Railroad Island

Benjamin Brunson, a surveyor of Saint Paul in 1847, planned Brunson’s Addition in what is now lower Payne Avenue. The neighborhood had pleasing views of Trout Brook, Phalen Creek and downtown, because no railroads had yet cut through the area. The area is approximately 180 acres in size and is bounded by railroad tracks on the north and west, Swede Hollow Park on the east and East 7th Street on the south.

Railroad Island was one of a few early neighborhoods that developed just outside downtown Saint Paul in the 1850’s. Initially it attracted fairly prosperous residents who liked the views of Trout Brook to the west. As a result, many Victorian houses were built in the area in the late nineteenth century on Burr, Brunson, Minnehaha, Desoto, Mt. Ida, and other streets.

But with the arrival of railroads, with their noisy and smoky engines, many people decided to move to newer areas in the western part of the city. In fact, the encirclement of the neighborhood by several railroads is where it got its name.

As the elite left, the community slowly developed into a blue collar area. Historically, the majority of the housing in Railroad Island was single-family and owner-occupied. Many neighborhood residents worked at the nearby brewery, Whirlpool, 3-M, the railroads and other East Side businesses. When an major influx of Italian immigrants started around 1910, a large number of them came to Railroad Island. Many hailed from the Benevento region of Italy, near Naples.

There were a number of important Italian institutions that developed in the community. St. Ambrose Catholic Church was created to serve the Italian community and was headed up by Msgr Louis Pioletti for several decades. On St. Joseph’s Day the men carried statues through the streets. There were special feast days for St. Anthony, and Mary. In addition, there were numerous restaurants and other speciality shops in lower Payne Avenue.

In recent years, closings and employment cut-backs have taken jobs and, with them, economic and social stability from the neighborhood. Owner-occupied housing slowly converted to rental units which generally has resulted in a lower level of maintenance of the neighborhood's housing. However, there are still many homeowners who savor the historic homes in the area. Railroad is now quite diverse in its population but then, hasn’t it always been?

Images

Benjamin W. Brunson

Benjamin W. Brunson

Brunson was a surveyor of Saint Paul, who in 1847, planned Brunson's Addition in what is now lower Payne Avenue. Photographer: Joel Emmons Whitney Date: Approximately 1864 Image courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society View File Details Page

Children at Railroad Island

Children at Railroad Island

Date: Approximately 1940-49 Image courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society View File Details Page

St. Ambrose Church

St. Ambrose Church

Fiesta of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Date: August 15, 1927 Image courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society View File Details Page

Laying the cornerstone of new St. Ambrose Church

Laying the cornerstone of new St. Ambrose Church

Burr and Bradley Pictured from left to right: Louie Morelli, Bishop Byrne, Angelo Rulli, Louis F. Pioletti, and Father Pignatore Date: 1956 Image courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society View File Details Page

Monsignor Louis Pioletti

Monsignor Louis Pioletti

Pictured with Elizabeth Venditti (84), honored at the Columbus Memorial Association as oldest present charter member. Date: October 12, 1970 Image courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society View File Details Page

Goat cart and children on "Railroad Island"

Goat cart and children on "Railroad Island"

Pictured from left to right: Mary Richie, Carmel Richie, Bernice Richie, Frank Richie, and Richard Richie Date: Approximately 1905 Image courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society View File Details Page

Trout Brook

Trout Brook

Home of Edmund Rice, on Mississippi between Acker and Granite. Railroad Island was one of a few early neighborhoods that developed just outside downtown Saint Paul in the 1850's. Initially, it attracted fairly prosperous residents who liked the views of Trout Brook to the west. As a result, many Victorian houses were built in the area in the late nineteenth century on Burr, Brunson, Minnehaha, Desoto, Mt. Ida, and other streets. Date: Approximately 1880 Image courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Steve Trimble, “Railroad Island,” Saint Paul Historical, accessed June 28, 2017, http://saintpaulhistorical.com/items/show/292.

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