The threatened 1852 stone cottage is a key part of black history in St. Paul

If its pioneering past isn’t enough to save St. Paul’s Justus Ramsey House from demolition, local conservationists hope the cottage’s newly discovered role in the city’s black community history will. .

For about 40 years, from the 1890s to 1933, the 170-year-old limestone cottage on W. 7th Street housed railroad porters and barbers, shopkeepers and servants, according to research compiled by local historian Jim Sazevich and preservation champion. Tom Schröder. The area was the center of black life in St. Paul before the rise of the Rondo neighborhood.

“St. Paul’s history can’t really afford to lose another piece that was part of black history,” said Frank White, who grew up in Rondo and spent years collecting information about the first black residents of St. Paul. “At first, it was in this area that black people would get off trains or river boats and say, ‘Where can I live? Where would I be welcome? “”

Built in 1852, the cottage that now sits on the terrace of Burger Moe’s Restaurant is the oldest and one of the few remaining limestone structures in St. Paul. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as well as state and local registers.

But recent damage prompted Burger Moe owner Mojtaba Sharifkhani – who uses the surname Moe Sharif – to apply for a demolition permit in June. Neighbors and conservationists rushed to save the cottage and demanded an environmental assessment. They say they hope a deal can be reached with Sharifkhani, who previously declined to comment.

A call to Sharifkhani on Thursday was not immediately returned.

As the Justus Ramsey House is a local heritage preservation site – on the National and State Historic Registers – demolition permits must be submitted to the Heritage Preservation Commission for review and approval. A hearing is scheduled for November 7.

New Story Discovered

Built by Justus C. Ramsey, brother of former Territorial Governor Alexander Ramsey, the cottage was never the home of the less famous brother.

But census records, city directories and property records show that for nearly 40 years, “nearly all the inhabitants of the house were black men, women and children,” Schroeder wrote in a recent e-mail to neighbors and fellow curators.

From 1900 to 1908, the cottage was the home of George and Maria Perkins, former slaves from Kentucky and South Carolina. George Perkins worked as a porter for the Pullman Co., headquartered in Chicago. Later, the small two-room house served as a boarding house for several tenants.

In 1919, Lizzie Battles operated a hairdressing and millinery salon in a wooden building across from the cottage while also calling the cottage home.

“In 1920, John and Daisy Hall were living there with Hattie Key, her daughter Lucy, and Hattie’s sister Alice Dean, all from Alabama, and a tenant from Tennessee named Charles Alexander,” Schroeder wrote. “Hattie and her daughter both worked as servants, Charles as a construction worker and John Hall as a butcher for Armor Packing Co.”

He continued: ‘But by far the most common occupation of residents of the Justus Ramsey House was that of porter – in particular, railway porters’, listing the names of nearly a dozen other men black people who lived in the cabin at one time.

At the center of the St. Paul’s Seven Corners neighborhood, the small stone house helped attract other black families and businesses to the neighborhood, White said. The family of local baseball star Billy Williams lived at 160 W. 9th St., half a mile from the Justus Ramsey house. Philip Reid, who founded the St. Paul Colored Gophers baseball team, owned a saloon in the 3rd and Cedar area.

In 1933, the city vacated the southern 20 feet of W. 7th Street, wiping out many homes and businesses on that side — including the store that once supported Lizzie Battles, Schroeder wrote. “But for decades before that time, the residents of the Justus Ramsey House were a vibrant part of a larger black community that thrived around the ‘Uptown’ neighborhood centered near Seven Corners, just before the boom in the Rondo neighborhood in the ‘west.”

Search for compromise

White said he hoped a compromise could be found and “that Moe gets what he needs, and the story gets what it needs”.

Mary Cutrufello, executive director of the W. 7th Street/Fort Road Federation, said she and her board wanted to see the house preserved — on its original site if possible, dismantled and moved elsewhere if not.

“We understand it’s complicated,” she said, adding that saving the house is key to preserving a richer and more complete history of St. Paul.

Cutrufello said she also hopes some sort of deal can be forged that will save the chalet.

“These are stories that are not often told,” she said of the chalet’s black history. “I hadn’t heard of it. I didn’t know it. But it makes the building even more interesting to save.”

About Jermaine Chase

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