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RAMSEY COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY

 FROG TOWN
or
THOMAS DALE

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The Dayton's Bluff  neighborhood profile featured here is taken from the Ramsey County Historic Site Survey Report.

 
District 7: Thomas-Dale or Frogtown


Why is Frogtown named Frogtown?

I guess the name is a little odd and deserves some explanation.
One of the more popular explanations is that Frogtown is an ethnic slur aimed at the French who first settled this area. There is some historic truth to this, the area was settled by the French. An early French landowner, Benjamin Lafond, left his mark on the area by naming Lafond Avenue after himself. It is even said that some of the surrounding streets are named for his sons Edmund, Charles and Thomas. Sherburne Avenue may have once been named Ellen Avenue for his daughter.
Others say that Archbishop John Ireland coined it almost 100 years ago. It is said that while standing in Calvary Cemetery he looked across a large section of marshland filled with croaking frogs and said "That sounds like a frog town" (Pioneer Press 7/28/74.) The land was particularly marshy and could have contained a high frog population. The Austro-Hungarians in the area called it Froschburg (frog city.)
Yet another theory I have heard is that the name may have come from the fact that the couplers on the railroad cars were called "frogs" and so many railroad workers lived in the area.
I guess we may never really know for sure!

District 7, known historically as Frogtown and officially as Thomas-Dale, is located northwest of downtown St. Paul in the north central part of the city. Lexington Parkway bound the district to the west, Interstate 35 E on the east, University Avenue and a one block section of Aurora Avenue on the south, and the Burlington Northern railroad tracks on the north. Although primarily a working and middle class residential neighborhood it contains a substantial number of industrial and important business districts.

The Frogtown area is one of St. Paul's few "inner-ring" neighborhoods, so called because it was settled between the 1860's and the 1880's as the tiny city expanded and settlement spread beyond the limits of present day downtown. A major impetus to the area's settlement was the construction of the St. Paul and Pacific Railroad, now Burlington Northern, which was built across the northern edge of present day District 7 in the early 1880's. Minnesota's first successful locomotive run occurred on these tracks in 1882. That same year the Jackson Street railroad shops were established at their present site at Jackson Street and Pennsylvania Avenue near the northeast corner of the district. The railroad shops, abandoned in the early 1970's, provided employment for residents of Frogtown and the nearby North End for over one hundred years. The Jackson Street shops were joined by railroad related industries established along the same railroad line. The largest and most important of these was the St. Paul Foundry, built in 1901 on the north side of the tracks (technically in District 6) near Como and Western Avenues. The foundry headquarters were at 500 W. Como Avenue. A second set of railroad shops was built by the Great Northern Railroad (successor to the St. Paul and Pacific) at the northeast corner of, Dale Street and Minnehaha Avenue around the turn of the century. The Dale Street shops are still in operation at 619 W. Minnehaha Avenue.

Residential development of Frogtown followed an east to west pattern as Poles, Scandinavians, Germans, and Irish found jobs in the railroad shops and related industries and built closely-sited modest wood frame and brick houses. The oldest of these, dating from the 1860's and 1870's, are found south of the Jackson Street Shops along Sherburne, Charles, and Como Avenues east of Rice Street. Considerable urban renewal has obliterated much of the early neighborhood. The Historic Sites Survey staff identified the Greek Revival Henry Morin House at 611 N. Rice Street and the houses at 536 and 545 N. Park Street and 129 W. Como Avenue as the oldest and most intact. The staff discovered the streets extending westward between Rice and Dale Streets are lined with a concentration of working class housing built primarily in the 1880's. These houses are sited on narrow lots, with many examples of two small houses built behind one another on the same lot. They represent many of St. Paul's most important examples of Victorian working class construction, and many have dog-eared and segmental arched window

and door openings, brick window hoods, and frilly intact open porches. Although many of these houses have suffered from insensitive alterations and neglect, a large number are basically intact.

Much of the residential development west of Dale Street occurred in the 1890's. The Historic Sites Survey identified a number of vernacular versions of the Queen Anne, Eastlake and Colonial Revival styles, and many remain basically intact. On streets west of approximately Victoria Street, the Survey staff discovered houses of slightly later vintage, including bungalows and one fine Prairie Style house at 516 N. Lexington Parkway.

District 7 contains a large number of churches and schools, most of which have ethnic origins and many of which are architecturally significant. Most important is the Church of St. Agnes, which was founded by German Catholics and was designed by George J. Ries showing the influence of Middle European Baroque churches. It was built between 1909 and 1912 and stands at 550 W. Lafond Avenue. It is on the National Register. Other Catholic churches important to the history of the community include St. Adalbert's Church at 256 Charles, founded by Polish immigrants and built in 1909-10, accompanied by the neighboring St. Adalbert's School. St. Vincent's Church at 651 Virginia Street, constructed in 1889, accompanied by the neighboring St. Vincent's School. Important Protestant churches identified by the Survey include the University Avenue Congregational Church at 868 W. Sherburne, designed by Clarence H. Johnston, Sr. and built in 1909. The Beaux Arts Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church at 105 W. University Avenue. The Gothic Revival Trinity Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church at 515 N. Farrington Street. The Gothic Revival St. Matthew's Lutheran Church at 507 N. Dale Street.

Commercial development in District 7 was linked historically to the establishment of streetcar lines, between 1881 and 1906 on University, Como, and Thomas Avenues, Rice and Dale Streets, and Lexington Parkway. The busiest of these streetcar routes was the University Avenue line, and it became St. Paul and Minneapolis' first interurban streetcar line in 1890.

University Avenue remains one of St. Paul's most important commercial streets. It contains a number of Victorian and turn of the century commercial buildings, most of which have been altered at street level. Among the most intact and architecturally interesting are the Ford Building at 117 W. University Avenue the M. Schott

Building at 935-937 W. University Avenue, and the Victoria Theater at 825 W. University Avenue. See the Survey findings in District 8 for a discussion of commercial buildings on the south side of University Avenue between Rice Street and Lexington Parkway, technically in Planning District 8. Rice and Dale Streets, two additional important business though-fares, also contain concentrations of late nineteenth and early twentieth century commercial buildings. These include buildings at 516-518, 520, and 550-552 N. Rice Street and the building at 639 N. Dale Street. Other basically intact neighborhood commercial buildings, most of which were built at the intersections of streetcar lines, include the nearly identical corner blocks at 629 N. Kent Street and 573 N. St. Albans Street and the buildings at 434-438 W. Lafond Avenue, 500-502 W. Sherburne Avenue (no. 19), and 720 Western Avenue.

The Historic Sites Survey staff also identified examples of Roadside Architecture and miscellaneous building types in District 7. These include the Period Revival gas stations at 631 N. Dale Street and 703 W. University Avenue; Night Train, a pair of rail road coaches converted into a bar, at 289 W. Como Avenue; two turn of the century open truss bridges at the intersection of Como and Western Avenues; the W.P.A.-built Minnehaha Playground Building at 685 W. Minnehaha Avenue; and the barn at 619 N. Rice Street, one of the largest and most interesting out-buildings in St. Paul beyond the Historic Hill district.

The Frogtown or Thomas-Dale neighborhood has been largely unappreciated for its architectural value. This is unfortunate since the area continues to be one of the city's most intact working class neighborhoods with a large number of historically and architecturally significant buildings deserving preservation.

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Our Mission
"The Ramsey County Historical Society inspires current and future generations to learn from
and value their history by engaging in a diverse program of presenting, publishing and preserving." 

The place for St. Paul & Ramsey County, Minnesota history.
Ramsey County Historical Society programs include a research center, St. Paul & Ramsey County MN history magazine, 
historical exhibits, historic site attraction the Gibbs Museum of Pioneer and Dakotah Life.

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RAMSEY COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY
323 Landmark Center, 75 West Fifth Street, Saint Paul, Minnesota 55102    
Phone: (651) 222-0701, Fax: (651) 223-8539

info@rchs.com
Copyright 2012

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