I can see my house from here: Neighborhood history revealed in aerial photos

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:

1923 full

(click to enlarge)

For reference, I’ve zoomed in and labeled the portion around Smith and Annapolis:

1923 smith annapolis labeledThis 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:

1937 full

(click to enlarge)

Zooming back onto Smith and Annapolis we can see how much has changed:

1937 smith annapolis labeledYou 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:

1937 smith baker labeledAnother 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:

1937b full

(click to enlarge)

This view gives us a better look at the gas station that is currently home to Taste of Love bakery:

1937b smith annapolis doddAnd also the top of the High Bridge. You can’t see it here, but if you look at the original you can see the shadows of the bridge’s trellis supports over the Mississippi River.

1937b top of high bridgeAnyway. 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)

1923 image of West St. Paul and the West Side

1923 image of the West Side

1937 image of West St. Paul

1937 image of the West Side

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One thought on “I can see my house from here: Neighborhood history revealed in aerial photos

  1. Grew up there and enjoyed many of the same memories, none better than riding north on the High Bridge boardwalk no handed. When you looked down, you could see clear through to the river, as if there was nothing underneath you. It was like flying! Of course, riding back up the hill was another matter. Thanks!

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