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History of Mears Park

  

Welcome to Mears Park, an oasis in Lowertown, St. Paul! Surrounded by trendy restaurants, housing, and businesses, Mears Park offers visitors a breathe of fresh air. Festivals and summer’s Music in Mears series take advantage of the bandshell, trees, flowers, and the lovely stream flowing through the space. Though small, the park packs a mighty punch.Mears Park, courtesy of mearspark.com. The park is one of the three oldest in St. Paul. Donated on July 24, 1849 by Robert Smith of Alton, Illinois and C. S. Whitney of St. Paul, it came into being only three weeks after the donation of Rice Park and Irving Park. The park was first named Smith Park, a move that caused some consternation for later historians. “Just why the park became identified with Smith, rather than Whitney, has never been explained,” exclaims Virginia Kunz, Executive Director of the Ramsey County Historical Society in 1982. “Smith was the junior member of the firm of Whitney and Smith and they were proprietors of Whitney and Smith’s addition which covered much of today’s Lowertown area. Like many other men associated with St. Paul’s earliest years, Smith was a man of some substance. He was at one time a representative to Congress from his southern Illinois district, and he was an investor and a speculator in land. At one time he also owned Nicollet Island in Minneapolis, but he never lived in St. Paul, preferring, apparently, to wheel and deal from his base in Illinois.”Virginia Kunz continues:“The three parks now so important to the downtown area apparently did not qualify for anyone’s list of priorities in a row village where there already were sizeable tracts of open land, and for some time they remained treeless patches with virtually non-existent boundaries.For about twenty-five years, the square that is now Mears Park sat atop a high drift left behind by the area’s last retreating glacier. The hill was known variously as Mount Pisgah, Baptist Hill (the First Baptist Church stood on top of it), and Burbank’s Hill, and it stretched from Jackson to Broadway and Fourth to Seventh streets. The two-story brick house belonging to James C Burbank, who founded a stage line that linked St. Paul with western Minnesota, stood on the front of this bluff and commanded a magnificent view of the Mississippi.During the Civil War cannon salutes were fired from the highest point of the hill which was about fifty feet above the present level of the park. In 1876 Sibley Street was graded through Baptist Hill, making a cut of fifty-one feet.In 1877, Fifth and Sixth streets were cut through, followed in 1878 by Wacouta. This left a square block fifty feet high and strewn with large boulders deposited by the ancient glacier. By this time, railroad tracks were being laid into downtown St. Paul and fill was needed for the bog that stretched from Fourth street to the river. Baptist Hill was gradually whittled down as its boulders and gravel were hauled off and shoveled into the marshes along the riverfront.Early in the 1970’s the park’s name was changed to Mears Park in honor of the late Norman B. Mears and his commitment to redevelopment of the Lowertown area.”In 1993, the park was renovated into the Mears Park we know today.