The story of Dayton’s Bluff begins on top of the bright white cliffs over-looking St. Paul, where the great Mississippi River cut hundreds of feet downwards into the sedimentary rock, forming the bluffs. This natural landmark attracted the first inhabitants who built burial mounds that can still be found upon this sacred site. Later, the Dakota would call the area Imniza Ska, meaning white cliff and their large seasonal village of Kaposia could be found just down river.
This bluff also stands on top of the sacred Wakan Tipi cave or “Dwelling of the Great Mystery” later called Carver's Cave, after Jonathan Carver, the first British explorer to visit and witness the impressive site.
Soon after the coming of the first explorers, and the U.S. achieved independence, other immigrants began to arrive, including fur traders and soldiers from Fort Snelling.
Claims were made, farming land was established and homes were built atop the bluff, by wealthy speculators such as Lyman Dayton and his wife Maria, for whom the area is named.
Before the railroad cut through a portion of Carver’s cave and filled the land below, the area was a vast swamp that separated it from downtown St. Paul, before bridges connected these two points. Phalen Creek, which fed this swamp, attracted many of the first flour, feed and lumber mills and here working-class neighborhoods grew.
The 1860's saw the growth of German and Irish communities, and businesses, churches and cultural institutions began to flourish. The wealthier began to build large houses higher on the hills - the most prominent being the Hamm’s mansion which overlooked his large brewery below.
Industries like the Hamm’s Brewery and the railroad provided new economic opportunities for the waves of immigrants coming into the area. Neighborhoods like Swede Hollow and Connemara Patch, separated by the 7th Street improvement arches, flourished along the Phalen Creek Ravine.
Soon, businesses like 3M and Whirlpool brought additional economic prosperity and housing flourished, up and beyond the ravine.
While Phalen Creek has since been placed underground and many of the mansions that topped the bluff no longer stand, much of Dayton’s bluff remains the same.
Today, Dayton’s Bluff is alive with vibrant insitutions like Metro State University and a more recent immigrant population that continues to build the character of the East Side of St. Paul.
But at any moment, you can travel back...
As you walk the bluff you can imagine the first indigenous peoples looking out across the marshy valley and vast river below, see yourself as an original pioneer hunting deer and meeting with the Dakota people, listen to the steamboat whistles and chugging locomotives coming up from the river valley, and watch the first aeroplane fly over the light tower, as you look down, seeing St. Paul for what it truly is, a gateway to our past and our future, flowing with the ever running river current below.