Dayton's Bluff is a neighborhood located on the east side of the Mississippi in the southeast part of the city of Saint Paul, Minnesota, has a large residential district on the plateau extending backward from its top. The name of the bluff commemorates Lyman Dayton (1810-1865), for whom a village and a township in Hennepin County also were named. On the edge of the southern and highest part of Dayton's bluff, in Mounds Park, is a series of seven large aboriginal mounds, 4 to high, from which a magnificent prospect is obtained, overlooking the river and the central part of the city.
Dayton's Bluff is the most picturesque and beautiful district of the city. Sloping back from the river bluff for nearly a mile, it commands from every point a wider and finer prospect of the city and the Mississippi valley than any other portion of the city east of the Mississippi...St. Paul Pioneer Press January 1, 1887
Dayton’s Bluff contains remnants of the earliest inhabitants of the Twin Cities. The landmarks found in its historic district and the community around it tell the story. Indian Mounds Park preserves some of the burial sites of an early group that came to the area more than a thousand years ago.
Kaposia, a large Dakota Indian village, existed below Dayton's Bluff from the late seventeenth century until the mid-nineteenth century. Its residents lived along the river and performed their burial rites on the cliffs above. They were followed by the Metis (mixed bloods) and European-American farmers—often former Fort Snelling soldiers who tilled the land in the late 1830s and 1840s. The sacred site of Carver's Cave was destroyed by railroad construction in the 1880s.
The development of Dayton's Bluff as a “suburban” residential location began in the 1840s. The area was named for Lyman Dayton, an early pioneer real estate operator who owned extensive properties and built a home on the Bluff in the 1850s. The community became part of what historians call “the walking city” and was started so early that many of its streets were laid out parallel to the Mississippi River rather than in a north/south manner.
Feed, flour, and lumber mills were built in the area in the 1850s to take advantage of Phalen Creek as a source of water power. When a railroad was built north of East 7th Street in the late 1860s, more industries, including Hamm’s Brewery, grew up along its corridor. Soon a railroad depot called “Post's Siding” was built at present-day Earl Street and East 7th Street, and a community of workers surrounded the industries. It was the start of what would be a long history of manufacturing in the community.
Because of its attractive landscape and scenic vistas, many wealthy residents chose to construct handsome estates on large lots. A sizeable group of prosperous German-Americans clustered together. However, the Bluff was never an exclusive enclave of the rich. A St. Paul paper of the time noted that “in the eastern part of the city, on Dayton's Bluff . . . several hundred dwellings have been erected.” Most of the homes were “of the medium class, for the use of mechanics and employees of the numerous factories that are springing up.” The 1880s through the early 1900s was a time of prosperity. The streetcar arrived and the neighborhood expanded. New development, both commercial and residential, sprang up near the streetcar line, which went up East 7th Street and ended at Duluth Street. The era saw the arrival of new industries, including lumber companies, farm equipment companies, Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing (3M), and Seeger Refrigerator, which later became Whirlpool.
In 1857, Lyman Dayton, a well-known land and railroad speculator from Vermont, platted his "Addition to St. Paul" on the Eastern border of St. Paul. The area was separated from the early settlement along the river by a ravine that was first bridged and was then filled. The early developers of the area were named Burns, McLean, and Wakefield, and contributed their names to area streets. The area was separated from the early settlement along the river by a ravine, but inaccessibility did not deter Dayton and a handful of other businessmen who built large and costly houses. Farther to the south, beyond present day I-94 in the Mounds Park area, river-oriented residential development was also occurring. The earliest settlers had a spectacular view of the growth of the city at the Lower Levee and along E. Seventh Street, and could see the building of the rail yards as they stretched along the river and up the Phalen Creek valley. As the blocks of "Dayton's Bluff" (as it came to be known) were developed, a sense of the steep, rolling terrain was retained. Houses crowned terraced hilltop sites, and porches and prominent windows were oriented towards views of distant river bluffs. Carpenters and masons used quality materials in their construction, and provided hardwood floors and trim, spacious rooms, and interesting architectural details at porches and rooflines.
In the 1860s and the 1870s, a number of Saint Paul businessmen built elaborate limestone houses along the bluff. These houses are long gone, but several old brick houses remain, and brick and stone are evident throughout the Dayton's Bluff historic district in foundations and in chimneys. Stone, brick, and concrete were also used for lintels, sills, and decorative trim. Wood building products, including siding, shingles, and decorative trim were used extensively by the nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century builders of Dayton's Bluff. Many of the historic windows of Dayton's Bluff have a double-hung sash and a vertical orientation. Most of the houses and rowhouses built in the Dayton's Bluff Historic District before 1920 had unenclosed front porches. The porch usually stretched across the full width of the front facade, but in some cases only covered the entry. A great variety of machine-made trim was added to even the simplest wooden houses of Dayton's Bluff, while iron, cast iron, terra cotta, tile, and brick also can be seen.
The Dayton's Bluff Historic District was approved by the St. Paul City Council in August, 1992. The creation of the Historic District recognizes the historical and architectural significance of this early St. Paul neighborhood and is an important part of neighborhood revitalization in St. Paul's District 4.
First plotted out to rival Summit Hill as a home to the rich and mighty. While it never reached the glory of its rival it nevertheless was left architectural treasures and inspiring views of the Mississippi River.