Mears Park once rose high above the surrounding land. Beginning in 1851, it was known as “Baptist Hill” because leading members of the First Baptist congregation chose it as the location for their first chapel. Josh Smith, the owner of the rest of the hill, found the terrain too steep for further building, so he donated the land to the city as a park. The hill was leveled after a new church was built three blocks north of here.
St Paul’s rapid growth soon made land in Lowertown too valuable for residential use. As real estate values rose, industry moved in and people moved out. Homes, hotels, livery, stables and shops gave way to massive warehouses. Rail yards expanded, and whole residential blocks disappeared
After World War II, wholesalers and manufacturers began moving to suburban locations, and Lowertown’s fortunes declined. But Lowertown sprang to life again during the administration of Mayor George Latimer (1976-1989). With his help, and funding from the McKnight foundation, it has coordinated public and private efforts to reuse Lowertown’s old buildings as apartments, offices, shops and restaurants.