I received a wonderful new book, The Mississippi Courts and the Communities Surrounding Them 1949-2009, for my birthday. It was put out by the Mississippi Courts Historical Society and tells all about the history and mystery of the Mississippi Courts in Camden, how it came to exist and what it was like to live there. There are many tales told by former residents and the book is loaded with pictures. Not only that, but it really captures the spirit of the area before Interstate 94 wiped out the commercial section of Camden. Other stories are about buildings and businesses which were close to the Courts, maps, etc.
Truthfully, I had heard the name “Mississippi Courts” bandied around a bit, but had no idea of what they were. Someone told me it was housing down by the Mississippi River. That’s all I knew. The only housing I had known about was the gypsy settlement in the 1920s and ‘30s which were boxy looking trailers and shacks down by the river, a short way from the Camden Bridge. I was shown them by my mother on one of our excursions to Blomquist’s Market to get groceries. She asked my sister and me if we’d like to see the gypsy camp and we said “yes.”
So down to the river we went, and there were all those makeshift homes and trailers. There were clotheslines all over with brightly colored clothes flapping in the breeze. There were barely dressed children bounding about. People stared at us as we stared at them. It was uncomfortable so we left without dilly-dallying around! That was the only time I saw that settlement.
Now I know the rest of the story: After WWII there were thousands of veterans returning from Europe and had no place to live. Mayor Hubert H. Humphrey appealed to the people of Minneapolis to rent out their empty rooms and open up their homes to the war veterans. This did not bring in enough empty rooms, so in 1945 Mayor Humphrey set up a fund to bring in 200 house trailers from Hastings. The next step was in 1946, when the federal government deeded 350 temporary housing units to Minneapolis. Then in 1948 the Mississippi Courts ended up as a 100-unit housing project on the banks of the Mississippi River, between 49th and 52nd Avenues N. It consisted of 25 side-by-side fourplexes, each with a common basement. They continued to provide homes for thousands of people until being torn down in the mid 1980s.
That is how the “Courts” progressed, but you should get a copy of the book to find out all the particulars. The first part of the book contains all the interesting stories of the people who had lived there and then comes a section of plat maps of the area. Following that are pictures and information on Northside schools and churches, then Camden parks and Camden businesses. There are excellent pictures of how the town used to look in its hey-day. If you were ever curious about the old Hopewell Hospital, the workhouse or any of the Camden banks, you will find great pictures and information about them all.
Toward the end of the book is a walking tour of the old courts location conducted by Dick Carlson in 2004. He leads you step by step from the road leading in to the Mississippi Courts, past the landmarks known as the Swamp, the Green Lake, the Woods, Devil‘s Doorway, Baseball Field and Skating Rink, the Rec, Tree Stump, the Calvert, Giant Cottonwood Tree, the Big Island, Playground Area, the Green Fence, the River and locations of addresses of the Court’s housing.
This book is so thorough that it is hard to fathom that a second book on the same subject could ever be in the works!
Note: The three people who worked so diligently for five years to bring this book to life are Amy Luesebrink, Mike Fahey and Kenny Fosberg of the Mississippi Courts Historical Society. Assisting them was an “army” of people who had lived at or had knowledge of the Courts. The book is $24.95; for a copy go to mississippicourts.org, or contact email@example.com or 612-788-1418.