Nestled among the bustling restaurants and bars of West Seventh Street is the city's oldest standing private residence, the Justus Ramsey House. Built in 1852, the small limestone residence now sits in the patio of Burger Moe's restaurant.
Justus Ramsey came to Minnesota in 1849 with his brother Alexander Ramsey, who had been appointed Minnesota's first territorial governor. There is no evidence that Justus ever lived in the house himself, opting instead to rent it out to fellow pioneers.
The St. Paul that the Justus Ramsey House began its life in was very different from the current city. By 1857, St. Paul had only 343 buildings. Stores, lumber yards, cattle pens, and residences housing all social classes were located in close proximity to each other.
One of the earliest occupants of the Justus Ramsey House was Robert A. Smith, who arrived in St. Paul in 1853 to serve as a secretary to his brother-in-law, Territorial Governor Willis A. Gorman. Smith went on to hold subsequent government positions at the territorial, county, and city level.
Justus Ramsey himself held public office. He was elected to the Territorial House in 1851, in 1853 as a member of the Opposition Party, and in 1857 as a Republican. Other civic involvement included serving as secretary for the first St. Paul Mason's Lodge. He lost the house in 1859 after his investments took a downturn following the Financial Panic of 1857.
The Justus Ramsey House is representative of St. Paul's Pioneer Era houses. Before the railroad arrived in 1862, building materials were limited and houses were often constructed of locally quarried limestone.
Platteville limestone, which is unique to southeastern Minnesota and southwestern Wisconsin, was often quarried at the site of the new house. Although Platteville limestone was easy to quarry because it breaks easily, it was considered to be undesirable since it was too crumbly to be carved or polished, and its use was discontinued after other building materials became available.