Settlement of the Summit Hill area dates back to 1805 when Lt. Zebulon Pike, under orders from President Thomas Jefferson, purchased a tract of land from the Dakotah Indians as a site for a fort. The land consisted of nine miles on each side of the Mississippi River and included the area of Summit Hill. Squatters occupied this land illegally until 1854 when it went up for sale at public auction. Summit Hill subsequently became a rural truck and dairy farm area supplying the growing St. Paul market.
The first residential development of the Summit Hill area took place in the 1850’s and 1860’s when many wealthy and prominent St. Paul families moved from the central river front area. Leading this exodus was James C. Burbank, who in 1862 built one of Summit Avenue’s first mansions at 432 Summit. Burbank, who made his fortune in the riverboat and stage business, caused a sensation by incorporating such amazingly modern features as steam heating, hot and cold water and gas lighting in his new home.
In the 1880’s and 1890’s the Crocus Hill and Grand Hill neighborhoods, two residential sections of Summit Hill, became fashionable locations for the wealthy families of St. Paul. At this time, many earlier Summit Avenue constructions were either renovated or razed to make way for more fashionable, or what was thought to be architecturally significant, houses. Early railroad and lumber barons built on Summit Avenue and in the adjacent areas with families such as the Burbanks and Weyerhaeusers leading the social life of the Hill.
Around and after the turn of the century, the first major wave of middle-income residents moved into Summit Hill. They settled mainly in the southwestern portion of the district, constructing mostly spacious, wood frame houses. Many row houses and elegant apartment buildings, built mostly of brick, sprang up at the same time. Some of these multi-unit buildings have more recently been converted to charming condominiums.
During the 1920’s, as St. Paul grew to the west, the streetcar lines along St. Clair and Grand Avenues prompted developers to replace many of the single-family residences with apartment buildings. As Grand Avenue’s commercial development continued to grow, a St. Paul zoning ordinance, which went into effect in 1922, made the land along the streetcar lines single-family zones, just as Summit Avenue had been since 1894. This single-family zoning classification further encouraged the denser growth patterns along Grand Avenue within the district. The late 1920’s saw the last major residential developments occurring within the Summit Hill area west of Lexington and on a few scattered bluff sites. Since very few buildings have been constructed since the end of the 1920s, the Summit Hill neighborhood looked pretty much then as it does today. However, with the new City of Saint Paul Comprehensive Plan, more and more townhomes, such as those on the corner of Summit and Oakland Avenues and along Ayd Mill Road behind St. Clair and Lexington Avenues, are being and will be built to accommodate the current demand for inner city housing.