THE PEST HOUSE
Many thanks to Audrey Kuhne, a
volunteer at the Service League of Hennepin County Medical
Center, for much of the following information.
Minneapolis established a building for small pox patients only, located just outside the present City limits in St. Louis Park. Very little can be found on this facility, except in passing. On March 9, the President of the Hennepin County Medical Society, Dr. A.E. Ames, wrote a letter telling doctors that no patients with contagious diseases may be admitted to the new Cottage Hospital (later called St. Barnabus) "as the city itself already has a pest-house outside the city limits."
After the original site burned down, the present site was established "in an isolated place" further inside the Village limits. This land was possibly purchased from Nugent and McCoy, who are shown as owners of the land on an 1874 map. An 1889 map show the property belonging to the City of Minneapolis.
It was apparently unclear whether the responsibility for the Pest House belonged to the Minneapolis Board of Health or the City Physician. On November 18 of 1887, it was moved that the Board of Health be instructed "to cause the Pest House to be placed in a proper condition under the supervision of the Board of Health for the reception of patients at a cost not to exceed $500." This resolution was referred to the Committee on Health and Hospitals with power to act. (Page 809 of City Council Proceedings)
On February 17, The Standing Committee on Health and Hospitals made its recommendation: that the Minneapolis "Board of Health be provided with the proper means for placing the Quarantine Hospital and its grounds in a proper condition, and that in the future the Board of Heath may be held responsible for the proper care of patients placed there..." (Page 984 of City Council Proceedings)
In a classic show of hindsight, on December 5, 1892, the Village Council passed an ordinance prohibiting “the erection or maintenance of hospitals or pesthouses within St. Louis Park for the treatment, harboring, or care of persons sick from infectious or contagious diseases and prohibiting the sending, bringing or coming into [SLP] of persons so afflicted.
On January 1, the supervision of the "quarantine hospital for smallpox" was transferred from the Minneapolis Health Department to the City Physician after a vote of the Minneapolis City Council.
On April 22, the Village Council requested the State Board of Health to confer with the Health Board of Minneapolis relative to the burial of paupers in the Quarantine Hospital grounds to the end that same be discontinued.
The Minneapolis City Physician was given a choice of employing a new matron at the hospital or to make plans to abandon the building. The latter plan was adopted, and space was made for smallpox patients at the old Contagious Building at the City's Hopewell Hospital.
The Pest House was closed. Caretaker John O. “Jack” Johnson rented a house on the property. People referred to "Johnson's Pest House" and his children as the "Pest House Johnson Kids."
A series of at least six photographs were taken of the grounds on August 2, which showed that the buildings were still standing, although the grounds look deserted and overgrown. A cornfield is also visible.
The Board of Public Welfare minutes in April indicated that the building was sold.
As the construction of Highway 7 began, there was some
unfinished business: Potter's Field. Children watched in
fascination as men from the Minneapolis workhouse, under
armed guard, dug up the poorly interred corpses, stopping to
pick the gold out of their teeth. Andy Williamette, who
lived next door, remembered one woman to stood by for two
days, waiting to get a ring that had been worn by a relative
buried there. Before they were taken
away on wagons, the bushel baskets full of bones were
stacked on the spot where the garage at 4401 Minnetonka
Blvd. stands today. Bob Whalen remembers that "Work slowed
on the original exhumation when my grandfather, who had an
odd sense of humor, mixed with the working men and told them
that they were digging up plague victims – the workers
walked off the job and had to be coaxed back."
During the installation of the water line for the five large apartment buildings (variously called Park Point and Burning Tree on tax records) that now occupy the site, the dragging equipment dredged up portions of wood containers, clothing, and even some human remains. This discovery was reportedly hushed up by the builder of the apartments, who suspected that the secret in the dirt below might dissuade potential renters of the apartments above. The apartments are bounded by Minnetonka Blvd. on the north, Joppa Ave. on the east, Highway 7 on the south, and a line midway between Lynn and Joppa on the west.
Some of the dead had not reached their designated final home, as renovation work at the apartments yielded human remains – on October 31. An archaeologist determined that they remains consisted of two male jaw bones and a bone fragment from an infant’s leg bone. First thought to be from an ancient Indian burial place, it turned out to be the remains of a hapless victim of some long-cured disease. Who knows if the ground below doesn't play host to yet more of St. Louis Park's more unfortunate guests from the Big City?
This information comes from a variety of sources: newspapers, books, yearbooks, phone directories, interviews, etc. Given the varied sources, we cannot guarantee that all of this information is correct, and welcome any additions and corrections. Please contact us with your contributions and comments.