Social Security Administration has incredibly detailed
information about the history of Social Security on a
Much of the information for this page comes from minutes of
the St. Louis Park Village Council.
The Hennepin County Poor Farm (located in Hopkins)
was opened on January 4, 1865. The 400-acre facility was
located about nine miles from Minneapolis – the county did not
want a “temporary rush of idle vagabonds during the winter.”
It was the second such facility for the poor established in
the State. The first was established in 1854 on the
present-day State Fairgrounds. The County also provided
assistance to people who were cared for in private homes.
The Hennepin County Board of Commissioners had apparently
rented Pratt's farm for a poor farm before that time, and
after Hanke bought the farm, the residents remained,
presumably until they could be moved to the new facility.
Board minutes of an unknown date report that a temporary
arrangement was made with Christopher Hanke, "living beyond
Lake Calhoun on the Minnetonka Road (sic), to keep adults at
$2.00 per week, except for Mrs. Dee, an insane woman, for
who $3.00 would be allowed." Hanke also accepted children,
at a price determined by age.
Was trouble indicated when a May 25, 1867 news article
reported that Grand jurors were to visit the poor house to
check out the residents, sample the food, etc.? About 20
residents were reported in 1869. The book Hopkins
Minnesota Through the Years reports that during the
first two years some of the reasons for admittance were sore
leg, laziness, consumption, old and feeble, intemperance,
mental derangement and extravagance.
The original Poor Farm building burned down around May 8,
1878, replaced in 1884 with a wooden building that could
serve 150 people. At the time the caseload was 120. In 1895,
George W. Coburn became superintendent serving until at
least 1906. In 1898 the County’s 400-acre holdings in
Hopkins were reduced to 40. In 1905 the population was down
to 53 residents.
The first State law to provide medical and surgical aid for
crippled children was enacted by Minnesota in 1897.
In the days before the Depression, there was no formal
welfare as we know it. Notes from the first two decades of
the 20th Century indicate that if a person was truly
destitute, the Village might pick up the tab after being
reviewed by the Poor Committee:
On January 6, 1905, the Village reimbursed St. Barnabus
Hospital $35 for the care of destitute citizen Elsie
Peterson. That October, the Village paid the cost for
washing, nursing, groceries, and a “servant” for some poor
ailing citizen. And in 1911, one Jesse Wallace was shot (by
whom?) in St. Louis Park, and $139 in doctor bills was paid
by the Village. St. Mary’s Hospital hired a collection
agency to collect $56.45 for Mr. Wallace and got half.
In 1914, the Council considered the needs of Mrs. M.T.
Schreiner of Brookside, and voted to provide her with coal
and groceries. In 1916, the Department of Charities and
Corrections of Minneapolis billed the St. Louis Park Village
Council for the hospital bill of Park resident Peter Scorgo,
who was being treated for polio in the City Hospital. The
cost was $10 per week
On New Year’s Day, 1925, the Grand Jury called the Poor
House facilities inadequate, the building a fire hazard. On
December 3 the Grand Jury condemned the building built in
1884. The population numbered 85 residents.
In 1926 a three
floor, H-shaped building was built, made with brick and
reinforced concrete, with a capacity of 200. An open house
was held on December 8. Around this time, the facility first
accepted “bed patients.” Albert Moore was Superintendent,
replaced in 1930 by A.C. Ekelund, a successful businessman
and banker. The census was 234 “inmates”
Farming operation ended in the 1930s, and in 1932 the
facility hit its peak at 232 residents. Presumably the end
of the depression and onset of World War II reduced this
number considerably. To be admitted, an inmate had to be
certified by his or her township, village or city governing
bodies as being unemployable.
In 1933 the St. Louis Park Welfare Board was chaired by N.H. McKay.
Mrs. Edwin Renner served as the Village Federal Relief
Worker and ran the Community Fund Work Program. A donor
would pay $4 and the person in need would work for a day for
the donor. For his labors, the
worker would receive $4 worth of commodities. In 1939, a
similar program was run by the St. Louis Park Labor Council, which set
up an employment bureau in the Recorder's office. The
Recorder wrote in the 1933-34 Directory, "We now have a
large registration of those who want work, and if any one
needs help of any kind, whether of the skilled labor or odd
job kind, the thing to do is to call up our office and we
will send some one out."
One local relief program involved truck farmers who donated
land for the unemployed to farm. The Village paid the
workers, and the food went to the needy. Local efforts were
quickly overwhelmed, however, and such programs were turned
over to the county in about 1933. A similar operation
started in the summer of 1933, where needy families would be
given garden seed from welfare funds and a plot of land to
In the 1950s persons over 65 who received old age
assistance were deemed not eligible for the Poor Farm. Most
residents were disabled, which made them unable to do
chores. In 1954, the average welfare case load was 19-20
families at any one time.
The Poor Farm was on its way to being phased out. In 1950,
Hennepin County sold off 12 acres to develop 48 homes. In
1952 the facility housed about 100 people.
The end came on April 15, 1953, when the property (10 acres
and the main building) was sold to the City of Minneapolis.
The total site consisted of a 2-story main building and many
outbuildings. The cemetery was moved and 380 anonymous
residents were buried at Woodside Cemetery in Tonka Bay on
June 10, 1955. Remaining residents were rehoused in private
quarters by the County.
From 1955 to 1972, the site became home to Honeywell’s first
corporate research center. Many top scientists worked there,
and many were exposed to deadly radiation. One such
scientist was Woodfin Lewis, whose family was the first
black family to move into St. Louis Park. Lewis died of
cancer at the age of 36 in 1959. Finally in 1974, the main
building was demolished.
Meanwhile, in 1958 the City signed a contract with the
Suburban Hennepin County Relief Board for operation of the
public welfare program.