St. Paul Minnesota for History Buffs

Photo by Minnesota State Capitol MNHS, photo by Brady Willette

Incorporating St. Paul's past into the present

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The history of St. Paul had a humble beginning. Before 1841, when it was renamed St. Paul, the settlement was known by the un-glamorous name, Pig’s Eye Landing. Yet, what is now Minnesota’s second most populous city (behind Minneapolis), was destined for much more.

St. Paul sits on a series of bluffs on a bend of the Mississippi and was the northernmost natural navigable port on the mighty river. It was the perfect location for fur trading and for the city to become the place where westbound settlers set off for the northern frontier.

It soon became the commercial center of the region, shipping furs, timber, grain and much more. St. Paul was made the capital of the newly formed Minnesota Territory in 1849 and the state capital when Minnesota was admitted to the Union in 1858. That year more than 1,000 steamboats unloaded cargo and passengers at Saint Paul.

In 1883 a great celebration marked the completion of the Northern Pacific Railway from St. Paul to the West Coast. Later, the Great Northern Railway, under the leadership of James J. Hill, made the city the gateway to the Pacific Northwest.

On this tour you’ll experience St. Paul’s story, its lovely landmarks and see how the city beautifully incorporates its past into modern life.

Day 1 in St Paul


Start your trip through St. Paul history with breakfast at Mickey’s Diner, the classic dining car that opened here in 1939. Then head over to the newly-renovated  Minnesota State Capitol building. You’ll learn Minnesota history and view gorgeous murals, paintings and the gleaming golden statue at the base of the Capitol dome, the “Quadriga.”


At the Minnesota History Center plan to grab a tasty lunch at the Market House by D’Amico. Then tour the permanent and changing exhibits that range from the story of the state’s Native American citizens, to Minnesotans in World War II to how Minnesotans have dealt with the weather through history.

Cross town for a glimpse of the life family and servants at the James J. Hill House, home of the great railroad baron. Afterward, treat yourself to a tour of the charming shops and eateries along Grand Avenue.


Enjoy dinner, craft beer and cocktails at one of St. Paul’s most creative restaurants, St. Dinette. It’s situated in a National Historic District, St. Paul’s Lowertown, near the historic river landing where the city began. If the weather permits, take an after dinner stroll in nearby Mears Park, home to the annual Twin Cities Jazz Festival.

Day 2 in St Paul


Return to Lowertown for a hearty breakfast at The Buttered Tin. Then prepare to wear it off as you tour Historic Fort Snelling. Here, at the junction of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers, the U.S. government established a presence after the War of 1812. You’ll find demonstrations and exhibits on Native American life in Minnesota, the fur trade and military history.


Forepaugh’s, the elegant 1870s home of dry goods merchant Joseph Forepaugh, makes a charming place to enjoy lunch in the Victorian first floor bar area, a delightful rooftop deck or in the the second floor dining room. Forepaughs is rumored to be haunted.

Next, cross the street to tour the Alexander Ramsey House, home of Minnesota’s first territorial governor.


You’ll find excellent casual Italian fare at Cossetta’s. Founded in 1911, Cossetta’s is a bustling Italian deli, bakery, pastry shop, market and restaurant, all under one roof. You’ll want to spend as much time wandering and ogling the pastries as you spend eating the pizza and pasta.

Take in a show at the Fitzgerald Theater, named after beloved native son, F. Scott Fitzgerald. End your day with a nightcap at The Commodore, a gorgeous bar and eatery that has been restored to glamorous days of the1920s when Scott and Zelda lived in the building. Later, it served as a favorite haunt for gangsters including Al Capone and Ma Barker.

Where to Stay in St Paul

St. Paul offers an array of lovely downtown hotels. History lovers will particularly enjoy the classic St. Paul Hotel or the boutique Hotel 340, both in the center of downtown.


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