Saturday, January 16, 2010
Finding More Sheltering Arms History
Guest post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman
Yesterday I asked the question of "Who will save the Sheltering Arms House" at 2648 Emerson Ave N. However, I know that regardless of how convinced I am that this treasure in Hawthorne must be preserved, there are plenty of people (its current owners at the city included) who may wonder not WHO will save this house but IF it should be saved. So with the help of a preservationist, I went to the Hennepin History Museum for the very first time.
Much of what I found there, I have uploaded to the Sheltering Arms House JNS pdf support site. I've summarized those findings and added more information below...
First off, the photo above is from the one of the directories available at the museum. These must have been what phone books were like before there were phones in every house - and before seven different companies tossed these things on your front porch whether you wanted them or not. These aged, leather-bound directories often do not even list a specific address, but instead reference a house as the only one at a specific intersection. The books are fragile, and cannot be copied.
Another directory referenced a Sheltering Arms house at 27th and Fremont Ave N as well. I went to that corner and saw several candidates, but the most likely ones were 2701 and 2653 Fremont Ave N. I made that guess based on the similar second-floor windows when compared to the Sheltering Arms House in Hawthorne:
The Sheltering Arms history document on the pdf site states: "1882...The Sheltering Arms founded as an orphanage by Sister Annette Relf, an Episcopalian nun. Incorporated as a private, non-profit, charitable organization to provide services to children without discrimination as to race, color, or creed. Control vested in a Board of Directors of thirty Episcopalian women, fifteen from St. Paul, fifteen from Minneapolis. Endowment funds gradually built up from gifts and bequests. Orphanages in various locations until...
"1910...When present main building was completed. (Hawkman interjects: Main building in this case refers to the former building at 4330 West River Road) Over time, social and philosophical changes decreased need for orphanage; it was discontinued in...
"1942...When Sheltering Arms became a convalescent hospital for treatment of poliomyelitis, under supervision of Mrs. Josephine Poehler and in conjunction with St. Barnabas Hospital. Later, prevention of poliomyelitis became possible, so in...
"1955...The Board of Directors sought advice from Hennepin County Community Welfare Council concerning community needs it might fill. Planning committee, under chairmanship of Dr. Maynard Reynolds, recommended program for mentally retarded children, in cooperation with Minneapolis Public Schools, to provide education, study family problems, develop parent education and counseling, study needs of trainable retarded. Mr. John W. Gregg appointed Business Administrator and Dr. Harriet E. Blodgett Program Director. School program began September, 1955, with two classes for trainables, one for educables, six to ten year olds. Older children soon knocking at doors led to addition of class for eleven to fourteen year old trainables in the fall of ... 1956"
(Hawkman skips ahead to 1968, see pdf site for full story)
"1968...The fruits of which you now see in our new building, Gregg Hall, named in honor of John W. Gregg, our Business Administrator and the man to whom Sheltering Arms owes much...whose first question always is not 'How much will it cost?' but 'How will it help our children?'"
Note: The ellipses (...) are often used during quotes to refer to material that is glossed over. In this case, the quoted items appear exactly as written. Also, the building/site referenced in these notes is the facility at 4330 West River Road. This is pertinent to the Sheltering Arms House on Emerson, though, because the River Road facility has been demolished. The only structures that remain as a historical testament to the initial work of Sheltering Arms are the orphanages scattered throughout Minneapolis. This blog currently does not know how many (if any) such structures still stand, or their conditions at this time.
There's a lot in there that's historically significant and impressive. What jumps out at me first is that the organization was directed by a board of thirty. THIRTY!!! Most boards I've been involved with are considered large if they're a fraction of that size. And even then, agreeing on something and taking action is, well, difficult at best. Even more striking is that this board was made up entirely of women. In 1882.
Also, bear in mind that at that time in history "orphans" weren't just what we think of as children with no parents at all. These could have been the currently held definition of orphans, or children of single or divorced parents, children out of wedlock, those with mental or physical disabilities, or otherwise indigent children. And for these orphanages to be dedicated from their very inception to providing services "without discrimination as to race, color, or creed" is nothing short of phenomenal.
This is in 1882 when they had this publicly stated vision folks. To think that 128 years later we're STILL striving for that kind of equity! The Sheltering Arms House was BUILT with the core values in mind that our community STILL aspires to! To demolish this structure today is to destroy and devalue what we as a neighborhood hold most dear.
The other principle that Sheltering Arms recognized was that their values did not have a dollar amount attached to them. They did not ask how much it cost, only to decide that the least among them were not worth the effort or dollars. That same mindset should be applied when preserving a piece of neighborhood history at 2648 Emerson Ave N.
The history and values inherent in our buildings have much to tell us. Here's hoping that we as a community are listening.