About the House

The Alexander Ramsey House was built from 1868-72, while Ramsey was serving in the U.S. Senate after his years as governor of Minnesota. Three generations of the Ramsey family lived in this home.

When the Ramseys first arrived in Minnesota Territory, they lived with Henry Sibley and his wife for a month, and then in the vacated headquarters of the American Fur Company in downtown St. Paul. Their first house was built in 1850, on the same property as the current mansion.

While Ramsey served in the Senate, he and Anna lived in Washington, D.C., and Marion attended boarding school in Philadelphia. Mrs. Ramsey wrote to her daughter in 1866, "Papa and myself rode over to Georgetown. I was astonished to see so many beautiful fine grounds. Papa made the sensible remark: he wished he owned such a home; how he would enjoy it: I wonder if we all would not also." Six months later, they contacted St. Paul builders Leonard & Sheire.

By this point in his career, Alexander Ramsey had made a sizable fortune in real estate. The 1850 house was moved across the street and attached to Judge Horace and Mrs. Cornelia Bigelow's home. This structure no longer exists.

Architect Monroe Sheire submitted designs for the new house in the then-fashionable French Second Empire style. Contractor John Summers supervised construction of the 11,000 square foot mansion, which cost around $47,000. The new home was equipped with the latest technology — hot and cold running water, gas lighting, and hot water radiators. Anna Ramsey went to A.T. Stewart's department store in New York to furnish the new home, shipping home two boxcars full of furnishings totalling over $15,000.

The family moved into their new house, which they referred to as their “mansion home,” in the fall of 1872. On December 20th, they held a grand opening party, with a $1 donation to charity required for admittance. The event was promoted in the St. Paul Evening Press, who wrote: “The well known taste and skill of Mrs. Ramsey, who provides the whole evening's entertainment, and on this occasion throws open to the public for the first time her new and elegant residence, is a guarantee of a delightful occasion.” 

In 1875, the house’s parlor hosted the wedding of Marion Ramsey to Charles E. Furness of Philadelphia. In 1882 Charles was hospitalized, and Marion moved back into the home; afterwards her three children were raised in the home.

Alexander Ramsey died at home in St. Paul on April 22, 1903. His granddaughters, Anita and Laura Furness, never married and lived in the house until their own deaths in 1959 and 1964, respectively. 

Anita and Laura had been involved in the restoration of George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon, and with the restoration of the home of Minnesota governor (and friend of their grandfather) Henry Sibley  .Proud of the key role their grandfather had played in Minnesota history, Anita and Laura intended for the house to become a museum. Whenever Anita and Laura updated the house to more modern standards, they saved the original fixtures so they could be re-added into the house. The two sisters also left detailed accounts of how the home was furnished during the last decades of the 1800s. 

The granddaughters left the house and all its contents to the Minnesota Historical Society. Today, about 95 percent of the artifacts in the house are original to the home.

The Alexander Ramsey House first opened for tours in 1965, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1969.