North East Neighborhood House
Backstory and Context
The settlement house movement gained momentum in the 1880s as a means to help impoverished citizens in the growing urban centers of America. While sometimes associated with religious organizations, the settlement houses were usually designed to provide a secular resource for communities. In the young city of Minneapolis, however, many religious organizations still had a number of important neighborhood centers. One of these was the Immanuel Sunday School Mission, founded by the Plymouth Church in 1881 and located in the Northeast section of the city. Though initially offering religious education, the institution expanded its services to include industrial education, recreation, and clubs. Due to its increasing popularity, the Mission moved nearby into a larger building named Drummond Hall in 1899.
The shifting demographics of the Northeast, however, affected the popularity of Drummond Hall. By the early 20th century, many of the area’s original inhabitants (who were primarily of French, German, and Scandinavian origin) had been replaced by immigrants from Eastern Europe. Since these new arrivals were largely Catholic, many of them did not trust Drummond Hall and its Protestant associations. The Hall was forced to close in 1913, but Plymouth Church subsequently conducted a survey of the neighborhood to see how it could best serve the residents. The church found that a new kind of settlement house was needed, one that could unite the community’s disparate ethnicities and religions, while providing much needed educational, economic, health, and social services.
The new facility was named North East Neighborhood House (NENH), and it opened on January 20, 1915. The new director was Robbins Gilman, who had previously worked at the renowned University Settlement in New York City. Along with his wife, Catheryne Gilman (another reformer who was put in charge of the women and girls department), Mr. Gilman established NENH as an integral center of Northeast Minneapolis. In addition to recreational facilities, the Gilmans introduced an employment program, which helped women find jobs; a nursery to provide childcare; and a dental clinic, since many community members could not afford proper dental care. Additionally, the NENH provided important services during World War I, such as hosting bond drives and helping young men with their draft papers. During the war and afterward in the 1920s, a period marked by increasing xenophobia, many people in the neighborhood gained American citizenship with the help of the settlement house.
As the popularity and importance of the NENH kept growing, Gilman eventually persuaded the board of directors to construct a larger building at 1929 Second Street NE. This new building, which actually consisted of two structures (the main building and the north wing), was designed in the Georgian Revival style by the local architectural firm Kenyon and Maine. The NENH’s new headquarters was opened to the public in November of 1919, at a ceremony attended by over 600 people. The organization still used Drummond Hall until two more buildings (a dormitory and a gymnasium) were added to the new location in 1927. With these additions, the facility became the fifth largest settlement house in the country, and it started to rival University Settlement in New York and the Hull House in Chicago in terms of reputation and prestige.
NENH maintained its prominence through the Great Depression and World War II, but major changes started occurring in 1948. That year, the Gilmans finally retired after 33 years at the helm of the institution. In the 1950s and 1960s, as the government began providing more social services to communities, the influence of the traditional settlement houses started to shrink. Many of Minneapolis’s settlement houses merged with one another, and in the 1960s the NENH joined with the Margaret Barry House in Beltrami to form East Side Neighborhood Services (ESNS). The new company eventually sold the Margaret Barry House, though it continued to operate from the NENH property for the rest of the 20th century. It finally moved to a new location in 2001, and the NENH buildings were converted into Bottineau Lofts, an affordable housing complex consisting of apartment units and townhouses. However, since the North East Neighborhood was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2001, much of its historic character was maintained through the transformation. ESNS still continues the work started by the Gilmans over a century ago, adapting to the changes and challenges of the new millennium.
- Gardner, Denis P. . National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, National Park Service. Accessed April 3rd 2020. https://npgallery.nps.gov/NRHP/GetAsset/ab1ce92c-0a9c-4068-8c1b-21a21e8228c4.
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- Karger, Howard Jacob. Minneapolis Settlement Houses in the "Not So Roaring '20s:" Americanization, Morality, and the Revolt Against Popular Culture. Western Michigan University Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare. Vol. 14, No. 2 (May 1987): 89 - 110.
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- Bottineau Housing Project, Phoenix Development. Accessed April 3rd 2020. http://phoenixdevco.com/bottineau.
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