The genesis of the Saint Paul Farmers Market was set into motion by a call to answer a basic necessity: The need for a community to feed and sustain itself. In 1853 French-Canadian Fur Trapper, Vital Guerin, responded to that call and helped build Minnesota’s first public Farmers Market. 150 years later, this need for a community to feed and sustain itself continues and is held up by the philanthropy that Guerin inspired prior to Minnesota joining the union.
Something about 150+ years later this continues. One mans philanthropy. When Vital Guerin arrived in the territory of what is now the State of
Minnesota, the landscape he witnessed was still wild and relatively untouched by man, with deciduous forests of maple, oak and cottonwood carpeting the bluffs and banks of the Mississippi River Valley.
Travel, especially longer distance, was primarily done on water. Steamboats from Saint Louis and parts downriver delivered food and vital supplies; along with mail and important news of the time. The regions long cold winters undoubtedly added to life’s struggle; when the rivers froze, deliveries were done by dogsled or extremely rough overland trips with horse-drawn power. Vital came to Mendota in 1832 to work for the American Fur Company. The company’s primary trading post was in Mendota, at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers. When the Fur Trade Economy was in it’s prime, the Native Dakota and Ojibwe produced a majority of the furs being trapped and sold in the Northwest Territory. The primary animal being harvested was Beaver. At that time the working relationship with the Dakota and Ojibwe became critical to the French, British, and American traders supply of furs.
In exchange for the furs the Europeans and Americans traded manufactured goods such firearms, metal tools, utensils, and blankets. Through this relationship the white/non-native traders also adopted the Ojibwe and Dakota’s customs of holding council, barter exchange, and collective diplomacy. Unfortunately this communal relationship did not survive, as one of the greatest tragedies of history occurred when the American
Mdewankatan Dakota at Mendota and soldiers at Fort Snelling, 1850. Henry Lewis “In its earliest years,
St. Paul was bound to the river,” writes local historian Virginia Brainerd Kunz, “dependent entirely upon the shining strand that delivered settlers and supplies during the warm months of the year, and locked away the settlement during the long, ice-bound winters.”
Government enacted a policy of genocide towards all indigenous peoples. Vital worked for the American Fur company for three years and then moved on to working independently with other traders in the area.
In 1839 the native Quebecian staked a claim and settled at what is currently Seventh and Wabasha streets in St. Paul. Vital met and married Adele Perry, a immigrant farm-girl from Switzerland. In the following years the newlywed couple built a modest 16’ by 20’ft log cabin with local hardwood. The cabins roof was made of bark, the floor constructed of puncheon logs: logs that were split and hewed at the same depth on on one side creating a flat surface. Their neighbor, Michel Clair, helped them build the cabin’s window and door. The newly built home was one of only 8 cabins that occupied the unincorporated frontier town of Saint Paul.
The next two decades the Guerins saw their rivertown home expand rapidly. Immigrant settlers began to arrive on steamboats daily.
In his History of Saint Paul, J. Fletcher William’s estimates that in 1849 Saint Paul had a population of 840, by 1853 the city’s population ballooned to 4,700. During the 1840’s Vital’s wealth also grew significantly, he amassed a fortune of landholdings in the city. During that time Vital and Adele also started a family, having five Seth Eastman’s 1848 graphite drawing of
Winter in Saint Paul, 1859.
children : 3 boys David, Alfred, and William and 2 girls Emily and Lucy. In 1850, at the same location on Wabasha and Seventh, Vital built Adele and his 5 children a one-and-a-half story modern framed dwelling.