially was known for having one of the finest and most extensive public works systems in the country. In 1886, 673 fire hydrants were in use across the city, 86 miles of water main pipes were located under the streets. Water was sourced from two local lakes - Lake Phalen and Vadnais Lake. These two lakes are situated in the hills above the river valley in which the city is located and naturally made sense as water sources. With the city's aspiration to grow it's population to 500,000 by 1919, plans were in store to tap water from more distant lakes to the north such as Bald Eagle, Forest, Rice, Amelia, and Pleasant Lakes.

Fires were a common occurrence in the nineteenth century, thus St. Paul employed an extensive fire department. St. Paul's fire department employed 159 firefighters, 77 horses, 14 supply wagons, nine hose carriages, eight steam engines, seven chemical suppressant engines, and four hook and ladder trucks.

In addition to the fire department, St. Paul had a sizeable police force of 160 officers. In 1886, 4,692 arrests were made (405 of which were female arrests). The city police established a telephone service in 1880, by 1886, the police received 3,337 calls.

A View of the Past, and Bold Predictions of the Future

Pictured center is the St. Paul Globe Building. Equipped with an elevated train spanning north, south, east, and west. Atop several buildings are air balloons for travel. In the foreground are pneumatic tubes for travel.

The writers at The St. Paul Globe had high aspirations for what the city would look like by the year 1919. One writer went as far as to predict, "when the Globe moves into its new ten-story building at Fourth and Cedar streets in 1887, a ten-story building was looked upon then as a curiosity; [by 1919] it is considered a very ordinary structure. [By 1919] there will be hundreds of buildings now that go above that in the number of stories. In 1886, Fifteenth was the highest number of the street blocks: [in 1919] we will have One Hundred and Ninety-fifth street." They also estimated that nearly 40 bridges would span across the Mississippi river connecting St. Paul to it's surrounding suburbs.

A few of The Globe's bold predictions for the year 1919 truly came to fruition - at least the suggestions of suburbanization certainly did. The Globe predicted that in 1919, St. Paul's street grid would expand northwards to White Bear Lake, and that cities would surround St. Paul 15 miles in each direction. In 1886, St. Paul and Minneapolis were distinctly separate cities. The Globe stated that "it was considered the vision of a dreamer when any one intimated that the cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis would be built out to the point where the cities would flow into one another." Macalester, St. Thomas, and Hamline universities were very much out in the boonies in 1886. By 1919 much like the Globe suggested, St. Paul expanded its city borders to the eastern bank of the Mississippi. Conversely, Minneapolis city borders expanded to the western bank of the Mississippi, the two cities flowingly seamlessly together.

There were very idealist dreams for Greater Minnesota too. It was believed that cities would boom in population across Minnesota, and would become as densely settled as New England. Predictions were bold: Duluth would boom to a city of 400,000; Winona, 70,000; Stillwater, 60,000; Mankato, 45,000; and Brainerd at 30,000. Of course, some of these cities have reached or passed these population metrics today. Furthermore, it was believed that web of sonic-speed pneumatic tubes would connect every city in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and the Dakota together. for ¢5, one could travel from St. Paul to Duluth in a few minutes. That certainly beats the two hour drive up interstate 35.

For more far-flung travels, you could just hop on an air balloon. It was estimated that by 1919, an air balloon ride from St. Paul to New York City could be completed in under a day's time. Scratch the idea of airports, "balloon depots" would be the premier transit hubs in every downtown.

If the pneumatic tubes weren't good enough, St. Paul was predicted to have built three underground and elevated subway lines by 1919. These subway lines were to connect St. Paul to Stillwater, White Bear Lake, Minneapolis, Hopkins, and Excelsior. Then, elevated train lines connecting the top of buildings to each other would be established for quicker business travel.

The Globe even predicted an idea that we are familiar with today: the skyway. The Globe predicted, "the new order of things in the way of sidewalks is being rapidly introduced on the principal streets, and is creating quite a revolution. The streets are given over to vehicles and sidewalks are erected on a level with the second floor, where the entrances to the stores are located."

For the few things that The St. Paul Globe got right about the future - most of the predictions for 1919 never came to be. St. Paul never passed Chicago in population or global importance; Duluth, Winona, Brainerd, nor West St. Paul grew to their lofty population expectations; pneumatic tube and commercialized hot air balloon travel certainly never happened; and as much as I would love to hop on the subway from St. Paul to Stillwater for some drinks next to the St. Croix, Uber is still your best bet.

Nevertheless, St. Paul still serves as an extremely important city for the region. As second largest city in the state, St. Paul serves as a center of commerce, politics, and culture for Minnesota. The city is still home to several prestigious universities, maintains beautiful city parks, and has a network of fantastic historical buildings from the time of The Globe's 1886 puff piece.

The Globe's lofty predictions about itself becoming the premier news source for the upper Midwest never came to be, either. By 1896, The Globe was purchased by James J. Hill, the paper become a political tool to voice his business interests. The last ten years of the Globe's history saw a downward spiral starting with it's leadership. Four different individuals (one individual twice) served as chief editor of The Globe. During this time the editors tried new ways to keep their paper relevant and interesting. Photographs began to replace illustrations, typeface was bolded for added emphasis, editorials became longer and more grandiose, and the formatting of the paper was under constant experimentation and change.

The Globe's floundering came as a shock to the public. To the reader, The Globe was a cutting edge, lively paper with roughly 40,000 copies in daily circulation in 1905. However, the constant internal struggles to modernize and make changes to The Globe - along with James J. Hill's continued interference with the paper to carry on his propaganda was the first nail in the coffin. The second nail came in the form of growing size and increased circulation numbers, which involved higher costs that advertising revenue couldn't keep pace with. Advertising space in the paper had fallen below 20% by 1905, down from about 30% just seven years prior.

On April 20, 1905, The Globe ran it's last headline in an announcement that it was ceasing all operations. Readers were urged to move their business to other local newspapers such as the Minneapolis Tribune, and printing equipment was sold off to other companies. James J. Hill made the decision to shutter The St. Paul Globe rather than sell it to a potential owner he may not approve of.

Several cases can be made as to why The Globe failed when it still maintained a popular reading choice amongst the public. In part, the writing was on the wall when Hill continuously interfered with The Globe On the other hand, The Globe was one of many newspapers that folded in the early 1900s, ultimately failing in it's journey due to rising costs of overhead and an inability to transition to a modern metropolitan news source for St. Paul and Minneapolis.


"A Chapter of History Illustrated" St. Paul Globe. December 25, 1886.

"Globe." Lileks, J. Minneapolis: Long Gone. March 14, 2014.

"The Twins!" St. Paul Globe. May 1, 1887.

“The Story of the St. Paul Globe.” Weber, Herbert Y. Minnesota History, vol. 39, no. 8, 1965, pp. 327–34.

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