In 1890, a young woman named Gertrude Horan was pleased to find a teaching position at a brand-new school near Lake Como.
Her parents, however, were distressed at the prospect of their daughter working “out in the wilderness,” beyond St. Paul’s western border, populated at the time by a few scattered farm families.
Horan’s place of employment was Tilden School, located just east of the state fairgrounds. Today a small neighborhood park occupies its former site at Arona Street and Albany Avenue.
For nearly a century, Tilden was where generations of Como area children received their first exposure to formal education.
Horan lived in a boarding house in downtown St. Paul and commuted by train to her job, disembarking at the Snelling Avenue station and walking north to the school.
Tilden, named for a presidential candidate of 1876, was built in anticipation of population growth in the area, expected to be fueled by hiring at the new Northern Pacific Railroad’s repair shops nearby. However, the real estate boom ended abruptly with a depression that became known as the Panic of 1893.
The eight-room school was built to accommodate 325 students, but it opened with only 15 pupils in grades 1 through 4. Older children attended Logan School near Lexington and Hoyt avenues.
Enrollment stalled and the school district closed Tilden for the 1896-97 school year. But it reopened and graduated its first class, consisting of two students, in 1903. George Robertson, a member of one of the pioneer families, was the salutatorian and spoke on “Labor Conquers All.”
By 1916, there were 145 students, but conditions for learning may not have been ideal. A scathing report by the State Fire Marshall called St. Paul schools firetraps and Tilden was not spared: “On account of the poor installation of furnaces which are old, the floors are black with coal dust, as well as the walls and furniture,” the report said.
Outhouses were still being used, although the city was in the process of installing sewer lines by this point.
The school had started to fill up with the opening of Thomas Frankson’s new development north of Midway Parkway and by 1924 an addition was needed. By the time the school celebrated its golden jubilee in 1939, there were 441 students enrolled.
The end came abruptly for Tilden in 1974, when it was discovered that the building was infested with bats. After a child was bitten, district officials decided to close the school immediately. The majority of students were sent to Chelsea Heights Elementary School to the north.
Following Tilden’s demolition, the school district sold the land to the City of St. Paul for $1 and the 1.6-acre plot was developed as a park.
Roger Bergerson writes about local history and community news from his home in Como Park.