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Dayton's Bluff is a neighborhood located on the east side of the Mississippi River in the southeast part of the city of Saint Paul, Minnesota which has a large residential district on the plateau extending backward from its top. The name of the bluff commemorates Lyman Dayton, for whom a city in Hennepin County was also named. On the edge of the southern and highest part of Dayton's bluff, in Indian Mounds Park, is a series of seven large aboriginal mounds, 4 to 18 feet (1.2 to 5.5 m) high, that overlook the river and the central part of the city.
Dayton's Bluff contains remnants of the earliest inhabitants of the Twin Cities. The landmarks found in its historic district and the community around it tell the story. Indian Mounds Park preserves some of the burial sites of an early group that came to the area more than a thousand years ago.
Kaposia, a large Dakota Indian village, existed below Dayton's Bluff from the late seventeenth century until the mid-nineteenth century. Its residents lived along the river and performed their burial rites on the cliffs above. They were followed by the Metis (mixed bloods) and European-American farmers— often former Fort Snelling soldiers who tilled the land in the late 1830s and 1840s. The sacred site of Carver's Cave was destroyed by railroad construction in the 1880s.
The development of Dayton's Bluff as a “suburban” residential location began in the 1840s. The area was named for Lyman Dayton, an early pioneer real estate operator who owned extensive properties and built a home on the Bluff in the 1850s. The community became part of what historians call “the walking city” and was started so early that many of its streets were laid out parallel to the Mississippi River rather than in a north/south manner.
Feed, flour, and lumber mills were built in the area in the 1850s to take advantage of Phalen Creek as a source of water power. When a railroad was built north of East 7th Street in the late 1860s, more industries, including Hamm's Brewery, grew up along its corridor. Soon a railroad depot called “Post's Siding” was built at present-day Earl Street and East 7th Street, and a community of workers surrounded the industries. It was the start of what would be a long history of manufacturing in the community.
Because of its attractive landscape and scenic vistas, many wealthy residents chose to construct handsome estates on large lots. A sizeable group of prosperous German Americans clustered together. However, the Bluff was never an exclusive enclave of the rich. A St. Paul paper of the time noted that “in the eastern part of the city, on Dayton's Bluff . . . several hundred dwellings have been erected.” Most of the homes were “of the medium class, for the use of mechanics and employees of the numerous factories that are springing up.” The 1880s through the early 1900s was a time of prosperity. The streetcar arrived and the neighborhood expanded. New development, both commercial and residential, sprang up near the streetcar line, which went up East 7th Street and ended at Duluth Street. The era saw the arrival of new industries, including lumber companies, farm equipment companies, Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing (3M), and Seeger Refrigerator, which later became the Whirlpool Corporation.
In 1857, Lyman Dayton, a well-known land and railroad speculator from Vermont, platted his "Addition to St. Paul" on the eastern border of St. Paul. The area was separated from the early settlement along the river by a ravine that was first bridged and was then filled. The early developers of the area were named Burns, McLean, and Wakefield, and contributed their names to area streets. The area was separated from the early settlement along the river by a ravine, but inaccessibility did not deter Dayton and a handful of other businessmen who built large and costly houses. Farther to the south, beyond present day I-94 in the Mounds Park area, river-oriented residential development was also occurring. The earliest settlers had a spectacular view of the growth of the city at the Lower Levee and along East Seventh Street, and could see the building of the rail yards as they stretched along the river and up the Phalen Creek valley. As the blocks of "Dayton's Bluff" (as it came to be known) were developed, a sense of the steep, rolling terrain was retained. Houses crowned terraced hilltop sites, and porches and prominent windows were oriented towards views of distant river bluffs. Carpenters and masons used quality materials in their construction, and provided hardwood floors and trim, spacious rooms, and interesting architectural details at porches and rooflines.
In the 1860s and the 1870s, a number of Saint Paul businessmen built elaborate limestone houses along the bluff. These houses are long gone, but several old brick houses remain, and brick and stone are evident throughout the Dayton's Bluff historic district in foundations and in chimneys. Stone, brick, and concrete were also used for lintels, sills, and decorative trim. Wood building products, including siding, shingles, and decorative trim were used extensively by the nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century builders of Dayton's Bluff. Many of the historic windows of Dayton's Bluff have a double-hung sash and a vertical orientation. Most of the houses and rowhouses built in the Dayton's Bluff Historic District before 1920 had unenclosed front porches. The porch usually stretched across the full width of the front facade, but in some cases only covered the entry. A great variety of machine-made trim was added to even the simplest wooden houses of Dayton's Bluff, while iron, cast iron, terra cotta, tile, and brick also can be seen.
Dayton was born in Southington, Connecticut, and died in St. Paul. He came to Minnesota in 1849, settled in St. Paul, invested largely in real estate, and was the president of the Lake Superior and Mississippi Railroad. The Lake Superior and Mississippi Railroad Company was incorporated under Minnesota legislation enacted in 1861 and received grants of lands approved by the U.S. General Land Office for transfer. Gates A. Johnson, Sr., (1826–1918) was the chief engineer of the Lake Superior and Mississippi Railroad Company from 1861 to 1870 and was the St. Paul City Engineer in 1860, the Ramsey County surveyor from 1864 to 1866, and the chief engineer of the Hastings, Minnesota River and Red River of the North Railroad Company in 1866. William L. Banning (1814–1893) was the president of the Lake Superior and Mississippi Railroad Company in 1866. William Branch & Company was engaged in surveying and construction on the Lake Superior & Mississippi Railroad from 1865 to 1869.
Modern Dayton's Bluff
Dayton's Bluff is one of St. Paul's undiscovered cultural resources. Beginning as a fashionable residential locale for the wealthy, it evolved in the early 1880s into a suburb of broad social and economic diversity; a place for every man (and woman) to build his house and watch the world grow up around him. That world was made up of breweries and railroads and their workers, carpenters and masons, janitors, grocers and teachers, all with growing families; and interspersed among these, a mix of clerks, salesmen and managers that collected at dawn along Third Street for their daily assault on the heart of the city.
Many of the original homes still stand today and have already celebrated their one-hundredth birthday. The current interest in the revitalization of Dayton's Bluff focuses largely on the fine older buildings which are the record of the area's long history.
The Dayton's Bluff Historic District was approved by the St. Paul City Council in August, 1992. The creation of the Historic District recognizes the historical and architectural significance of this early St. Paul neighborhood and is an important part of neighborhood revitalization in St. Paul's District 4.
Dayton's Bluff was named "The Best Undiscovered Neighborhood" by the local publication, City Pages, in 2010. Their publication stated:
Like northeast Minneapolis a decade or two ago, Dayton's Bluff is a neighborhood in transformation. As places like the Strip Club and Swede Hollow Café bring patrons to the other side of downtown St. Paul, people are getting exposed to the history, beauty, diversity, and culture of the neighborhood. Sitting high on land that overlooks the Mississippi River, Dayton's Bluff is full of gorgeous historic properties—Queen Anne Victorians, brownstones, and brick manors—available at a fraction of the price of many other city neighborhoods. The area is within walking distance of the St. Paul Farmers' Market and Mears Park, and is home to Swede Hollow Park, Indian Mounds Park, and the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary and Regional Trails. The Bluff also has a wealth of food culture. Italian, Salvadoran, Mexican, Hmong, Vietnamese, and Thai restaurants and markets, along with several incredible taco trucks, make the area a food-geek paradise. The neighborhood is also known for the intense community involvement of residents, evidenced by the multitude of programs promoting neighborhood improvement in the arts, housing, employment, and education. Recently the nonprofit Historic St. Paul reserved money for renovating many of the facades of the businesses on East Seventh Street, and it has started the Fourth Street Preservation Project to help homebuyers renovate, as a way to further preserve and beautify this picturesque neighborhood.—Editors, City Pages
First plotted out to rival Summit Hill as a home to the rich and mighty. While it never reached the glory of its rival it nevertheless was left architectural treasures and inspiring views of the Mississippi River.
A famous house in the Dayton's Bluff area is the Wakefield House or the William Wakefield house located at 963 Wakefield Avenue, Saint Paul, Minnesota. The whole block is named after the house and is centered around it. There are two alleys for the one block that dead-end into the house. The house was built in 1860, and the name of the street was changed in 1892. The house is set farther back then the other houses on the street, so that it is hard to view from the street. The house has been restored so that its appearance is reminiscent of its past glory. The current owners offer 1800s-style parties, including tea parties.
The Schornstein Grocery and Saloon, designed by architect Augustus F. Gauger, was built in 1884. It was a popular gathering place for German Americans, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
- A Walk Through The HistoricThird Street Neighborhood
- Kunz, Virginia Brainard. Saint Paul: The First One Hundred and Fifty Years. Bookmen. p. 52. ISBN 0-9630690-0-4.
- "Best Undiscovered Neighborhood - 2010 - Dayton's Bluff". Best of 2010. City Pages.
- "William Wakefield house, 963 Wakefield Avenue, Saint Paul, Minnesota".
- Hess, Jeffrey A.; Paul Clifford Larson. St. Paul's Architecture: A History. University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 978-0816635917.
- Nord, Mary Ann (2003). The National Register of Historic Places in Minnesota. Minnesota Historical Society. ISBN 0-87351-448-3.
- "Schornstein Grocery and Saloon". Saint Paul Historical. Retrieved 2013-10-11.