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Minnesota Historical Society Podcast Tours

February 28, 2009

001.01 - Summit Avenue Walking Tour: Introduction

Filed under: Summit Avenue — admin @ 8:18 am

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Welcome to Summit Avenue. An impressive street filled with impressive homes - as well as some fabulous greenspaces and beautiful churches. We’ll begin in the little park, known as Lookout Park, on the corner of Summit, between Western and Arundel. Once we get moving, I’ll let you know when we’re going to move onto the next stop, what the address of that stop will be, and mention anything else you might want to notice as you walk along. Just press pause whenever you need a little time and follow along with the map. Remember, this tour moves geographically, not chronologically. The houses that you see on Summit today are a mixture of styles and eras. They were built between 1860 and 1960, so don’t fool yourself - in some cases, neighbors would have had to step over the hydrangeas and through a time warp to borrow that cup of sugar.

If you’re in the park, I’ll let you in on a little history secret. The park where we’re standing, known as Lookout Park, has been a public park since the late 1800s -in fact, this was one of the first public parks in St. Paul. However, around one hundred and fifty years ago, a hotel was built into the side of the hill - Carpenter’s Hotel. St. Paul was the head of the navigable part of the Mississippi River, so many people getting off the steamboats needed a place to stay. But this hotel, away from the river, might have been more of a destination, overlooking the river valley below. By the 1890s, the hotel had been torn down and it’s been a public park ever since. The sculpture of an eagle that you see was originally on the New York Life Insurance Company, for a brief time graced a parking garage, and has been in Lookout Park since the early part of this century.

We’re standing at one of the best views along Summit Avenue. We think it’s a perfect place to begin. Take a moment to just stand still. Take a deep breath. Look around. What do you see? See the bluffs in the distance? The big trees along the avenue? The pedestrians, joggers, cars, homes? The corner where we are standing, with Ramsey Hill coming up to meet Summit Avenue, has seen a lot of activity over the past 100 years. Since the beginning, Summit Avenue and the neighboring streets were a social area -the people who lived here worked together, socialized together, went to church together, and their children married one another, and frequently they moved into other homes in the area. So as you stand here, imagine all the activity that this corner has seen over the decades. All the comings and goings, rushings and strollings, heart breaks and first kisses that make up the daily lives of Saint Paul residents along Summit. It’s a lot like our own lives… but maybe just a little more decadent.

Find where you are again, if you’ve wandered off. We’ll be heading West. Towards Dale Street. Away from downtown. And our first official stop will be just across the street on the corner of Summit and Ramsey Street at 420 Summit. Press ahead to the next track when you’re ready. I recommend you cross the Ramsey Street to get a better, up-front view. See you there!

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AIA Guide to St. Paul's Summit Avenue and Hill District