Sinclair Lewis' former St. Paul home is for sale; Nobel Prize not included


"Main Street" put Sinclair Lewis on the world's literary map but Summit Avenue was also one of his addresses.

And it could be yours, too, if you buy the Nobel Prize-winning author's former home in St. Paul.

The Italian Renaissance home that dates from 1914 is listed by Edina Realty for $1.1 million. It has four bedrooms, five baths, five fireplaces, and a restored billiard room.

In other words it fits right in on Summit, which has been home to some of most prominent Minnesotans for a century and a half. Realtor Mary Hardy tells the Pioneer Press “For a Summit Avenue mansion, it’s not a massive house; it’s just beautifully proportioned.”

It occupies a lot of nearly half an acre that includes what Hardy describes as "mystical oak trees."

Lewis' days there

Lewis lived in the home during parts of 1917 and '18. What did he do during his time there? According to one account, "He skied, skated, partied with the elite and worked on his play Hobohemia, which went on to an 11-week run in New York."

He also reportedly worked on a novel about railroad baron James J. Hill (who had lived a few blocks down the avenue) but it was never finished.

According to an article in Minnesota History, Lewis' brief stay in the home was typical of his restlessness during his formative years. The year before he moved in, Lewis and his wife had purchased a Ford and drove from Duluth to San Francisco, scholar John T. Flanagan writes.

When he moved out, Lewis headed north to Cass Lake, Minnesota, for a first-hand look at a lumber camp, sleeping in the bunkhouse alongside the loggers, Flanagan says.

A couple years later in 1920 Lewis' breakthrough novel made his hometown of Sauk Centre famous – though it was thinly disguised as Gopher Prairie, Minnesota. His boyhood home sits near what is now the intersection of Original Main Street and Sinclair Lewis Ave.

In 1930 when he became the first American to win the Nobel Prize for literature, the presenter's speech attributed some of the "puffed-up complacency" of Lewis' Gopher Prairie to the town's jealousy of cities like St. Paul and Minneapolis, which were already "metropolitan centres."

And who knows, perhaps the eventual purchaser of 516 Summit Ave. will inspire a little jealousy, too.

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