Located in the North End neighborhood, Rice Street began as a commercial corridor that served St. Paul’s working class. Rice Street is unassuming; when it was rushed into being, more than a century ago, there was no time for ornamentation or ostentation.
Despite its utilitarian appearance, Rice Street has a character that is unique to the street and the North End. A trip along Rice Street reveals a rich neighborhood history with ethnic and working class roots. Rice Street was and is a street that works.
The street takes its name from Henry Rice (1816-1894) who came to St. Paul via the fur trade. Rice settled here in 1849 and quickly made a fortune, chieﬂy in real estate.
Then he went into politics, eventually becoming one of Minnesota’s ﬁrst U.S. senators (1857-63). Rice served as a regent of the University of Minnesota, president of the Minnesota Historical Society, and treasurer of Ramsey County.
As you walk north on Rice Street from University, there is a mixture of religious and commercial buildings, some of which are a remnant of a small Romanian community, which made a striking contribution to the street’s landscape. Both the St. Mary’s Romanian Orthodox Church and St. Bernard’s Church have their roots in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
As a streetcar route, Rice Street was once home to twenty-four grocers, butchers, confectioners, and bakers operating between Atwater Street and Maryland Avenue. Though less than half of the original commercial buildings still stand, Rice has few vacant lots or empty storefronts. The best place to catch a glimpse of the Rice Street of old is at the southern end, starting at Atwater Street and looking north. Here, nearer downtown, more old structures survived than on the northern stretches. These blocks were also home to some of Rice’s longest-lasting enterprises.
St. Paul’s historic Oakland cemetery is another site worthy of a visit in the Rice Street area. With roots going back to 1853, this non-denominational cemetery was designed with aesthetics in mind. Notable features include St. Paul’s firefighter’s memorial, the Soldier’s rest and contains the graves of such prominent Minnesotans as former Governor Ramsey, Henry Sibley and Henry Rice himself.
Rice St. continues to thrive and buzz with much the same activity as it had since in it’s street car days and is a vibrant connection between St. Paul and the surrounding communities.