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, to higher ground and away from the clatter and smoke of the riverfront. Money follows money, so as people came to Cathedral Hill, businesses followed.
The Richardsonian Romanesque Dacotah builing went up in 1879 at a cost of $70,000. The following year the Newfoundland-born, New York educated W.A. Frost arrived in the city and set up a pharmacy downtown. He moved the business to the Dacotah a few years later. Frost had a long and distinguised career and was one of the creators of the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy. He operated the business and lived in the neighborhood until his death in 1930.
The pharmacy carried on for another 20 years, under Oscar Nordrum, but closed in 1950. The Cathedral Hill area went into a long decline, with aging buildings, little new investment, and, starting around 1970, a rapid decline in population. Many fine old buildings around the city tumbled, and this one might have too.
But where many saw blight, a few saw opportunity. The Rupp family bought the Dacotah in 1974 and opened – an act of faith! – W.A. Frost bar and restaurant in 1975. This was one of the first, and bravest, acts of private preservation in the city. It turned out to be a harbinger of the revival of Cathedral Hill as a whole. W.A. Frost has thrived now for nearly 40 years. The interior is wonderfully restored, with period fixtures and furnishings brought in from near and far.