The Social Security Administration has incredibly detailed information about the history of Social Security on a Federal level.
Much of the information for this page comes from minutes of the St. Louis Park Village Council.
The first facility for the indigent and mentally ill was established in 1854 on the present-day State Fairgrounds.
In Hennepin County, the County Board of Commissioners provided assistance to people who were cared for in private homes. Here in St. Louis Park, the David Spearin Pratt family had apparently taken in some people on their farm on Excelsior Blvd., and County Commission 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. Hanke had purchased the farm from Pratt in 1864.
The City of Minneapolis Recorder’s office found numerous petitioned bills payable to “C. Hankee,” “Christ Hanke,” or “Chris Hankee” for the board and care of paupers. Some typical examples are petition A104B: $24 “for keeping Crazy Woman from April 1st to May 2nd, 1862”, and petition A112G: $30.52 “for boarding Crazy Woman from July 1st, 1862 to September 1st, 1862.” It’s unclear where Hanke started taking people in – Hanke family research shows that he came to America in 1854 and bought his farm on Excelsior Blvd. in St. Louis Park in 1864, with stops in Ohio, Minneapolis, and/or a rented farm in between. It is possible that he rented his farm in the Park before buying it in 1864 from Pratt.
Home care probably ended when 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.” The first structure was located west of what is now Highway 169, near 5th Ave. So.
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 St. Louis Park Village 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, 1925, 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, 1926. 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.” The county employed mostly Hopkins residents as cooks, nurses, and aides.
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 garden.
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 County sold the property (10 acres and the main building) 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.