Westside St. Paul

IDE The Flats Nature made it an island, but it’s an island now only in name, its back channel filled in 1950 to connect it to the shore.

 It has been revived from time to time, most notably in the late 1990s as public attention focused on the river once again..

The first settlers on the flats were French-Canadian, followed by Germans and Irish, but they were few in number and they moved on quickly. The first known Jewish immigrants came to the West Side flats around 1880. Over the next few decades many more came and built an ethnic enclave--stores, schools, synagogues, clubs, a settlement house. It was urban, but not in a big-city way--low-rise, low-density, mostly frame buildings rather than brick or stone. Unpaved streets, patches of open land, and the occasional junkyard or dairy operation gave it a small town feel. And physically it was small, bounded roughly by Robert Street on the west, Concord on the south, and the river everywhere else. State Street, the main drag, was just ten blocks long. One could pace off the whole neighborhood in an afternoon. The flats had no upper-income areas. If you prospered, as many did, you got out. Jewish immigration effectively ended with World War I, and small numbers of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans moved in, changing change the ethnic mix. Still, this little zone kept its Old World flavor to the end, which came in the early 1960s. Weary of flooding and eager for industry, the city, in a controversial move, cleared it for redevelopment. Nothing of the old neighborhood remains except a few of the street names, but the forced removal of long-settled families, most of them Mexican American, inflicted pain still felt by many. Looking today for the old flats requires imagination, perhaps aided by photographs. Go to the corner of State and Fillmore and look south. Fifty years ago you would have seen a busy neighborhood of houses, stores, and people, humble but thriving in its way. And today . . .? Harriet Island The contours of the earth define and set apart Saint Paul’s West Side. On the north, the great swoop of the Mississippi forms the point and two sides of a rounded triangle; a line of limestone cliffs--the shore long ago of the glacial River Warren--forms the base. The low plain inside the triangle, the flats, has invited immigrants, industry, and floods for more than a century and a half. The immigrants and those who followed them eventually expanded the West Side south to the city limits at Annapolis Street. It took a long time for this area to become part of the city. During the 1840s, settlers who were busy building a village and steamboat levees along the river (today’s downtown Saint Paul) looked across the river at land that was legally beyond their reach. This land--and all of the land west of the Mississippi River--officially belonged to the Dakota people until treaties were signed in 1851. Connections to Saint Paul then came along slowly: ferries, a bridge, then two, and finally annexation to the metropolis in 1878. The West Side has been part of Saint Paul for more than a century but the Mississippi and those early years of independent growth still work to keep its identity distinct.

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