Explore the Neighborhoods within Central City

When two Benedictine priests arrived on the shores of Lake Windsor, they believed they brought religion to an unholy land. By establishing a small chapel that served as a schoolhouse with a modest but ever-expanding collection of books, they certainly brought culture. In the years following, the Benedictine community grew. The founding brothers had chosen a nice, quiet location, removed from the rapidly growing town to the south. Within thirty years, however, the city’s reach pushed on the ascetics a rival in the form of Chester Mercantile. Uptown has ever since existed in a state of dualism, spiritual isolation on one end and worldly commercialism on the other.

The beating heart of Central City, what became Downtown originated as the site of Fort Meeker, the army’s settlement on the lakeside face of Capitol Hill. The neighborhood grew to stretch from the eastern edge of Capitol Hill to Martin Luther King Drive, the edge of Echo, and from the River to Marquette Street. Both the center of commerce and city government, Downtown has always been the jewel at the center of Central City’s crown.
Part of the original Central City, Midtown began as the industrial section of the settlement. It’s upstream location, however, undermined industrial growth, and the center of industry moved south and east of the city’s center in what is today Commerce City and The Docks. Midtown became home to the state capitol, the city’s professional sports teams, and the university. Between the university and the capitol, a commercial district developed to serve and entice the neighborhood’s growing student and professional population.

Commerce City bridges the industrial reality of The Docks to the working and middle-class neighborhoods of Woodland Park and St. Patrick’s. Originally named Eden Prairie, the mill and dock workers founded the village to distance themselves from the mining and military camps growing around Fort Meeker. Industry and manufacturing outgrew the docks and spread into the second Eden, bringing a less precipitous fall. When incorporated into Central City in 1906, the new charter labeled the area Commerce City. The neighborhood grew throughout the twentieth century, and the landscape of Commerce City fluctuated between residential neighborhoods that originated as ethnic pockets only to grow progressively more homogeneous. By the second half of the century, manufacturing houses, warehouses, and distribution centers obstructed the residential flow of working-class homes and neighborhood convenience centers.
Commerce City more than earned its name.

Named for the acoustic effect created by the wind coming off the lake, Echo sits on top of what was once a marshy lowland north of the mouth of the river, the least desirable land in the area that would become Central City. Walleye Pondere purchased the property nobody wanted and sold it to anyone willing to live there, predominantly freedmen and runaway slaves. The original settlement changed complexion several times over the years, growing into a proud and diverse community, home to many of Central City’s most famous and accomplished inhabitants.

A quiet resort community sandwiched between The Heights and Lake Windsor, Long Beach began as a smattering of cabins on the wooded slope falling to the lake. Too far from the settlement’s center to accommodate commercial or industrial interests, for many years the area remained a place where locals went to hunt or fish and where a few residents who preferred solitude shied away from the growing city. In the 1890’s, the first resort was established, and a string of cabins grew around the resort for people seeking an escape. Throughout the following decades, the area grew in popularity and more resorts appeared. By the 1950’s, Long Beach had become a tourist destination for the entire tristate area. Although the area’s popularity declined with the city’s industry, Long Beach has experienced a revival in recent years.

St. Patrick’s is the colloquial name for St. Patrick’s Parish, an old neighborhood that was once an Irish settlement. In 1906 the city incorporated St. Patrick’s and the other old neighborhoods (Commerce City and Woodland Park), and what had been a working-class enclave grew progressively more middle-class, peaking in affluence during the 1950’s. The growth and development of family homes drew a diverse crowd to St. Patrick’s, families looking to escape the skyward development of Downtown and Midtown. This migration eroded some of the Irish elements, and when the neighborhood, along with the economy, swung back toward its working-class roots in the seventies and eighties, middle class families migrated to the suburbs, leaving St. Patrick’s more diverse and yet more homogeneous, the paradox of the American melting pot.

In 1869, railroad workers established a tent city in what would become SOCCs. Clapboard houses gradually replaced the tents, and throughout the history of the city, SOCCs was the cheapest place to live. A land of leaky roofs, squatters, and barrelhouses, SOCCs housed the hardest living, and those who didn’t work, couldn’t work, or who worked the jobs no one else wanted.

Originally a staging area for the shipment of raw materials, the first wharves allowed small packet carriers to tie off, load up, and ship out. Eventually, The Docks grew into an industrial and manufacturing complex that fueled Central City’s growth and development. During the second half of the twentieth century, The Docks became a postindustrial graveyard before being repurposed for the mass production of commercial media.
Named because it sits on the high ground created by a series of creeks that flowed through the bluffs north of Central City, The Heights needed extensive landscaping to become a picturesque neighborhood. Mostly sediment and hard rock, the soil made for poor farming, and the land would be deemed useless until the area’s solitude appealed to the newly minted millionaires whose mines, banks, mercantile stores, and manufacturing companies built Central City. The wealthiest neighborhood in the city, The Heights provides unobstructed views of Lake Windsor and the city stretching southward, views that exemplify just how high a resident can climb.
Originally multiple Scandinavian settlements, The Hill became a middle-class pseudo suburb. Located on the western edge of the city, across Hill Avenue from Central City State University, The Hill serves as a bedroom community for college professors and professionals who work Uptown, Downtown, or in Midtown. The Hill is a self-contained community one step removed from the frenetic energy of the city.

For many years, Waite Park consisted of a few farms, fields, a gas station, grain elevator, and a post office between Uptown, the estates of The Heights, and the rural communities beyond the extended reach of the city. Included in the city limits when Central City annexed Jefferson Township, Waite Park was poised for growth. Developers jumped on the opportunity after the Second World War, and the heart of Waite Park became a center for entertainment during the fifties.

Founded as a company town around the park for which the neighborhood was named, Woodland Park remains the best preserved of the old neighborhoods. The northern half of Woodland Park is a middle-class enclave populated by commuters who work Downtown or in Midtown. Below Arapahoe Street, the neighborhood begins to decline. The closer one gets to SOCCs, the more one sees the urban decay created by the loss of blue-collar jobs in Commerce City and at the Docks.

Subscribe to Perro's Prism and
Receive a Free Short Story

Register for the monthly newsletter for exclusive essays, discounts, content, news, and more. 

You can unsubscribe at any time. For more details, review our privacy policy.