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, a beacon of inspiration and possibility to those that lived 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 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 13-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.
The three-story, red-brick manor that overlooked the Hamm’s Brewery was a sight to behold. It was designed by prominent St. Paul architect Augustus Gauger, boasting twenty rooms, eight fireplaces, and five chimneys. The mansion was heated by steam that was piped up the hill from the brewery below. It was a structure that rivaled the incredible homes found on Summit Ave.
Although they were exhausted after the extended trip, the couple hoped to host a party in the coming days to celebrate their new home and return from a long trip abroad.
Parties at the stately mansion on the hill became yearly affairs attended by the city’s elite and brewery workers. These elegant parties 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, 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 been vacant for only three weeks before the fires were set.
The blaze caused $25,000 in damage to the once ornate structure. Shortly after that, and after 67 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.
A quaint park in its own right, Upper Swede Hollow Park is used today as a northeastern entrance down the steps into Swede Hollow Park below. A gatepost from the mansion found in the bushes years after demolition now holds a plaque at the park entrance that tells a portion of the Hamm family’s incredible local story.
- "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.