Map of West St. Paul and the Mississippi River

Why Is West St. Paul West When It’s Actually South?

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Any casual glance at a map makes it pretty clear that West St. Paul’s name is kind of weird. The city is not west of St. Paul, but directly south. So why is it West St. Paul?

The Standard Story

The most common answer is that West St. Paul is located on the western bank of the Mississippi River. The river makes two bends in quick succession as it comes through the Twin Cities, creating this odd quirk where West St. Paul is both south of St. Paul but on the west side of the Mississippi River.

Appealing to Settlers

Another story is that when the Dakota County board met to establish townships in the 1850s, they chose West St. Paul Township—even though the original City of West St. Paul had been created only a few weeks earlier—because they thought linking the township with Minnesota’s capital city of St. Paul would attract more settlers to the area. It gave the impression that the township was close to civilization, an important factor during the frontier days of the 1800s.

Apparently they briefly considered naming the area after the Dakota village of Kaposia, but decided a Native American name would cause more confusion among prospective homesteaders from the East and the connection to St. Paul would serve the area better.

The Rivalry

Still another story behind the name comes from city pioneer Jacob Marthaler, who claimed the name West St. Paul came because the city was formed out of the western portion of South St. Paul when the two cities split.

What’s in a Name?

Whatever the exact reason, the name has stuck, despite any confusion it may cause. Along with St. Paul, there’s South St. Paul, North St. Paul, even St. Paul Park, and of course West St. Paul.

We can argue about the origins of the name, but it’s abundantly clear which St. Paul is best.

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One comment

  1. I’m going to break the “if you don’t have anything nice to say” rule, but I always thought the name West Saint Paul was lame because it lacked individuality or even specificity. I’ve met people from Minneapolis who think “West Saint Paul” means the neighborhood near the University of Saint Thomas. The idea of attracting settlers to the area long ago makes sense, though! I’m sure most people are fine with the name and it will probably never change.

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