Overlooking the Swede Hollow neighborhood, the picturesque Theodore Hamm mansion at 671 Greenbrier was a crown jewel of the east side of St. Paul. The Queen Anne Revival-style structure stood like a castle on the bluffs, a beacon of inspiration and possibility to those living below. The abrupt destruction of the multi-story mansion years later not only demolished an iconic structure but razed part of the history of one of Minnesota’s most prominent families.
The three-story home, built in 1886-1887 at the cost of $20,000, was a gift from the Hamm children to their parents, Theodore and Louise. It was presented to them in a small ceremony attended by the local paper in late May 1887, after the couple had returned from a thirteen-month European vacation. Theodore, the ever-stoic patriarch of the family, was said to be appreciative of the gift, while his wife was reportedly overwhelmed. She had preferred their previous accommodations near the brewery employees’ dorm-style housing.
There was something breathtaking about the red-brick manor overlooking Hamm's Brewery and Swede Hollow. It was designed by prominent St. Paul architect Augustus Gauger, boasting twenty rooms, eight fireplaces, and five chimneys. Steam was piped up the hill from the brewery below to heat the mansion. The building rivaled the extraordinary homes on Summit Avenue.
Parties at the stately mansion on the hill became yearly affairs attended by the city’s elite and brewery workers. These elegant celebrations included a German band brought in from the city, Chinese lanterns spread throughout the yard, and tame deer and peacocks mingling among the guests as some of the entertaining highlights.
It has been said that children from Swede Hollow would climb the hill to the outskirts of the Hamm grounds to watch the parties as they took place.
Theodore Hamm died of heart failure on July 31, 1903, and the house was taken over by his son William (Sr.) and wife Marie. The couple lived in the home until William died in 1931. Marie passed away two years later. They were the last members of the Hamm family to live in the house. It sat vacant, falling into disrepair until eventually becoming the Robbin’s Rest Hospital nursing home.
Just before noon on April 21, 1954, a fire broke out on the first and second floors of the now-vacant former neighborhood landmark. A fourteen-year-old junior high school student, believing that he just “had to get into some kind of trouble today,” started the blaze by lighting bundles of newspapers he found on the first two floors of the building on fire. After starting the fire, he walked to a nearby laundromat and called the police. He knew he’d be caught, so he wanted to get his punishment out of the way as soon as possible.
The former mansion had sat unoccupied for only three weeks before the fires were set. The blaze caused $25,000 in damage. A short time later, after sixty-seven years of grandeur, the home was deemed unsafe and demolished.
For years residents wanted the former site of the mansion to be turned into a city park. Under the guidance of Olivia Dodge, leader of the St. Paul Garden Club, the area became Upper Swede Hollow Park. It was officially dedicated on October 15, 1976, as part of Swede Hollow Park Recognition Day.
Upper Swede Hollow Park, a quaint park in its own right, serves today as a northeastern entrance down the steps into Swede Hollow below. While the Theodore Hamm mansion, a symbol of the city's brewing legacy, is no more, its spirit endures as a park that stands as a testament to St. Paul's past. It is a place where memories linger and the grandeur of the Hamm family lives on, just a stone's throw from the former brewery that still bears their name.
This location is a stop on:
The Hamm's Brewery Grounds Tour
Published: November 12, 2023
- "Hamms Mansion." 1889 Victorian House Restoration. https://1889victorianrestoration.blogspot.com/2011/11/hamms-mansion.html.
- Minneapolis Star Tribune. "$25000 Fire Hits St. Paul Mansion." April 22, 1954, 1.
- Minneapolis Star. "Boy, 14, Admits Setting Fire to Hamm Mansion." April 22, 1954, 27.
- Saint Paul Fire Department. Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/SaintPaulFireDepartment/posts/in-1865-theodore-hamm-purchased-a-struggling-brewery-in-daytons-bluff-after-a-fe/1590582644387598/.
- Trimble, Sreve. "The Old Hamm Mansion Site." Saint Paul Historical. https://saintpaulhistorical.com/items/show/33.