The University of Minnesota has recently put thousands of historical aerial photos online, and a handful of the capture the Smith Avenue neighborhood at a time of historic transition.
The Minnesota Historical Aerial Photographs Online database has more than 113,000 images taken throughout the state over the past century. While not quite the same resolution as the satellite images we’re accustomed to today, the level of detail they reveal is remarkable.
I’ve posted some low-resolution screen captures below of some of the images depicting our neighborhood. You can click on some of the images to enlarge them a bit and explore in more detail. The links to the originals are also at the end of the post.
(Disclaimer – I’m not a historian. I’ve done my best to identify buildings based on what I know about their history, but feel free to correct or add additional information in the comments)
The earliest image in the dataset from our area is from 1923, showing part of the border area between St. Paul and West St. Paul:
For reference, I’ve zoomed in and labeled the portion around Smith and Annapolis:
This shows the neighborhood in its youth. If you look closely you can see the building currently housing Amore Coffee (at the time, I believe, it was a drug store). At this point much of the area south of Annapolis is still farmland and orchards. You could buy a country house and still be walking distance to the streetcar. These were the suburbs of their day.
Fast forward to 1937, and we can see housing starting to move into West St. Paul (Annapolis Street is labeled). Much of the city’s walkable northern edge is taking shape, while the rest of the city remains largely rural. On this image you can see Robert Street, Thompson Lake on the right and Somerset Country Club on the lower left:
Zooming back onto Smith and Annapolis we can see how much has changed:
You can see how quickly things changed in less than 15 years – the dirt paths, fields and orchards south of Annapolis are filled with new, tidy middle-class homes, and businesses are thriving at the streetcar terminus.
This image also gives us a look further up the street, at Smith and Baker:
Another 1937 image includes part of downtown, decades before a big chunk of it was leveled by freeway construction and “urban renewal,” and back when Seven Corners actually had seven corners:
This view gives us a better look at the gas station that is currently home to Taste of Love bakery:
Anyway. This is just a snapshot (pun intended) of what’s in the archive. There are more images of West St. Paul, including some shots of Robert Street in the 1950s, still wide open and rural, with nary a chain store in sight. Bill Lindeke of Streets.mn has used the database to show the evolution of the Ayd Mill Road/I-35E interchange (which provided the inspiration for this post).
I encourage you to check out the images for yourself and explore. Here are the links:
Minnesota Historical Aerial Photographs Online (full database)