Cathedral Hill

The best place to begin an exploration of Cathedral Hill is where Summit Avenue and Selby Avenue meet. This is the edge of what St. Paul’s early residents called St. Anthony Hill. The site offers one of the city’s best views: to the north, the Capitol; to the east, downtown below and Dayton’s Bluff in the distance; and to the southeast, Cherokee Heights. The observer blessed with imagination may see it as it was before transformed by the human hand: the tree-lined river gorge, the great turn of the river to the south, low hills rising on the left, white cliffs, sandbars in the channel, wetlands and woods where downtown now stands, and prairie in the distance.

For its first 30 years or so what is now downtown WAS St. Paul. Eventually, however, people with means looked to higher ground – airier, less crowded, and more pleasant. And so, starting in the 1870s, a neighborhood we now call Cathedral Hill began to take shape: big houses, fine stone buildings, and lovely churches organized on a comprehensible grid - so different from the starts, stops, and diagonals of downtown.

Much of the original elegance of the late 19th century remains. This tour, readily walkable for most people, covers over 50 years of time, from 1863 to 1915, or perhaps 150, right to today. It includes one of the city's oldest buildings, still in use, and one of its most elegant, an emblem of historic preservation.

Selby Avenue: An Introduction

Since 1840, St. Paul has taken on different identities: frontier hamlet, steamboat burg, provincial capital, and railroad boomtown. These transformations have left their marks all over town. Nowhere can one see them better than on Cathedral Hill,…

Cathedral of Saint Paul

Completed in 1915, The Cathedral of St. Paul was the creation of Archbishop John Ireland, architect Emmanuel Masqueray, and the mostly anonymous artists, craftsmen, masons, stonecutters, laborers, and citizen contributors. It is 306 feet high with a…

Virginia Street Swedenborgian Church

Built in 1886, the Swedenborgian Church was designed by Cass Gilbert, the St. Paul architect who later became famous for the Minnesota State Capitol, the Woolworth Building in New York, and the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington D.C. This was…

Dacotah Building (W.A. Frost)

St. Paul began as a steamboat town, but that era lasted barely 30 years. Railroads, and the boom in population and prosperity that they brought, made St. Paul into a city. As the city outgrerw the downtown bowl, those with means moved up, literally,…

The Blair Flats

The first stop of the westbound Selby Avenue streetcar after emerging from the tunnel was at the corner of Selby and Western. It made that corner desirable as a business address. And there was a time in the late 19th century when prosperous people,…

St. Joseph's Academy

The building at the southeast corner of the site, finished in 1863, is one of the city's oldest, and the oldest outside of downtown. The story goes back even further, to St. Paul's second decade. In 1851 four nuns of the Sisters of St.…