The Blue Earth County poor farm was originally a small cabin. The need was so great that in 1877, the county replaced the cabin with a larger structure. In 1907 the addition was built. The poor farm had twenty-two bedrooms that housed two residents each accommodating forty-four residents in total.
Early accounts of the poor farm described a very progressive and forward thinking institution. It was not seen as a European type work house or a debtors prison. It was a working farm where the residents could choose to work, or not. Blue Earth County hired a staff to work the fields, cook for the residents and take care of daily needs. A caretaker and their family always lived on the premises.
As the years went by the Oak Grove home became increasingly obsolete and wasn't able to adapt to changing codes and regulations regarding accessibility and safety. In the mid-1980's its years of taking care of and housing people were over. It was closed in 1987.
Oak Grove Home
In the mid 1950's the Blue Earth County Poor Farm was sold into private ownership. It was renamed the Oak Grove Home and was turned into a home for the elderly. As the years went by many people lived and died in the old poor farm. People from the Mankato/North Mankato community recall visiting the residents especially during the holidays.
Poor Farm at dusk
More Recent History
After the poor farm was closed it went through several years of private ownership, a few bankruptcies, and even several years of abandonment. It has always been a place for dreamers. Several people have told tales of having an interest and a vision about the poor farm. In 1996 is was purchased by an individual that had the idea to remake it into country apartments. He worked on it for a couple years until it became a bit overwhelming. This is when Brian Frink showed up at the door of the poor farm, the year was 1998.
Poor Farm Studios
Brian immediately saw the old decrepit building as a possible country home and studio. His partner Wilbur was not so sure. However they both saw it as a country version of the loft life they lived in Brooklyn during the early eighties.
A trip to Loire Valley in France provided Brian the opportunity to observe how every old elegant chateau looked like the "Poor Farm Studios". Returning home Wilbur was convinced that they could turn the poor farm into a southern Minnesota version of a French chateau. Thus Poor Farm Studios was born. It has gone through extensive renovations and improvements, work which will probably never end.
Brian maintains his studio and workshop on the first and lower levels of the structure. He creates his art work and custom frames here. Wilbur has her study in the upper level. She writes poetry and authors plays for her two theater groups one based in New Ulm and the other in Mankato.
Both Wilbur and Brian view the Poor Farm Studios as more than just a home. Since they have purchased it they have tried to make it a community gathering place for art and culture. They have hosted musical events, fundraisers, poetry readings and lots of random delightful occurrences usually involving huge bonfires.
There have been political fundraisers held here. Fundraisers for community projects and then there has just been plain fun parties. Both of Wilbur and Brian's children were married here.
Future plans include a gallery and continued musical performances, readings and blow out parties. One of the Poor Farm Studios event highlights was the fundraiser for the local art center, The Twin Rivers Center for the Arts. Titled "Starving Artist at the Poor Farm" it was a massive event that took over the entire Poor Farm Studios, top to bottom. Check out the great video below if you are curious about the Poor Farm "vibe".
All of our events usually end with a massive bon fire. These fires have become legendary.
Brian lighting a bonfire in his traditional Minnesota manner and dress.
A video by Works Progress about Poor Farm Studios and Rural American Contemporary Art.
If you are curious about reading more on the Poor Farm Studios please check out this article in the Star Tribune