In a 1903 article entitled “Public Spirit in Suburban Development,” the St. Paul Daily Globe described an up-and-coming community on the western edge of the city.
The reference was to St. Anthony Park and the public spirit was that of the St. Anthony Park North Improvement League, a group of residents that included leading businessmen, as well as faculty from the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus.
Since its formation two years earlier, the league had raised the money to lay three miles of concrete sidewalk, trim trees and purchase the land for Commonwealth Park.
It also provided snowplowing, presumably with horse teams, since the city did not fund the service.
“St. Anthony Park may well be called a suburb of magnificent distances, for it includes a very long stretch of territory which extends north and south,” declared the paper. “Both the interurban and Como streetcars run through the park and for the accommodation of those passengers who wait for the cars, the league last summer had benches placed at the corners of Raymond, Scudder, Commonwealth and Carter avenues.”
To mark Arbor Day 1902, the league gave each child attending the Murray and Gibbs schools, the latter at Cleveland and Larpenteur avenues, plum and apple seedlings for planting at home, a practice that was continued for several years.
But there were instances when the league became an opposing force when it felt an issue warranted. For example, in 1902, it was proposed that a tuberculosis hospital be located in St. Anthony Park.
“Instantly, the members were up in arms,” the newspaper recounted, “for they were naturally averse to having their beautiful suburb injured by the erection in it of any institution for the treatment of contagious diseases.” At the members’ urging, the St. Paul City Council passed an ordinance blocking such an action if a majority of property owners objected.
And although St. Anthony Park’s original development was as a “railroad suburb” with a commuter train connection, the article stated that “the residents … have always deplored the noise caused by the many engines that pass over the railroad tracks that cut the district in two.”
A league committee chaired by Col. William Liggett (see accompanying article) negotiated with railroad officials and “some relief was obtained, but the quiet of the park is still occasionally disturbed by the shrill tooting of the whistles.”
On the league’s agenda for the future was the widening of its main thoroughfare, today known as Como Avenue, acquiring additional park land, placing street signs at all corners and convincing the city to get more help for the one policeman assigned to the district.
But the two biggest projects, the laying of gas and sewer lines, already were underway and the league was keeping a close eye on their progress.
“The park is still lighted by gasoline lamps,” noted the newspaper, “but by the terms of the new gas franchise agreement, its interests will be well taken care of.”
Roger Bergerson writes about local history and community news from his home in Como Park.
Liggett’s career was public service
Col. William Liggett was one of the founders of the St. Anthony Park North Improvement League, but that was by no means the extent of his public service.
During his 25 years in Minnesota, Liggett was a University of Minnesota regent, dean of its agricultural college and director of the experiment station, a state railroad and warehouse commissioner and member of the State Agricultural Society Board, the parent of the Minnesota State Fair.
He even managed the 1890 fair, a successful six-day exposition, although rain and cold cut the attendance at St. Paul Day to 9,000, one-third of the crowd that was anticipated.
Liggett was an Ohio farm boy and Civil War enlistee at the age of 17. His military title was earned in later service with the Ohio National Guard.
After working in banking, he brought his young family to Minnesota in 1884, where he and a partner started a livestock-raising operation near Benson in Swift County. It soon became regarded as one of the most successful farms in the state.
A series of appointments to public positions followed and a contemporary biographer noted, “It is Col. Liggett’s strongest point that he never disappoints expectations. With good judgment, a clear mind and rare executive ability, he easily takes rank with the leading agriculturists and breeders of the country.”
Declining health forced him to resign from the university in 1907, and he died two years later at his home at 2245 Knapp St. in St. Anthony Park. Only 63, Liggett was said to have succumbed to “tightening of the arteries, caused primarily from nervous trouble.”
A street in the fairgrounds is named after him.—Roger Bergerson