Inquiring Minds: Crowley’s ‘Forty Acres’

Q. The northern boundary of the city of West St. Paul is Annapolis Street — all except for a little bit of land that sticks up into St. Paul. That stretch of land is bordered by Charlton and Bidwell streets and it looks something like a tooth sticking up. What’s the story behind that odd exception to the geography of the city limits?

A. It all goes back to the nineteenth century, a bridge and a man named Philip Crowley. In the 1850s, the township of West St. Paul extended all the way to the banks of the Mississippi. Then, in 1859, the City of St. Paul built a toll bridge where the Wabasha Bridge now stands. The good farmers and other residents of West St. Paul loved the bridge, but they resented paying a toll to cross it. By 1874, a compromise was worked out. St. Paul would drop the toll, but it would annex the northern section of West St. Paul, which would then become St. Paul’s Sixth Ward. The only holdout to the arrangement was West St. Paul city father Philip Crowley, who lived just north of Annapolis Avenue on Dodd Road. In 1874, he was superintendent of Dakota County Schools, and it would not have been seemly for him suddenly to acquire a St. Paul address. A careful exception to the general annexation plan was made for Crowley’s 40-acre farm. Crowley’s loyalty to his home town remained unblemished, and he eventually became the first mayor of the newly incorporated City of West St. Paul in 1889. To this day, the site of the Crowley farm remains a proud part of West St. Paul, and even though it has long since been transformed into an urban landscape of houses and commercial buildings, it is still sometimes referred to as “Forty Acres.” 

(Dakota County Historical Society; “An Historical Glimpse of the City of West St. Paul”)

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