West End: River and Rail Commerce

Infrastructure and commercial development proceeded rapidly, supported by the intense river trade that brought all kinds of goods and people to the area. River commerce that seemed invulnerable was really at the start of its long decline and defeat at the hands of the railroads. Riverboat companies and their commercial advocates ashore managed to convince the Federal Government to undertake an escalating series of river channel improvements from 1866 to 1925. By 1925, when the six- and nine-foot channels were being developed, only one riverboat service remained, while 23 railroads hauled passengers and freight every which way.

In the 1870s, railroads also began to offer local passenger service to developing areas outside the city core. These “railroad suburbs” provided land developers with a new field for marketing property. A Short Line from downtown Saint Paul to Minneapolis had a station at Grace and Oneida, which helped open that part of the West End to development. With local streetcar lines expanding from horse-drawn to fully electrified by the 1890s and reaching Fort Snelling on the West 7th route, the Summit Hill neighborhood became more attractive for community leaders to build their personal palaces. As a result, Irvine Park and Uppertown lost their early cachet, and many of their large mansions were converted to rentals.

Origins of City House

Farmers and their allies supported improving the river’s shipping capacity once it became clear that railroad dominance meant higher shipping rates. The Equity Co-operative Exchange was formed in 1911 and built its first grain elevators on the…