In the early 1900s, government services for the elderly and indigent were nearly non-existent. So a group of Swedish immigrant women, headed by Anna Bennett of St. Paul and Ida Kindvall of Minneapolis, came together as the Linnea Society to build “a free city for the lonely and a home for the homeless, a refuge where the stranger feels at home.” The fruit of their efforts was the Twin City Linnea Home for the Aged, 2040 Como Ave., which served the St. Anthony Park neighborhood from 1918 to 2005, when the building was sold to developers.
Now the Linnea Gardens Condominiums, residents there will celebrate the building’s centennial on Sunday, July 23, from 1 to 3 p.m. at Alden Square Park, 1169 Gibbs Ave.
From the beginning, the women of the Linnea Society decided that they would have no men on the board (though men were allowed to attend meetings after 1916) and that tradition held until the building was turned over to the Board of Social Ministry of the Lutheran Church in America in 1968. The Linnea Society purchased the land and built and maintained the residence through memberships (it cost 50 cents to join, and members were charged 10 cents at every meeting), aid from the St. Paul Community Chest, a loan from Catholic Charities and by their own fundraising, which included ice cream socials, concerts, silver teas, businessmen’s luncheons, smorgasbords, a lutefisk supper, a food stand at the Minnesota State Fair, raffles and solicited donations. Even after the home was in operation, the society continued to solicit not just money, but donations of fruits, vegetables, chickens and furniture.
The east wing of the building was finished in 1917, the center wing in 1925, and the west wing in 1926. The mortgage was burned at the 20th-anniversary celebration of incorporation in 1929, at which time there were 86 residents. Though one of the original purposes of the building was to house young women between jobs, none ever lived there. The first resident was a Norwegian man.
As there was no skilled care available, residents had to be able to care for themselves to a certain degree and to climb stairs, as there was no elevator in the building until 1994. When they moved in, the men and women who lived there paid a fee, based on a sliding scale, and were allowed to stay as long as they liked.
From the beginning, the community supported the home by donating money but also by visiting residents and helping them out in their apartments. Carol Mulroy, who grew up in the neighborhood and still lives nearby, recalls volunteering there, as her mother had before her, running the bingo game, ironing and helping with cooking. Neighborhood children visited residents and scouting groups raised money to support the facility. Since the residence was not affiliated with any specific denomination, neighboring churches sent visiting clergy and for a time drove residents to services.
By 1968, there were fewer members in the Linnea Society and those members were getting older, so the group donated the home to the Board of Social Ministry of the Lutheran Church in America, which later became Ecumen.
In 2005, Ecumen sold the building to a group of developers and the residents were relocated. Many artifacts and documents associated with the home were donated to the Swedish Institute at that time. The developers hired architect Doug Derr, who designed the 22 condominiums that make up Linnea Gardens today. Vanman Construction finished the project by doing the working drawings and gutting and restructuring the building. Derr took care to preserve the character of the original structure—uncovering and incorporating four of the six original skylights and the exposed brickwork from the original porch, plus some components of the original building, such as the boiler doors and a wood buffet—while updating the infrastructure. Arches in most units replicate the porch arches, yet updates like gas fireplaces, garages, baseboard heating, a rain garden and new landscaping bring the condominium into the present.
Ann Derr, resident of Linnea Gardens and wife of architect Doug Derr, planned the July 23 celebration, which includes an ice cream social in Alden Park, historical displays of pictures and memorabilia about Linnea, memories from local residents and a history of Alan Hagstrom’s family (Hagstrom is the great-nephew of founder Anna Bennett and her sister Emily Rystrom), a timeline and an open mic for reminiscences about Linnea Home and Gardens, as well as a performance by comedienne Penne Sewall.
Linnea Home was named for the linnea flower, a low-growing, small, purple twinflower native to Sweden and Minnesota named after Swedish botanist Carl von Linnaeus. “Just as this little insignificant-looking flower spreads its beautiful fragrance in all directions and is carried by the wind to distant places, we hope to spread joy to lonely persons, helping them along life’s way,” Anna Bennett said.
At the celebration, Hagstrom and Ann Derr will recite a poem in Swedish about the flower as a way of honoring those long-gone Swedish-immigrant women who saw a need and did something about it.
Michelle Christianson lives in St. Anthony Park and is a longtime contributor to the Park Bugle.