When strolling down the many streets of the Summit- University neighborhood, one might see many “different “ areas and ways of life. According to Live Msp, this area was founded between 1854 and 1872. Since its foundation, the Summit- University neighborhood has developed a deep history creating a rich culture that has both maintained and changed its residents’ way of life. This week, I had the privilege of adventuring through the two main areas of this neighborhood: Summit Avenue/Ramsey Hill Area as well as the Selby Avenue Area. During my adventure, I learned from word- of- mouth, sight seeing and research about the histories and how they have sculpted the cultures of this wonderful neighborhood.
Summit Avenue and Ramsey Hill Area
Take a walk down Summit Avenue itself, leading to the Ramsey/Cathedral Hill area and you will find extremely large, Victorian style houses and historic establishments dating back to the 1800s. With the arrival of streetcars that lined the streets of the city, University Avenue, Selby Avenue and Dale Street (just on the outskirts of the neighborhood) provided access to the active cities of downtown St. Paul and Minneapolis, completed in 1891 according to Live Msp. This area is home to many landscapes such as the Cathedral of St. Paul, which started out in 1841 as a small log cabin overlooking the Mississipi River and in 1858 turned into an elegant feature that is sure to catch the eye of anyone passing through. You can find more information on this beautiful landmark at The Cathedral of St. Paul history page. Summit Avenue also hosts the famous Governor’s Mansion, home to current Governor Mark Dayton as well as many other Minnesota Governors throughout history. The Minnesota Governor’s Residence website, states that this establishment was home to a St. Paul Lumberman and lawyer, Horace Hills Irvine and was completed in 1910. It was later donated to the State of Minnesota in 1965 by Irvine’s youngest daughters and has been home to the Governors of Minnesota since. I have been fortunate enough to sit down in this beautiful mansion with the Governor, himself. I must say he is, certainly grateful to live in such a historic household, and handles himself as so. I suppose this is where the standard of living has started within this part of the neighborhood as Victorian houses are often passed by up-scale residents and business people in suits heading to the many churches of the neighborhood or to the nearest café up the street. In all honesty, one might become fairly fond of the ubiquitous beautiful sights and landmarks that line this part of the neighborhood.
Selby Avenue Area
When you’re finished gazing at the remarkable landmarks, head to Selby Avenue near Dale Street to grab a bite to eat at a local café or a cute little number at one of the simply original clothing and accessories businesses. As previously noted, this area was a big hit in the early 1900s when it began starting up businesses for traffic coming through the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. Prior to the booming businesses, there was an economic decline within this area during the World War II era. Just after the war, there was a large change throughout the neighborhood. The old Rondo neighborhood (now I-94) brought about a cultural diversion with its presence of the center for African Americans. An online research, Historic Saint Paul, states Selby Avenue started to see “a steady increase in black populations as whites moved their homes and businesses to the suburbs.” Racial tensions started to escalade and the area was very segregated. In fact, many buildings were destroyed during the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther Kind. “A year later one of the remaining merchants pronounced Selby Ave. commerce near death; hundreds of houses and commercial buildings on the street were destroyed.” By walking through the north side of Selby Avenue, this is very evident as business and housing buildings are much more run down than that of the high- end Summit Avenue/Ramsey Hill area. It was also very evident while talking to BBQ restaurant owner, Lee, that this problem took a toll on the community, if one could call it that back then. Lee, who has owned his business for at least 21 years, says, “When I first came to this area to start up business, there were no whites, Asians, Somalia’s, you name it, walking the streets. And if they were, they were sure to come out beaten and bruised. As time went on, though, Selby Avenue grew into more of a “community”. With the establishments of community- building programs like the Summit-University Planning Council, the neighborhood was able to make drastic changes for the better. “Now,” Lee says, “we have open arms for everyone. There is rarely any racial segregation. Everyone knows just about everyone and we act like a “community”, and “family” more than ever. Everyone has each other’s back.” Perhaps this is because of the development of restaurant row, famous for many popular restaurants the brought in all sorts of people to the neighborhood. Or maybe because of the inclining amount of minority owned businesses popping up around Selby Avenue streets starting with Mychael Wright, who started a successful coffee shop, The Golden Thyme Café. Regardless or how or exactly when the splurge of cultural diversity came about, it is evident to see that people of the Selby Avenue area embrace their cultural diversity and lean on each other for business and pleasure combined.
I must be honest in saying that my trip to Summit-University neighborhood was absolutely a success. I, certainly, have a deeper understanding and respect for the people that reside and work in, what has now become, a very tight knit community. The history shows the reason for a sense of openness and appreciation that is written all over the sidewalks and faces of people throughout the neighborhood.