Frogtown once had a mansion district along University and Sherburne avenues, near today’s state capitol. The mansions of some of Saint Paul’s richest and most powerful people looked out over the downtown area.
One mansion owner was William Merriam, who would go on to serve as governor from 1889 to 1893. His brick mansion was built on University just east of Cedar Street in 1882. The three-story mansion featured multiple porches, balconies and fireplaces.
But his father John would build a larger and grander mansion in 1887, at the northeast corner of University and Cedar. The Richardson Romanesque mansion towered over the neighborhood. It was three stories tall, built of reddish brown and pink sandstone. It had a huge entry arch leading onto a huge front porch. The porch had a detailed and beautiful terrace. The house also had a big stone tower with a pointed roof, a large third-floor arch opening onto a balcony and many ornate details. One detail many neighborhood children remembered was a winged dog on the right front corner of the roof.
The house was also very beautiful inside. One newspaper account described it as a “palace.”
The Merriams were leaders in politics, business and banking in St. Paul. Merriam Park neighborhood, where they were involved in development, is named for them.
John Merriam would only live in his grand mansion for eight years. He passed away in 1895. His window tried to give the house to the state as a governor’s mansion in 1905 but the state wasn’t interested. The St. Paul Institute, forerunner to the Science Museum of Minnesota, bought the house in 1927 and used it as a museum for many years. The state bought the property in 1959 and demolished it after the museum moved out in 1964. The state administration building occupies the site today.