Storybook Neighborhood: The Summit Hill House Tour

I love stories. It doesn’t matter to me if they’re real or imagined, or take place in the past or the present—I find them all fascinating. And that is the thing I love about houses, they’re like one big, mysterious storybook. When living in a home you’re creating memories that turn into stories, but also, for a little while, you’re a part of its story. Old homes are even better, because their tales are the most intricate and extensive. That’s why I am so excited about the Summit Hill House Tour; it’s a rare opportunity to learn the stories of a neighborhood filled with homes that date back to the 1800s.

Settlement of the Summit Hill area goes back to 1805, when President Thomas Jefferson ordered Lt. Zebulon Pike to purchase tract from the Dakota to use as a site for a fort. In 1854 the land went up for sale at a public auction, and then in the 1850s and 60s residential development began. It was at this time that a number of well-to-do families moved from central St. Paul to the neighborhood. In the early 1900s, when there were trolley lines that ran to the downtown business district, a number of middle class professionals inhabited the area. The last major residential development occurred in the late 1920s with few buildings constructed since, allowing the neighborhood to maintain its historical appeal.

The biennial Summit Hill House Tour started in 1972, when Summit Avenue was in a slump and old buildings were in danger of being torn down. Today it is one of the most popular historic tours in the nation and serves as a major fundraiser for the Summit Hill Association. For one day only, you are able to get a glimpse inside 12 homes and two public spaces that are a part of what has been called “one of the top 10 great streets in America.” The tours are self-guided, so you can choose your own route and stops, but volunteers will be stationed at each of the locations to help guide you. When choosing the homes for this year’s tour, an accidental theme of twins happened. Here’s a closer look at the four sets of twin houses you can tour.

Photo by Rob Spence

Photo by Rob Spence

10 Crocus Hill and 710 Linwood: Clarence Johnston, a renowned architect, designed both of these homes, creating similar exteriors but different interiors. The Crocus Hill house, which was constructed in 1912, is rumored to have been built for Johnston’s daughter and son-in-law in an effort to keep them close (he lived across the street). The Linwood house is 6,734 square feet and was built in 1913 for $10,800. The home boasts a spacious foyer; Venetian plaster waxed walls and French doors, although its most striking feature is the indoor pool.

824 and 828 Lincoln: These identical homes were built in 1889 and 1890, respectively, but due to renovations, now feature very different interiors. In the 1930s there was a fire at 828. When the current owners purchased the home in 2010, they found remaining damage and decided to gut the house, but left the original hardwood floors, stairways, and fireplaces. The current owners of 824 also chose to make renovations, but left the original floor plan intact in the front of the house.

977 Summit: This duplex was built in 1924. The first unit is home to a couple, while their daughter and son-in-law live upstairs in the second unit. The house was in very poor condition when they purchased it, and therefore has had improvements made since. On the first floor, the architectural molding, living room, fireplace, and French doors were saved, while other features were replicated. The upstairs was remodeled with a more modern feel, and has since been featured in a number of publications.

Photo by Rob Spence

Photo by Rob Spence

5 and 7 Heather Place: These are considered to be the tour’s showstoppers. The homes were built for two brothers in 1905 by architecture firm Reed and Stem, who also designed the St. Paul Hotel. The Tudor Revival style homes are connected by a skyway that the brothers jokingly referred to as “the Passover.” The houses are still connected, but the skyway has since been closed and the homes have two different owners. In 5 you’ll see original floor tiles, traditional furniture, an intricate dining room ceiling from the original build, and a straight view from the entrance to the backyard. The second house was made for entertaining, with a spacious foyer, reception room, grand dining room and library.

In addition to the “twins,” there are seven other spaces you can check out on the tour: 107 Virginia, 585 Portland, 710 Summit, 54 Crocus Place, 665 Fairmont, House of Hope Presbyterian Church, and The River of Life Church.

So head to this historic St. Paul neighborhood and for a day, be a part of these homes’ stories.

Info: The Summit Hill House Tour takes place on Sept. 9 from noon-6 p.m. Advance tickets are $25, walk-up tickets are $30. Tickets can be purchased at the Summit Hill Association office, any Kowalski’s Markets, Bibelot or D’Amico on Grand Avenue, Great Harvest Bread Co. on Selby Avenue, or at the ticket stand on the day of the tour, located at 875 Milton Avenue. There will be a free shuttle running every 15 minutes between sites.