Thanks to Amore Coffee for their support.
The City of West St. Paul we know and love today, founded in 1889, is not actually the first West St. Paul. It’s the third West St. Paul (third time’s a charm?), and the story of how it came to be includes bankruptcy, shifting borders, and a rivalry that continues today.
Before West St. Paul
Dakota people initially lived here, slowly moving west as pioneers encroached. Settlers began to arrive in the area that would become West St. Paul by 1851, claiming land that wasn’t technically open to being claimed. Treaties were officially signed in 1853, making the push to remove Native people official.
But some persisted: “As late as the fall of 1853, the full band of Little Crow’s Mdewakanton Sioux was still occupying their Kaposia village just four miles to the south of St. Paul,” according to the West St. Paul Centennial. The first meeting of Dakota County Commissioners was actually held in Kaposia. The Dakota eventually moved west to the reservation at Yellow Medicine. The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 left many further displaced or killed, including Little Crow.
The First West St. Paul: 1858-1862
The very first West St. Paul didn’t last long. The original City of West St. Paul was incorporated in 1858 and mostly encompassed the current West Side. By 1862 the city had accumulated crushing debt, thanks in part to devastating spring floods in 1859, and went bankrupt.
While it didn’t last long, the first City of West St. Paul did leave a mark as the original residents continued to claim West St. Paul. From 1887 until 1938, the West St. Paul Times was published on the West Side and referred to the area as West St. Paul as if the actual city to the south didn’t exist.
The Second West St. Paul: 1858-1887
The Township of West St. Paul was also incorporated in 1858, a few months after the original city. The township included the current West St. Paul, South St. Paul, and portions of the West Side. When the original City of West St. Paul folded, it was incorporated into West St. Paul Township.
In 1874, West St. Paul Township lost the West Side (but retained Forty Acres) to St. Paul in an annexation bid that gave township residents free use of the Wabasha toll bridge.
South St. Paul Takes Over: 1887-1889
The late 1880s saw booming industry on the eastern edge of West St. Paul Township along the Mississippi River. With the success of an industrial park, the stockyards, and a growing population, new businessmen proposed incorporating the township into a new city: South St. Paul.
On March 2, 1887, all of West St. Paul Township became the City of South St. Paul. But the alliance between the western farmers and the eastern industrialists didn’t last long.
The Third West St. Paul: 1889-Today
The new City of South St. Paul government included several residents from the western portion in positions of power, including George Wentworth, Philip Crowley, and James McGrath as aldermen and Noah Groff as city clerk. But a shift in power to the east side after the 1888 election may have pushed the western residents to action.
McGrath, then a state legislator, made a speech that’s been described as “fiery” and “legendary,” convincing the Minnesota State Legislature to carve up South St. Paul and create the new City of West St. Paul on February 20, 1889. South St. Paul’s western half became West St. Paul, and they also lost portions of Sunfish Lake, Eagan, and Inver Grove Heights.
The initial City Council of the new West St. Paul included Wentworth, Gustave Otto, Morris Locke, John Fitzgerald, McGrath, and John Ickler. They appointed Groff as city clerk and Crowley as mayor.
The first order of business was to extricate the new city from South St. Paul, and a bitter battle over funds and resources commenced. They had to divide $14,000 in debt, while South St. Paul licked the wounds of losing land for a city hall plus four school buildings, three of which had just been built in the last year.
A new city hall was another priority, and West St. Paul managed to complete their towering city hall within the year, beating South St. Paul in city hall construction by more than six months (West St. Paul’s city hall also lasted longer: 1971 vs. 1956 for South St. Paul, not that it’s a competition).
The rivalry between South St. Paul and West St. Paul continues today, mostly through high school sports.
(And we’ll just ignore the fourth West St. Paul in Manitoba, Canada, eh?)
We need your help to dig into local history. Support West St. Paul Reader.