THE PEST HOUSE
Much of the the initial information
received about the Pest House came from Audrey Kuhne, a
volunteer at the Service League of Hennepin County Medical
Center, in 2000. The subject lay dormant for many
years, when, in 2013, John Ryan found just the right person
to ask more questions: Bob McCune, Records Coordinator
for the City of Minneapolis ("City Archivist"), native
Parkite and 1964 graduate of Park High. Bob and John and the
St. Louis Park Historical Society are working to shed even
more light on this fascinating subject.
Contrary to what was previously
thought, John Ryan says that "Very few people from the
Quarantine Hospital actually died and were buried there. I'd
say maybe 100 out of the 3,000 that were buried there over
the years. The city kept meticulous death records and there
were many years where there were no deaths at the Quarantine
Hospital at all. The cemetery's official name was "The City
Graveyard" and it was used to bury people from Minneapolis
whose families could not afford to pay for burial - mostly
immigrants, single people and infants. It was maintained by
the superintendent of the Quarantine Hospital."
THE ORIGINAL PEST HOUSE (MINNEAPOLIS)
In January Minneapolis Health Officer Dr. Lindley alerted the Town Council about cases of smallpox and urged immunizations for "all citizens who have not yet been vaccinated." The first smallpox vaccine was developed in 1798. In May Lindley advised the construction of a contagion hospital "at once" and a tract was purchased in North Minneapolis known as "Negro House and Land" or "Negro Hill." Bob McCune has estimated that this location would have been just north of 26th Ave. No., which at the time was just north of the city limits. This is based on H.W.S. Cleveland's description: "Following this avenue [Lyndale] two and one half miles north from Central Park, we come to the present site of the pest house, immediately in the rear of which rises a hill from which is obtained the finest view I have seen of the central portions of the city...." Patients were being admitted by the end of May 1869. Records seem to show that occupancy was relatively low.
The land where the old Pest House was located became part of Farview Park, which is bounded by 29th Ave. No., 4th St. No., 26th St. No., and Lyndale Ave. The park "comprises an area of 20 82/100 acres, and occupies the highest point of land within the city limits, and commands a view of the entire city, as well as the course of the Mississippi river for miles. Its surface is diversified with lawns and groves, whose natural beauty will be augmented by the magic touch of landscape art." A map of Farview Park is shown below. The old Pest House buildings were burned down in 1885.
Photos above of Farview Park courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.
On March 9, 1871, 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."
The record suggests that part of this original Pest House grounds be set aside as a Potters Field, but there is no indication that this was actually done. An article in the St. Paul Daily Globe dated September 7, 1892, indicated that "The bodies were originally buried in the Tenth ward, but were removed to the quarantine hospital burying ground." The original Pest House was in the Third Ward. It may be that bodies were moved to the St. Louis Park site from Layman's Cemetery.
John Ryan found this in the New Zealand Tablet of February 23, 1883 - amazing!
The pest house at Minneapolis, Minn., is at present over-crowded with small-pox patients, and a funeral invariably follows a few days after a patient is taken there, six members of one family having died within a short time. This wholesale slaughter has been going on for some time, and the matter is now being investigated. The keeper uses his best effort (so it seems) to spread the disease, by going into the streets of Minneapolis, and in fact, enjoys and unrestrained freedom in this matter. The patients are fed on the most unwholesome food and are nursed like a drove of hogs. Several prominent physicians are constantly violating the law by not sending patients to the pest house, considering it "murder in the first degree." Father McGoldrick, the parish priest, the only Christian minister ho has visited the pest house, says: -
Bob McCune says that "The hardship case referred to in the narrative is more than likely that of the Swedish immigrant family, the Johnsons, who entered the hospital together in 1872. The father and mother were afflicted with smallpox, but none of the children were ill. What became of the father is unclear, but the mother succumbed and the children of the family were adopted by concerned citizens out-state who had read about their plight in the Scandinavian paper. (Petition A1473)."
THE MOVE TO ST. LOUIS PARK
In April and May 1883 the Minneapolis council was eager for the North Minneapolis Pest House to be moved. On April 27 a petition was filed from James L. Monroe and others, and from Charles Hoag and others requesting that immediate action be taken for the removal of the pest house. The Council directed the committees on public grounds and buildings and health and hospitals to select and purchase a tract of land at or beyond the city limits for a site for a city hospital for contagious diseases.
In August the Board of Supervisors of the Poor advised the City Council that a ten acre lot be purchased by the city for a "potter's field." The petition was referred to the committee on Public Grounds and Buildings.
On September 12, 1883, the City of Minneapolis purchased 8.7 acres in St. Louis Park for a "quarantine station" from P.P. Swanson for $3,500. Charles Hanke and Joseph Hamilton of the Town of Minneapolis (to become St. Louis Park in 1886) protested the move to no avail.
The 1883 Report of the City of Minneapolis Comptroller shows payments for labor, bricks, hardware, lumber, stone, hardware, and 44 barrels of lime starting on January 3, 1883, but that may have been for the old facility, as it appears that the St. Louis Park site wasn't started until 1885.
The bid of $6,484 of Owens and Evans was chosen to construct the new Pest House on October 5 and construction commenced.
The Board of Supervisors of the Town of Minneapolis (the precursor to the Village of St. Louis Park, which was incorporated in November 1886) adopted the following resolution on November 2, 1885 and submitted it to the City of Minneapolis on November 4:
The petition was referred to the committee on public grounds and buildings, the committee on health and hospitals, and the city attorney. Unfortunately, the Town exercised no veto power over the actions of the City of Minneapolis and the petition was ignored.
The Committee on Public Grounds and Buildings made the following report on January 6:
Norman Campbell was selected to take charge of the hospital.
A survey of the property made in January 1926 can be seen Here. At left is Fern [now Lynn] and at right is Fayette [now Joppa]. Minnetonka Blvd. is at the top and the railroad tracks [now the bike trail] is at the bottom.
The Village of St. Louis Park was incorporated on November 19, 1886. The eastern boundary was established at France Ave., thus including the Pest House in the new Village.
DECADES OF COMPLAINTS
Minneapolis Tribune, June 1, 1887:
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, 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 recommended 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) The Annual Report of the Board of Health for the year ending March 31, 1888, stated:
On April 27, the Minneapolis Tribune reported on a visit to the Pest House by a number of Minneapolis aldermen. The facilities were described as follows:
On October 20, 1891, a Dr. Weston asked the Welfare Board whether to continue to treat cases at the hospital, and on November 3 that body voted to stop medical visits and pay no more bills for the station.
The Annual Report of the Department of Health for the Quarantine Hospital states:
Total expenditures for the Quarantine Hospital in 1891 were $2,029.40.
A barrel of gasoline on a freight train passing through Hopkins exploded, breaking every window at the Pest House, reported the Minneapolis Tribune on December 10.
On January 19, 1892, the Minneapolis Superintendent of the Poor asked the City Council for permission to buy robes for the dead, but it is not clear if they were for the Pest House or the City Hospital deceased, or both.
The Minneapolis Tribune reported a cholera outbreak on September 7, as discussed at a meeting of the Minneapolis Board of Health. Once again a delegation from St. Louis Park (A.D. Mulford, William Regan, H.A. Turner, A.W. Swett and O.K. Earle) made a request that the Pest House be removed from the village limits.
These complaints were given sympathy but as usual no action was taken.
The St. Paul Daily Globe reported the same meeting, and noted that to combat the threat of cholera the health commissioner was
The Globe characterized the St. Louis Park delegation's concerns lightly: "The cholera has excited the people in St. Louis Park until they are ready to believe anything." They did concede that "if a heavy rain should set in and wash away any of the dirt, the dead bodies will roll out of the graves and flop themselves about in a disheartening manner... The St. Louis Park citizens and officials are therefore fearful that these smallpox eaten bodies will interpose their grewsome bones upon the community, and infect the air with pestilential germs. It is conceded that the location of the pest house in St. Louis Park was wrong..."
Minneapolis Tribune, October 20, 1892:
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." In reporting the ordinance in an article called "Cast Out the Pest," the Minneapolis Tribune revealed that "a plan was on foot to take that part of St. Louis Park into the city limits during the next session of the legislature, but this cannot be done without the consent of the people of St. Louis Park." Meanwhile, Alderman Gray rejected the protestations of St. Louis Park. "We were there first, and if the village did not want the quarantine within their limits they could have left it out when they incorporated." Perhaps a good point?
The December 8, 1892, St. Paul Globe clarified that:
On January 31, 1893, Minneapolis Mayor Eustis submitted a resolution to the Welfare Board that it should be the duty of the City Physician to attend to patients at the Pest House at city expense, in opposition to the request of Dr. Weston in 1890 to discontinue such visits.
In March St. Louis Park Boarding house proprietor and "wet" candidate for Village Council President Engelbert Kommers included in his platform the removal of the Pest House, and said that he would be in favor of burning it down if he couldn't remove it otherwise." (Minneapolis Tribune, March 4, 1893) He was not elected.
In April Minneapolis apparently put forth plans to erect a cholera hospital at the quarantine site, bringing on the wrath of not only the populace of St. Louis Park but of T. B. Walker himself. To be expected, his objections were in terms of the effect on further development of the suburb, which was his primary concern and purpose in creating it.
The Board of Health discussed "the kick of the St. Louis Park people against the retention of the quarantine hospital in their midst. The board had no other place to put it, however, and it was decided to leave it in St. Louis Park.
In May the board of health of St. Louis Park directed Superintendent Boyer of the hospital to make a report of all deaths at the hospital and all cases of contagious diseases brought there. He was told that if he did not comply he would be arrested for violation of the health laws of the village. In response, Alderman Brazio denied that the hospital was a menace to public health.
In May Dr. Weston resigned and was replaced by Dr. Ricker as City Physician. The Welfare Board asked for a legal opinion about burying bodies on Pest House grounds.
The barbs continued to fly. Prominent Parkite O.K. Earle was quoted in the May 28 Minneapolis Tribune as saying "The way the hospital has been run is a disgrace to the management." To that Superintendent Boyer replied that he will "mop the earth" with Mr. Earle and that the quarantine hospital is better conduced than any in the city.
On June 6, "after repeated delays, a few bluffs and much waste of wind," ended up in an arrest when Superintendent Boyer was served with a warrant to appear before the village magistrate for violating Park's health ordinance. He was accused of bringing a scarlet fever patient, one Charles M. McCann, into the village. Boyer had been hoping to be arrested for days but it took time to find a properly diseased patient. Lo and Behold, he was adjudicated before Justice of the Peace Charles Hamilton, son of village council president Joseph Hamilton. But the city attorney presented a state law that "directs the health officer to select a place for quarantining yellow fever, cholera, small pox or other contagious diseases at any point, but not to exceed three miles from the city limits." The case was appealed to the district court and the judge found for the city of Minneapolis in terms of its right to maintain the Pest House. However, Boyer turned around and pleaded guilty to burying a pauper without a St. Louis Park permit, as a test case.
To Dr. E.S. Kelley, Commissioner of Health:
Also in 1893:
On February 13, 1894, the Minneapolis City Attorney asked the Welfare Board to pay a $10 judgment against Pest House Administrator William Boyer for burying a pauper in the cemetery without permission from St. Louis Park. The bill was ordered to be paid, but only $8 of it.
In January John J. Baston, State Legislator from St. Louis Park, introduced a bill that would have restricted quarantine hospitals to their respective city limits, but to no avail. Part of the reason is that the bill would have affected too many cities; the St. Paul quarantine hospital was just over the city line and the same was true for Duluth. The bill was passed in the house but thanks to heavy lobbying by Minneapolis it was permanently tabled. The February 4 Tribune cited this ulterior motive:
The Minneapolis Welfare Board secretary was authorized to purchase a book to record burials at the cemetery. The condition of the fence enclosing the graveyard was inspected and a new iron fence was ordered and built. Bids and plans for a receiving vault were solicited.
In November the Minneapolis Tribune published a report charging that paupers were being buried before family members could be notified, with the result that the bodies had to be exhumed. Minneapolis Health Commissioner Avery denied the charge, but said "In the summer time it is impossible to keep the bodies unless they are called for immediately. I don't understand why they are buried at this season of the year if there is a chance of their identity being revealed, as there are receiving vaults at the station in which the bodies can be kept."
Report of Quarantine Hospital in City of Minneapolis Annual Report:
A smallpox epidemic that would last several years started in Florida and moved north, resulting in 25,000 cases and 195 deaths by 1904. The disease was spread by railroad porters, travelers, and switchboard operators. People often denied they had smallpox, or thought they contracted it from Spanish American War soldiers. A more likely source was Cuban refugees. Names for the disease were the Cuban Itch, the Manila Itch, the Philippino Itch, or yaws. It peaked in Minnesota in early 1899.
Can't make this up: July 7, Minneapolis Tribune:
A NICE PLACE TO VISIT
Aldermen Visit the Quarantine Hospital, and Now Some of Them Want to Have Smallpox.
Minneapolis Tribune, January 4:
GERMS IN THE SEATS
Eighth Warders Say They Are Jostled in Cars by Smallpox Microbes
ON PATIENTS FROM PEST HOUSE
They Want Vehicle Provided for Those Discharged From the Institution
Ben Welter of the StarTribune posted this incredible story on his blog on October 30, 2012: From the Minneapolis Tribune, February 14, 1902:
Pest House inmate James Judge escaped from the hospital on April 29 while the attendants slept, reported the Minneapolis Journal. He had wandered around most of the night in a snow storm and finally found refuge in a shed. He was found the next morning "cowering stark naked on a porch in the rear of a residence." He was also covered in blood. When the resident of the house called the hospital, the attendant insisted that nobody was missing. The mixup was eventually resolved and Judge was returned to the hospital. Minneapolis Health Commissioner Dr. Pearl M. Hall immediately fired Superintendant Oscar Berger and named Sanitary Inspector Albert J. Lunt as his successor. Lunt said that an orderly was supposed to be on watch and that Judge had one of the worst cases of smallpox they had seen, "the disease having reached the confluent stage." Judge later died.
In June Commissioner Hall was indicted by the grand jury, charged with neglect of patients at the Pest House. Superintendent Oscar Berger and his wife, Matron Gracie Berger, testified that they were compelled to do all the work at the hospital, and when they asked Dr. Hall for assistance they were refused. Sick patients were left without medical attention as it was rare that the doctor came to the hospital. The matter had been brought to the attention to the city health committee but the aldermen swept it under the rug. The indictment forced them to conduct an investigation.
In December Dr. Hall was hit was a $5,000 damage suit by James Judge's mother. Other patients testified that there was no nurse on duty. Another witness was A.H. Wood, a night watchman at a grain elevator near the hospital, who came across a "bare-footed, bare-headed man clad only in a night dress. A severe north wind was blowing at the time, drifting the snow. Witness noticed that the man's face was broken out.." Matron Gracie Berger testified that when she was hired in May 1902 she was told that she was expected to look after the part of the property occupied by her and her husband but ended up working from 5 in the morning until 12 at night. A nurse had left in July 1902 but was not replaced until April 1903.
Also in 1903, the roof of the servants' house was leaking badly and new shingles were ordered in June. Superintendent Lunt stated that we would "hereafter charge $2 for adults and $1 for children pauper burials." In August the increase was granted from $1 and $.50 previously charged.
The hospital's pump house burned down in 1904.
A man broke out of a quarantine hospital in Iowa and joined a grading camp for the new Excelsior electric line. He was taken to Hopkins, where Dr. James Blake diagnosed him and sent him to the Pest House in St. Louis Park. The camp was thoroughly fumigated., but the crew fled in panic.
Minneapolis Journal, January 22, 1906:
Minneapolis Journal, January 28, 1906:
From the Minneapolis Journal, November 1, 1907:
Local health officers were urged to stop the practice of quarantine and simply post a sign on the door of a house with an infected person. The rationale was that people could no longer count on quarantine to keep them safe and get them to get vaccinated.
Mrs. Charles Hewes, chambermaid at the Roosevelt Hotel at 25 Sixth Street South in Minneapolis took sick and was eventually diagnosed with smallpox in October. When her condition was discovered, doctors and policemen came to the hotel and tthe clerk roused the guests so that those who had not been vaccinated could "submit to the operation." "There was no opposition offered the doctors and none of the guests seemed to be afraid of the disease. In fact some of them joked about the matter. About ten men were vaccinated. Mrs. Hewes was taken to what was called the "detention hospital" in St. Louis Park.
A new furnace was requested.
October 6, Minneapolis Tribune:
Sacrifices to the Cause of Health, Guinea Pigs Don't Seem to Mind It
Guinea Pigs Enjoy Life
But When They Get Portly They Are Offered Up as Smallpox Sacrifices
The Annual Report of the Minneapolis Board of Health shows that the Superintendent of the Quarantine Hospital was Charles Schmidt, and his wife was the Housekeeper/Matron. He made $50, she made $45, a nurse made $35, the ambulance driver made $40, the laundress made $25, and two maids each made $20. Burials were reimbursed to five companies, what looks like four individuals, and to Superintendent Schmidt.
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.
A longer article on the same day in the Minneapolis Morning Tribune had more graphic details:
The Minneapolis City Council Committee on Health and Hospitals ordered the acting Health Commissioner to ensure that every patient discharged from the Quarantine Hospital be inspected by a doctor first. The committee also ordered repairs be made at the hospital and instructed Edwin Alfred, Superintendent to get an estimate for wiring the buildings for electric light, as they were still using kerosene lamps. The Committee also requested that an automobile ambulance be purchased for the purpose of transporting patients to the quarantine hospital, approved by the City Council not to exceed $2,500.
On April 22 the St. Louis Park 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.
On June 6 Thomas Smith was found wandering near his home at 44th and Wentworth. An ambulance was called but policemen were dispatched by mistake. When Smith's ailment was found to be an advanced case of smallpox, the cops said "Suffering Cats!" when told they had to get vaccinations.
"Potter's Field Fight Won by St. Louis Park" read the headline on July 8. The Board of Charities and Corrections agreed informally to take immediate steps to remove the hospital and discontinue as soon as possible burying the city's poor on the grounds. They discussed building their own crematorium at Hopewell Hospital, which they estimated would cost about $6,000. They estimated they could get about $5,000 for the Pest House property.
An article dated September 29, 1915, indicated that the Board of Charities and Corrections was under the impression that there were only about 400 bodies to move out of St. Louis Park, when there turned out to be about 3,000. (Minneapolis Morning Tribune) In November the Board filed a petition regarding the maintenance of the quarantine hospital.
The Minneapolis Health Department transferred the Pest House to the Board of Charities and Correction. The buildings and land were to be sold and the proceeds used to prepare a new wing at the City Hospital for smallpox patients. The Board was to take over the management of the Quarantine Hospital on January 1. Fiscal sleight of hand left no allowance for the maintenance of the Quarantine Hospital and no funds to finish the addition to the City Hospital by the first of the year. (Minneapolis Morning Tribune, October 7, 1915)
In November the Minneapolis Board of Charities and Corrections filed a petition regarding the purchase of two acres of cemetery grounds from the Crystal Lake Cemetery Association for the burial of indigent persons. Minneapolis Morning Tribune, November 24, 1915:
The house at 4401 Minnetonka Blvd. was built right next to
Potters' Field. In the 1940s it belonged to the Whalen
The 1917 Annual Report of the Minneapolis City Hospitals indicates that there were just eight patients at the Quarantine Hospital at the beginning of the year.
The Minneapolis Board of Charities and Corrections presented its bond requests at a meeting with the Hennepin County members of the House of Representatives on March 9, 1917. Included was a special plea for $75,000 for a new hospital for smallpox patients. Three doctors recommended that the "'pest house' now in St. Louis Park should be abandoned forthwith." (Minneapolis Morning Tribune, March 10, 1917). On March 30 the Board voted to ask the Legislature for power to issue $100,000 in bond to build a five-story addition to the present eight-story contagious ward of the City hospital. Smallpox patients would be quartered on the top floor instead of at the Quarantine Hospital in St. Louis Park. (Minneapolis Morning Tribune, March 31, 1917)
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.
A particularly virulent type of smallpox hit the city, brought from Norway on a steamship. Vaccines were not required, but students at the University of Minnesota were declared wards of the State and had to be vaccinated.
CLOSING OF THE PEST HOUSE
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." In 1988 daughter Mabel Kruckeberg wrote a letter that says, in part, "I do not know of a jail - there was only a vault building on the property when we were there where they had a few old tomb stones and paper records of some that were buried on the property."
On January 13, Chairman Kunze of the joint committee of Health and Hospitals and Public Relief recommended that the Pest House property be sold as soon as practicable and that the cost of removing the bodies and associated expenses should be deducted from the proceeds and any remaining funds be credited to the Permanent Improvement fund of the Board. The City Attorney affirmed that the power to liquidated the property rested with the City Council and advised that the property should be sold and the proceeds should be credited to the account of the Welfare Board.
In March Jack "Pest House" Johnson requested an extension of his lease of his home on the grounds. Presumably Johnson was some sort of caretaker.
An article (paper unknown) dated April 19, 1920, declared:
13 new cases of smallpox were reported in Minneapolis in 1920, and ten cases released from quarantine, placing the total number of cases in the city at 155. Between 200 and 300 students whose parents had consented to voluntary vaccination were cared for daily by the five school physicians and ten school nurses. The parents of 500 students from three schools approved of the vaccinations. Physicians were instructed to vaccinate "only such a number each day as will insure the best of care to each." Minneapolis Morning Tribune, November 24, 1920.
In February, 1921, W.W. Carpenter offered to lease part of the property for $10/month. He wished to rent the "Nurses' Home," the barn, and the adjacent pasture for one year. At the next meeting in April, Chairman Kunze recommended that the hospital continue as it had been and that the rental should not be permitted. Mr. F.B. Hart offered to relocate the buildings to his property "at little more expense than repairing them on their present location."
A series of at least five photographs were taken of the grounds on August 2, 1921.
PLANS TO CONVERT TO TB ASYLUM
The City of Minneapolis was looking for a place to establish a hospital for "incurables," which mostly meant those with tuberculosis. In 1922 they looked seriously at the Pest House site. In an article dated August 9, 1922, it was stated that "The present buildings there are unsuited for a home for incurables... and new buildings would have to be erected if this site is selected." (Minneapolis Morning Tribune)
On August 17 St. Louis Park adoped the following resolution, which Village Recorder Verner Lindahl sent to the Welfare Board.
Dr. Ulrich moved that the Board Secretary inform St. Louis Park that it was not the intention of the Board to remodel the Pest House property into a Detention Home or Home for Incurables.
On September 12 Doctors Hugo Hartig, Mabel S. Ulrich, and A.E. Wilcox strongly recommended that the Pest House property should be refitted to receive 100 ambulatory tuberculosis patients because Glen Lake would not be ready for several years and Hopewell Hospital was not large enough for chronic cases and TB patients. Using the Pest House property for TB patients would leave Hopewell available for chronic cases of the kind objected to by St. Louis Park.
On September 13 it was clarified that using the St. Louis Park site for ambulatory tuberculosis patients was just a temporary move. "St. Louis Park residents have threatened to seek an injunction if the board attempts to carry out this program, but board members indicated yesterday they will confer with the St. Louis Park people and believe that when the plan is understood their objections will be dropped." On September 14 the funds to remodel the Pest House for TB patients was approved by the City of Minneapolis.
September 24, 1922:
On October 2 the Minneapolis Committee of Buildings and Improvements appeared before the St. Louis Park Village Council and presented its plans to improve the property and requested permission to proceed with the construction of the hospital. On October 5 a formal application was made for a license in accordance with Park's new ordinance prohibiting the construction of a hospital or similar institution without a license. (Apparently they forgot about the one they'd passed in 1892). The application was denied.
On October 22, 1922, the Minneapolis Morning Tribune published the sketch below. The caption reads: Three quarantine cottages at St. Louis Park on which the Board of Public Welfare proposes to spend $35,000, to be remodeled into a municipal cottage sanitarium for the treatment of ambulatory tuberculosis cases, as shown in the picture. The enlarged buildings will provide 100 beds. The board will meet Tuesday morning to consider a proposal of Alderman T.E. Jenson, a member of the board, who is opposed to the plan on the grounds that the appropriation would provide a cottage at the county institution at Glen Lake, where, he said, very little of the board's money would have to be expended for administration by co-operation with the county, and the $35,0000 could be used for medical treatment of cases elsewhere."
Despite St. Louis Park's denial of Minneapolis' license, the City threatened to go ahead anyway, saying that as a Village, St. Louis Park had no jurisdiction to license public hospitals. However, the City Attorney believed that the Supreme Court would stand with St. Louis Park if the matter appeared before it. Mr. Hartig sought another opinion from an attorney who had represented Crystal and Robbinsdale in similar matters who held the belief that the Village could not keep a hospital out or prevent improvements. The Welfare Board recommended that City Attorney Cronin's advice be followed and that an outside attorney be retained to sit with him in the case to avoid conflict of interest questions. The Board then moved to instruct the Building Committee to proceed with improvements pending further legal actions. A Mrs. Hofflin of Hopkins offered some land to the City, saying that "If these people don't want you in St. Louis Park, come out to my place... Take a look." Gospel Trumpet Co. offered some land that had been the home to "two old peoples (sic) home... beautifully situated on a terrace about a mile from the Mississippi River." The TB facility was eventually built at Glen Lake.
"Pest House" Johnson applied for the position of janitor at the new hospital to be constructed in St. Louis Park.
Also in 1922, unbeknownst to them, Ida and Andy Williamette built their house at 4421 Minnetonka Blvd. (at the corner of Lynn), next to the Pest House Potters' Field. In an article in the Dispatch dated August 6, 1953, the Williamettes said that the cemetery covered an area of about four square blocks and was completely grown over by tall grass and weeds. There were no gravestones. The Williamettes' house was torn down in 1961 and replaced with apartments.
A survey of all Minneapolis hospital properties valued the Pest House at $3,500 for land, $13,821.86 for buildings, for a total value of $17,321.86.
The Minneapolis Committee on Public Relief notified St. Louis Park that it was considering using the Pest House property for lodging house purposes, and Village Recorder Lindahl again protested such use.
Mr. and Mrs. "Pest House" Johnson were granted permission to remain as caretakers for another year.
Despite the many objections to the property and fear of contagion, there was much interest in obtaining the property; bids were submitted by
The state's worst smallpox epidemic was declared on November 15, 1924, and lasted until August 1925. Lumber camps were particularly hard hit. In total, 4,041 people came down with the disease and 504 died. Read about it Here.
Additional bids for the property were submitted:
On February 23, 1926, the Minneapolis Welfare Board Committee on Penal and Correctional Institutions recommended that the Workhouse Superintendent be authorized to wreck the hospital and salvage useful materials for the Workhouse using Workhouse labor. City Purchasing Agent Gram submitted a survey of Pest House property. An offer was made to buy the pumping equipment. The site was considered for a women's workhouse, but after meeting with St. Louis Park, a group consisting of Mr. Kunze, Robb, Weil, and Dr. Lockwood decided that the site was not desirable for the purpose and recommended selling it after all.
The Minneapolis City Council received a communication from the Board of Public Welfare on December 21, 1926, about the disposal of the Quarantine Hospital property.
On February 3, 1927, the City Council requested of the Board of Public Welfare a suggestion for disposing of the property. The matter was informally discussed at the Board Meeting of February 8. On March 8, a Mr. Brown reported on his unsuccessful attempts to sell the property. Mayor Leach asked Dr. Lockwood, Superintendent of Penal and Correctional Institutions, to investigate the feasibility of cremating the remains that might be found on the property in order that the land might be sold. When a Board decision was made, it would be submitted to City Council for approval.
At the Board meeting of March 22, Dr. Lockwood reported that the remains could be cremated at Lakewood Cemetery for $50 a box, and that he would take up the matter with Council.
On April 4 the Lakewood Cemetery Association presented a quote of $40 per box for cremating remains. Mayor Leach submitted the following resolution at the meeting of April 12:
The proposal was submitted to City Council for approval, and Council referred the petition to the Committee on Public Grounds and Buildings on April 22. Public notice was made by the City Clerk on April 25. On April 29 the Council Committee on Public Lands and Buildings recommended that the Welfare Board request be granted. The matter was postponed from the Welfare Board meeting of May 10 to that of May 24. At that time, Mayor Leach moved that the matter be referred to the Committee on Public Health for proper instructions on the removal of the remains.
The following resolution was passed on May 2, 1927, by the St. Louis Park Village Council:
At the meeting of June 28, Commissioner of Health Harrington reported that one grave had been dug up and the remains had been found seven feet below the surface. He advised that exhumation should be postponed until the ground dried out.
On August 17 a letter was received from St. Louis Park stating that curb and gutter was ordered for the area around the property and asking if Minneapolis would be willing to pay for this improvement. The Board acknowledged the letter and referred it to the Committee on Buildings and Improvements. Acknowledging that the land would be difficult to sell given the presence of graves on part of it, the Board moved on October 25 that the exhumations should proceed in accordance with the action of April 12, using Workhouse labor under supervision of Drs. Lockwood and Harrington. Apparently there had been at least one bid, from Mr. O.C. Ross, who asked to make another bid.
With the legally-required assistance of a professional undertaking company (Gill), and under the eye of Commissioner Harrington, a workhouse crew began to open the old graves on Wednesday, November 2, 1927. A report from November 8 said "It is impossible to give an accurate count of the bodies removed because of the condition of a great many of them. A careful check will be made to remove all bodies that can be found."
A special meeting of the Board was held on November 12 to consider problems with the removal of bodies. After cremating only two boxes Lakewood Cemetery found the job to be much more difficult and slow than they had anticipated. Thirty boxes were on hand and more added of every day. Lakewood asked to be released from their obligation and instead offered to bury the boxes for $30 per grave. Dr. Harrington then recommended that cremating be discontinued and that the boxes should be buried in the City plot at Crystal Lake. Superintendent of Public Relief Tattersfield stated that there was plenty of space at Crystal Lake for the bodies to be buried without cremation, and that the cost would only be $4 per box. (Why this vastly less expensive option was not known or considered at the beginning is a matter of conjecture and almost certainly not of public record). It was moved that Lakewood be released from its obligation and arrangements should be made for the remaining bodies to be placed at Crystal Lake.
On November 22 Dr. Harrington reported that over 1,200 bodies had been removed and that there were at least that many left. It was moved that the Ways and Means Committee take up the matter of funding the expenses of the operation with the Board of Estimate and Taxation to see if a special budget could be set up until the proceeds of the sale of the property could be realized.
At the meeting of December 13 the Ways and Means Committee report was made to the effect that the funding matter had been taken up with the City Attorney and Board of Estimate and Taxation with the result that the estimated cost of $2,500 should be charged to the Permanent Improvement fund of the city and that the City Council would have to set aside from the fund the necessary amount. Also at this meeting, Dr. Lockwood reported that the project should be suspended for the winter due to weather and that over 2,000 bodies had been exhumed and another 800-900 remained.
At the Board meeting of February 28, 1928, Dr. Lockwood said that his crew would resume operations when the frost went out. At the meeting of April 24, the City Comptroller stated that the City Council action appropriating the funds was not sufficient to secure the necessary funding. At the meeting of May 8, Dr. Lockwood asked what could be done next, and Alderman Turner of the Ways and Means Committee moved that the project should continue pending the promise of the funds. City Council responded at their meeting of May 11, resolving to set aside the amount needed from the New Curb section of the Permanent Improvement Construction Fund to complete the removal. The Welfare Board was apprised that the Council was in fact appropriating the money at the meeting of May 22, along with a letter of complaint from St. Louis Park about the "unsightly conditions" at the site. The Board Secretary was asked to reply that the work of removing the bodies and fixing up the ground was not yet completed but soon would be.
On July 10 the Committee on Penal and Correctional Institutions announced that the project had been completed leaving the property "in a very fine and presentable condition." A total of 3,000 bodies had been removed "with a possible small error in the final count." "The ditches dug have been filled and ground leveled off so that the whole is in a very fine and presentable condition." The Committee commended "the Superintendent and his staff for the very efficient manner in which the work was carried out with Workhouse labor, without any disturbance or any attempt to escape."
While it seems that the Potter's Field occupants have been overlooked by history and their fate a possible indignity, all the activity surrounding the business of removing and replanting their remains suggests that a thorough and careful operation took place to assure that they could be afforded a modicum of dignity.
DISPOSITION OF THE BUILDINGS
Despite the information above on the various bids on buildings and equipment related to the Pest House, it is unknown what happened to the buildings. Those who were very young at the time seem to recall a huge fire that burned them to the ground. St. Louis Park fire records don't go back to the 1920s, unfortunately. Bob McCune has been reading through Minneapolis fire records, but hasn't found a specific reference to a fire here. It is likely, though, that if there was a fire, Minneapolis FD would have participated, due to the proximity to the City and the fact that it may have still belonged to the City at the time.
In 1926 Bob found seven fires in St. Louis Park that were responded to by Minneapolis fire crews. Of those, the following are possibilities:
Bob: "It is quite obvious those 1926 fires were very close to the Pest House location, and upon review of the fire records, it is highly unusual for not only the number of fires to occur, but to have a cluster of fires within a period of two months so close to each other is unheard of in that era. If the fires had to do with the Pest House, the question remains as to why it was not noted in any public record besides the fire logs."
Since two of the men who remember the fire were born in 1925 and recall that they were just babies, perhaps 1926 was the year.
Thanks to sleuthing by Rick Sewall, we do know what happened to "Pest House Johnson's" house: From the October 23, 1930, issue of the Hennepin County Review: "Fire, caused by an overheated stove, nearly destroyed what was once the 'pest house' for the city of Minneapolis on Saturday night. The house was occupied by J.O. Johnson and family. The interior was practically destroyed and the damage estimated at $4000. Both the village and city fire departments answered the call." This was NOT 4105 W. 31st Street, which was once where Johnson lived. That 100+ year old house is still standing.
Minutes of the Village Council were reported in the Dispatch of August 20, 1943:
LAYMAN'S CEMETERY/PIONEERS & SOLDIERS' MEMORIAL CEMETERY
For some time some thought that at least some of the bodies from Potters Field were reburied at Layman's Cemetery at Lake and Cedar. In 1988 Wiley Pope and Sarah Fee published a book called Minnesota Cemetery Locations that indicated as such. The second edition of the book, however, published in 1998, deleted that information.
In 2001 Thomas W. Swierczek, Assistant Caretaker of Layman's, laid out a three page history of the cemetery and the reasons why the bodies from the Pest House could not have been reinterred there. His wonderfully written letter is presented here in three pages:
There was a connection between Layman's and the St. Louis Park site, of sorts. An article from 1921 reported that 20,000 bodies had to be moved from Layman's Cemetery at Lake Street and Cedar. The article said that the northeast corner of the cemetery was for many years the Potters Field before the city started burying its "charges near the detention hospital, St. Louis Park." (Minneapolis Morning Tribune, July 24, 1921).
In 1948 five apartment buildings were built on the site of Potters Field: 4301, 4315, and 4325 Minnetonka Blvd. and 4310 and 4320 Highway 7. 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. Tax records seem to indicate that a separate entity was formed to build each building: three of the names are Lincolnshire, Devonshire, and Wakefield Building Corporations. Subsequent names of the complex are Burning Tree and Park Point. During the installation of the water line for the buildings, 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.
In the photo above you can see the apartments north of Highway 7 that were built on the former Pest House cemetery. The cottages were in the area south of the highway. This photo was taken before the Reinhard Building was built.
The part of the property south of Highway 7, which had stood empty for many years, was developed into the Reinhard Brothers Building at 4301 Highway 7.
Smallpox was eradicated worldwide.
Some of the dead had not reached their designated final home, as renovation work at the Diamond Hill Center at 4301 Highway 7 yielded human remains – on October 31. Assistant State Archaeologist Barbara O'Connell determined that the remains consisted of two jaw bones belonging to a male in his late 20s or early 30s and a bone fragment from an infant’s leg. A decorative coffin thumb screw, a rusted nail and a piece of broken glass were also found, but they may or may not have been from the grave site. 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?
There are many stories told about the extraordinary exhumation of the bodies in Potter's Field, some perhaps clouded by time. Children of the time are now in their 80s but still tell stories of the Pest House and grounds. Here are some of them:
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.