Historic Alexander Ramsey House reopens in St. Paul, includes more complete, controversial history

(KSTP) – The historic Alexander Ramsey House in St. Paul reopened to the public for the first time Saturday after a three-year closure prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The house, built with local limestone for about $50,000 in 1872 (which would be the equivalent of more than a million dollars today), is a nearly perfectly preserved picture of elite Victorian-era America sitting in the shade of tree canopies on Exchange Street.

Inside the doors is the story of a prominent family and a complex political legacy that includes both the founding of Minnesota as a state and the persecution and removal of indigenous people from their homeland.

“He has a very controversial history. It’s very complex,” said house site manager Betsy Faber of the Minnesota Historical Society, who was busy guiding visitors and answering questions about the 14,000 artifacts preserved in the Alexander Ramsey House.

“They saved all of the artifacts in the entire house,” she said, from when it was built in 1872 to Ramsey’s final descendants nearly 100 years later.

“We have every plate, doily, we have every book that they read. So it’s just a time capsule of everything that they’ve had in the house.”

We can thank Ramsey’s granddaughters, Anita and Laura, for that, Faber explained. They left the home to the Minnesota Historical Society along with money for upkeep in 1967.

“The reason this house is preserved is because Alexander Ramsey is arguably the most influential politician to live in Minnesota,” said Alex Weston, a Minnesota Historical Society program associate for the Alexander Ramsey and James J. Hill Houses.

“The state, as it is today, is the way it is partly because of decisions he made.”

By the time he moved into his namesake home, Ramsey had become a U.S. Senator from Minnesota. Prior to building the home, he was appointed governor of the Minnesota Territory, elected mayor of St. Paul and became Minnesota’s second elected governor after it became a state.

The climax of his career was as U.S. Secretary of War.

“As a politician, whose job is to pass policies and some of those policies help people, some hurt people, and quite often they help one group of people while hurting another,” Weston explained.

He played a large role in compiling the more complete, controversial story of Ramsey’s career for the re-opening. The tale could be read on the walls of the property’s carriage house.

“We are standing here on the ancestral homeland of the Dakota people what they called ‘Mni Sota Makoce,’ which means the land where the waters reflect the sky,” he said in an interview steps from the Alexander Ramsey House.

“And part of the reason why this is now the state of Minnesota, Ramsey County instead of Mni Sota Makoce is because of Ramsey and other members of that kind of founding political generation of Minnesota.”

Ramsey, in 1851, was the lead negotiator for the United States on the Treaties of Traverse des Sioux. He was accused at the time of using intimidation and fraud to get the signatures of Dakota leaders, dismissing indigenous people from 24 million acres of their homeland.

“Understanding both of those two stories and maybe trying to reconcile the consequences of these actions in the past in a way that we can all build a better inclusive future, that’s something we’re hoping, but it starts with just information,” Weston said.

“We work really closely with the team from Native American Initiatives, which is part of the Minnesota Historical Society, to make sure that we’re telling the truthful story in the way that they want it to be told, so that’s really important to us,” Faber added.

Representatives from the department weren’t available for comment on Saturday.

The Alexander Ramsey House is expected to be open on the first Saturday of each month going forward.