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The Character of Saint Paul

One of the most striking elements of Saint Paul is the distinctive character of different neighborhoods. The city has been called: "17 small towns with one mayor." It seems as though you can cross a street and enter a whole different world, with each area brimming with pride over their own special niche of architecture, ambiance, and style. We’re in love with the whole city but have a particular soft spot for Cathedral Hill.

In order to understand Cathedral Hill, you have to know what predated it. For the first three decades or so of Saint Paul’s existence, the city was limited to what is now Downtown. Things started to get a bit cramped as the steamboat boom funneled more money into the city. And then the relatively short-lived steamboat era was replaced by a much larger and much more enduring railroad boom. Residents with extra cash wanted more space — and a better view. Thus, they moved on up.

Literally. Since Downtown was nestled at the bottom of a hill, it made sense to trek up the hill to take advantage of panoramic vistas and a lot more breathing room. (Looking for the best place to see the views that made the original residents fall in love? Check out the terrace at the University Club, perched right on top of the hill.)

The neighborhood gained traction in the 1870s. The grid-like organization of the streets contrasted with a somewhat — okay, a lot — more jumbled Downtown structure. Grand mansions, beautiful churches, and a whole lot of stone construction gave the hill an elegant, robust aesthetic. This was no hasty urban sprawl. That’s perhaps why many of the original buildings constructed in the late 19th and earliest 20th centuries still stand today. Built in 1879, the Dacotah Building (home of W.A. Frost) is a prime example of boom money that fueled durable construction. Eastern Summit Avenue still has many original properties whose owners continue to invest in this extraordinary neighborhood.