Saint Paul: History

River Fort Draws Traders, Settlers

Jonathan Carver, a New Englander, was attempting to find a northwest passage to the Pacific Ocean in the winter of 1766 when he stopped near the future site of Saint Paul, where he discovered a Native American burial ground (now known as Indian Mound Park). When the Louisiana Purchase became part of United States territory in 1803, federally-financed expeditions explored the new territory, which included present-day Saint Paul. In 1805 Lieutenant Zebulon M. Pike camped on an island later named Pike Island and entered into an unofficial agreement with the Sioux tribe for land at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers; also included in the pact was land that became the site of Fort Snelling.

In 1819, Colonel Henry Leavenworth built an army post on the Minnesota River on a spot named Mendota south of present-day Saint Paul; the next year the fortress was moved across the river where Colonel Josiah Snelling constructed Fort Anthony, which was later renamed Fort Snelling. The presence of the fort allowed an Indian agency, fur trading post, missionaries, and white settlers to gain a foothold there. Settlers living on federal land were eventually expelled, and Pierre "Pig's Eye" Parrant, a French Canadian, joined others in building a settlement named after Parrant's colorful nickname near Fort Snelling. In 1841, Father Lucian Galtier named a log chapel in Pig's Eye after his patron saint, Saint Paul, and persuaded others to accept the name for their emerging community, as well.

Saint Paul was platted in 1847; two years later it was named the capital of the Minnesota Territory and incorporated as a town. Saint Paul received its city charter in 1854 and when Minnesota became a state in 1858, the city retained its status as state capital. By the start of the Civil War, 10,000 people lived in Saint Paul.

Rail Transport and New Residents Shape City

Two men had major roles in the development of Saint Paul in the post-Civil War period. The railroad magnate James J. Hill used the city and the Great Northern Railroad to accumulate great individual wealth and to wield immense political power. Hill envisioned his adopted city of Saint Paul as the base for an empire in the northwest, built on his railroad holdings. The other major influence on Saint Paul's development was Catholic Archbishop John Ireland, a native of Ireland who settled in Saint Paul at the age of fourteen and, as an adult, established a religious base for community endeavors. He brought thousands of destitute Irish families to Saint Paul, where they relocated in colonies and started a new life. The Catholic influence in the shaping of Saint Paul can be traced to the pioneering efforts of Archbishop Ireland. Another notable figure who called Saint Paul home is F. Scott Fitzgerald.

In the nineteenth century a number of distinct population groups contributed to the character of Saint Paul. One was from the New England states and New York; these transplanted Easterners brought their educational values and business experiences to the prairie community. Another consisted of immigrants from Germany and Ireland who flocked to the United States by the tens of thousands. Among the professional groups were German physicians and Irish politicians and lawyers. German musical traditions and beer-making practices found a new home in Saint Paul. Scandinavians also immigrated to the city, but in fewer numbers than those who settled in neighboring Minneapolis.

In the twentieth century, Saint Paul erected fine buildings like the state capitol and developed many cultural institutions, including theaters; a notable peace monument in the concourse of the city hall; the state historical society building, containing a museum and library; and the Saint Paul Arts and Science Center. Saint Paul is also home to many educational institutions. Although its Twin City, Minneapolis, surpassed Saint Paul shortly before the turn of the twentieth century as the larger, wealthier, industrially more powerful of the two cities, Saint Paulites believe their city possesses more character and charm. Contributing to that charm are a good symphony orchestra and the stately mansions of former railroad and timber barons along Summit Avenue.

Historical Information: Minnesota History Center, 345 Kellogg Blvd W., Saint Paul, MN 55102; telephone (651)296-6126