The West Side neighborhood of St.Paul, Minnesota is a culturally diverse area with a rich historical history. Located on the west bank of the Mississippi river, just south of downtown St.Paul, west side contains both residential and industrial areas and is home to one of the largest Hispanic communities in the Twin Cities. The area is most known for its landmarks which include Harriet Island, Navy Island and Holman Airfield and its neighborhood commercial areas such as District del Sol, Stryker/George and Smith Avenue.
West Side is a mix of scenic river bluffs and low lying flat ground. This separation of landscape lent to a natural divide in the area. The river bluffs were home to many of the nicer homes and the richer occupants of West Side. This area still contains many historical homes, built over 100 years ago with beautiful views of the river and downtown St.Paul. The low lying flat area near the river was not popular among many of the settlers because “frequent flooding made the lowlands chancy for housing, hence a place for the poorest of immigrants, most enduringly Eastern European Jews, then Mexicans and Mexican-Americans” (Historic Saint Paul). This socio-economic division is not as evident now as it was then.
Historically, the West Side area has always been home to a diverse group of people. “From 1851 to 1874 the West Side was technically part of Dakota County and was occupied first by Dakota Indians and later by French-Canadian, Irish, and German immigrants, some of whom farmed the area”(RCHS). Its location on the river made it a popular location for immigrants and it was connected to the downtown area by ferry boats, and the Wabasha bridge which opened in 1859.
The area also became a prime location for industrial businesses to flourish. In 1871 and 1872, two of the largest area breweries, “Yoerg Brewing Company and Bruggeman’s Brewery, relocated from the West Seventh Street area to the West Side. Other early industries, including foundries, quarries and manufacturing plants were located on the Lower Flats along the river” (RCHS). This increase in industrial businesses created a high demand for immigrant workers, who were willing to work in the factories.
Initially the German and Irish immigrants already settled nearby took advantage of the jobs, but soon moved out of the area making room for the large Jewish population which formed in the late 1800’s. This large Jewish community was fleeing from genocide in their home countries, and therefore were willing to settle in the poor quality housing available in the flats of West Side. They also established a positive community, where others joined them from Eastern Europe and they built small homes, synagogues and schools.
In the early 1900’s the population shifted again as the Jewish community moved into other parts of St.Paul, and West Side became home to a growing Mexican population. The previous neighborhoods established by the Jewish community served as a resource for the Mexican population moving in. They were able to rent the houses that had been built and transform the community organizations to fit their needs.
Specifically, “The Neighborhood House, a community support resource for social services that was founded by the eastern European Jews became a haven for the Mexican immigrants in the 1920s and 1930s. The organization provided services such as English, sewing, and cooking classes, and employment referrals” (Placeography). This community is still very prominent in the West Side neighborhood, accounting for 33% of the population in the 2000 census.
In the 1960’s, an urban renewal project led to the destruction of many of the historical buildings located in the low lands of West Side. While this got rid of many of the past cultural influences apparent in the neighborhood, it also made room for the new residents to make it their own. This meant the Mexican population began to dominate the retail area, leading to the creating of the District del Sol, which consists of many Mexican shops and hosts many Hispanic events and festivals.
The West Side St.Paul neighborhood is a beautiful, culturally rich area that has become a very important part of the city of St.Paul. For anyone interested in visiting the neighborhood, I highly recommend it and encourage you to explore the area and experience the cultural diversity exuding from the locals.
“Census Facts.” Wilder Research Center. Web. 25 May 2012. http://www.communitydataworks.org/StPaul/data/stpaul/nhood/dist3/profile.pdf
“District Del Sol” District Del Sol. Web. 25 May 2012. http://www.districtdelsol.com/
“Historic Saint Paul.” Tour Saint Paul: West Side. 01 June 2006. Web. 25 May 2012. http://www.historicsaintpaul.org/newsroom/publications/west_side
“Placeography- West Side, Saint Paul, Minnesota.” Placeography. Web. 25 May 2012. http://www.placeography.org/index.php/West_Side,_Saint_Paul,_Minnesota .
“RCHS.” Profile of Saint Paul’s Historic West Side Neighborhood. Ramsey County Historical Society. Web. 25 May 2012. http://www.rchs.com/neighborhoods/westside.htm .
“West Side Neighborhood News and Events.” Twin Cities Daily Planet. Web. 25 May 2012. http://www.tcdailyplanet.net/neighborhood/saint paul/west side .