So Minnesota: Mendota Work Camp No. 1

So Minnesota: Mendota Work Camp No. 1

So Minnesota: Mendota Work Camp No. 1

A camp along the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers helped some get through the Great Depression.

Today, it’s known as Big Rivers Regional Park in Mendota Heights, but the land used to be Mendota Work Camp Number One.

President Franklin Roosevelt started the Works Progress Administration. WPA camps were set up across the county, with 25 in Minnesota, including Mendota Work Camp No. 1.

“The goal was to give people jobs,” Matt Carter with the Dakota County Historical Society said. “The mindset was people are struggling. They won’t take a hand out but if we give them a job, they will work for the money that way.”

Opened in 1936, Work Camp No. 1 was located on eight acres of land and built to house up to 200 men. It contained 10 buildings, including barracks, workshops, and a recreation hall.

“This camp originally was the first and only camp in Minnesota that had African Americans involved in it,” Carter said. 

Men averaged 40 years of age and earned from $15 to 25 a month, along with room and board. The camp worked on construction projects with stone taken from the nearby limestone bluffs.

When America entered World War II, the need for WPA camps ended. In 1941, Mendota Work Camp No. 1 closed.