In November of 1940, the Armistice Day Blizzard was raging across a six-state region, including Minnesota. It caught everyone, including the weather prognosticators, by surprise. The morning of November 11, 1940 enjoyed unseasonably high temperatures, but as the day turned to night, the weather conditions quickly changed. Temperatures plummeted, winds picked up and rain began to fall, followed by sleet and then snow. The result was a brutal blizzard that lasted into the next day and turned deadly. The storm effectively shut down the Twin Cities area, tied up traffic, closed businesses and kept the cities closed down for three days as residents shoveled their way out. To this day, the Armistice Day Blizzard is cited as one of top five weather events in the region.
But, something else happened on that day, something even more infamous than the Armistice Day Blizzard. As the storm was raging, two men who had come to Minneapolis from Chicago for the Minnesota-Michigan football game, found themselves stranded in the city when all trains headed back to Chicago were cancelled. Stuck for three days, they went to meet with a man named Pat Cronin. Mr. Cronin was an alcoholic for whom sobriety had been elusive. Weeks before, while at the Minneapolis Public Library, he had come across the Big Book of the burgeoning Alcoholics Anonymous group; he tore the contact page from the book and took it home so that he could write a letter to A.A.’s founder, Bill W. to inquire as to whether there were any meetings that he could attend in Minneapolis. Upon receiving the letter, Bill
W., who knew that there were no meetings in Minneapolis, passed the letter on to the closest A.A. group in Chicago – which is when our two Armistice Day visitors come in. They were both members of the Chicago A.A. meeting and they had a message of recovery to bring to Mr. Cronin.
From that day forward, Pat Cronin worked the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions and brought AA to hundreds of men and women in the Twin Cities, establishing meetings in both Minneapolis and St. Paul. In September of 1948, Pat Cronin met with Reverend William Paul, who was in charge of Union City Mission, which had programs in downtown Minneapolis and on a working farm in Plymouth, known as Mission Farms. Reverend Paul offered Mr. Cronin a place where he could bring his people, have meetings, and even have some of them stay overnight. This was the beginning of what would eventually become known as the Minnesota Model of chemical dependency treatment – which is still used in treatment centers worldwide.
At first, there were only three or four men who came out to the grounds, and they stayed in various buildings on Mission Farms, holding meetings, policing themselves, working the land and creating a self-sustaining community of men in recovery. The Minneapolis A.A. Intergroup considered one of these buildings, known as “Little Mother’s Inn,” to be its headquarters until 1953, when a fire gutted the building. There was another building on the west end of the property (which is now a part of the Three-Rivers Park District’s Clifton E. French Regional Park) called the “Potato Warehouse.” After the fire had destroyed the Little Mothers Inn, many of the A. A. people around town came out to help dig out the building, removing the dirt and potatoes, to create a permanent residence for the alcoholic population of Minneapolis. At some point, someone put up a sign carved in wood and called it “Pioneer House.”
Pioneer House, the first private treatment program for alcoholics in Minnesota, began in 1953 and ran until 1978 when it closed and “New Pioneer House” opened, for the first time accepting women as clients. In 1981, this building was sold to the Hazelden Foundation, which continues to use the building today for their Youth and Family services treatment program.
In 1994, Union City Mission changed its name to Missions Inc. Programs and to this day continues to serve the A.A. community in the Twin Cities, as well as many others, by providing housing and supportive services, and medically monitored detoxification and withdrawal management, to men and women in recovery from chronic chemical dependency.
From the time we opened our doors in 1895 in a little store-front building in the Gateway neighborhood of downtown Minneapolis, to the efforts of Pat Cronin and Pioneer House in the 1940s and ‘50s, to the programs housed on our campus today, Missions Inc. has been instrumental in bringing the message of sobriety to thousands and thousands of Minnesota men and women. And, we hope to continue to bring this message of recovery for years to come.
Katy Daniels is the Associate Director of Missions Inc. Programs and wrote this article for the 78th anniversary of the Armistice Day Blizzard.