The History of Ramsey County for the first 100 years was, to a great extent, is the history of St. Paul, the county seat and the capital of Minnesota.
The land north of the small settlement of St. Paul, which at the time stretched between upper and lower steamboat landings on the Mississippi River, was open land dotted with small lakes and clumps of trees, laced with streams and crisscrossed by wagon roads that often followed trails used earlier by bands of Sioux and Ojibway traveling through the area.
Minnesota Territory reached west to the Missouri River and took in parts of what are now North and South Dakota. The darker area was the only part of Minnesota open to white settlers in 1849.
A military road extended north from Fort Snelling along what is now Snelling Ave. Territorial Road ran roughly parallel to present-day I-94, linking St. Paul with the village of St. Anthony at St. Anthony Falls. Several Red River ox cart trails crossed what is now the Midway area, again linking St. Anthony with St. Paul.
The passage of the bill creating the Minnesota Territory in the spring of 1849 immediately attracted settlers. Nine counties were created later that year, Ramsey being one of them. The original Ramsey County boundary included all of the present-day counties of Ramsey, Anoka, Isanti, Kanabec and part of Washington, Pine, Carlton, Aitkin, Mille Lacs and Hennepin.
Flooding into St. Paul by steamboat, many people remained right in the city, but others established farms on the vacant land in what is now northern Ramsey County. One of these early settlers was Heman Gibbs, a Vermont teacher who acquired land on the wagon trail from St. Anthony to Stillwater - today's Larpenteur Ave. His farm still stands at the corner of Larpenteur and Cleveland Avenues. It is operated as the Gibbs Farm Museum by the Ramsey County Historical Society.
The rise of the railroads after the Civil War made Ramsey County and St. Paul the transportation center of the Upper Midwest and the gateway to the Northwest. It is almost impossible to exaggerate the railroad's impact on the 19th century city and county. Toward the end of the century, an enormous network of rails linked St. Paul with Chicago and the Pacific. "Empire Builder" James J. Hill had reorganized the St. Paul, Manitoba and Pacific Railroads into the Great Northern and acquired operating control of the bankrupt Northern Pacific. In addition, at least ten other lines were serving the region. Some eight million people passed through St. Paul's Union Depot in 1888, a peak year, with 150 trains arriving and departing daily.
At the same time, much of the land in northern Ramsey County had remained farm land. Heman Gibbs, his son Frank, and their fellow farmers, such as Henry Schroeder, who operated a dairy, were growing fruits and vegetables and providing milk, butter and eggs needed by a growing city. During the last decades of the 19th century, villages began to spring up in this section of Ramsey County. New Brighton was founded in 1887, North St. Paul in the late 1880s and Roseville in the 1870s. White Bear Lake dates back to the 1850s.
By the beginning of the 20th century, St. Paul and Ramsey County had become leaders in a social service network that would sustain its people through World War I, Prohibition, the Depression, World War II and the rapid changes in civil, cultural and social life that would mark the decades of the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and beyond.
By this time also, the farms that had once dotted the land north of the city limits had disappeared, and the communities that serve the area - the historic villages of Ramsey County - had become flourishing suburbs whose businesses and industries now occupy the open land once held by Heman Gibbs and his fellow farmers.