Levi Stewart House at Hennepin Ave and 4th Street
Where the Gay 90s nightclub now stands, in downtown Minneapolis, once stood the cottage home of Elder Levi M. Stewart.
Maine born, Dartmouth and Harvard educated attorney “Elder” Levi M. Stewart came to Minneapolis in 1857 with $1500 for investing in real estate. He purchased three lots in North Minneapolis, but the titles were in question, and he lost every penny. He later said that the money lost was worth many times that $1500 in experience.
Stewart had offices on Nicollet and Washington Avenues. In 1860, he purchased the half block of ground on Hennepin Avenue between Fourth and Fifth Streets (kitty corner from the current Minneapolis Central Library), where he built a cottage in which he lived for the rest of his life. He kept the cottage, which was located in a central part of downtown Minneapolis, as a point of pride despite potentially lucrative offers to buy or least the property, ever increasing taxes and the encroachment of ever larger commercial buildings. In later years a friend noted that when Stewart purchased the property, it was considered remote, and hunters used to hunt ducks just blocks away.
Stewart had a successful law practice, but it was real estate that made him a wealthy man. He rarely sold his properties but leased them for long terms, including at least one lease for a term of 1000 years. Born to a second generation Baptist minister (“Elder” was a nickname that came from his father), Stewart lived a spartan life, never drinking tea, coffee or alcohol and abstaining from tobacco. He once refused a lucrative lease on one of his properties because the proposed hotel planned to include a bar. A lifelong bachelor, he kept up his residence alone, at least in part to avoid the appearance of impropriety with servant girls. He may have been Minneapolis’ first millionaire, leaving behind an estate with an estimated worth of $4 million at his death in 1910. And his real estate holdings in the city were extensive, including tracts on Lake Street between Portland and Third, tracts on Hennepin between 10th and 11th, and a sizable chunk of Nicollet Island.
Stewart referred to himself as a “home Baptist” since he never attended church. When asked by a revivalist, "Elder, don’t you want to go to heaven?" His response was "No, I guess not. Minneapolis is good enough for me."
1903 plat map pictured above. View a detailed 1885 Minneapolis plat map, the earliest in our collection.
This post was researched and written by Special Collections volunteer Paul Gustafson.