Ramsey County History Magazine: Volume 51-4 Winter 2017

Ramsey County History magazine offers a wide variety of articles on the people, places and history of Ramsey County.

Volume 51

Volume 51, Number 4: Winter 2017

William T. Francis, at Home and Abroad
Author: Paul D. Nelson
William T. (Billy) and Nellie Francis were a “Golden Couple” in Ramsey County in the 1920s. They were good-looking, intelligent, talented, ambitious, and successful. Then they went to Africa, and things went terribly wrong. This article presents the story of their lives and influence as African Americans in Ramsey County and in the country of Liberia. Billy Francis came to St. Paul in the late 1880s, where he was hired by the Northern Pacific Railroad and rose to the position of chief clerk in the legal department. He then went to law school, earned a degree, and went into private practice. Nellie, his wife, whom he married in 1893, was a high school graduate, an accomplished vocalist, and active in the women’s suffrage movement. W.T. Francis was a Republican and in 1927 used his connections within the party to obtain appointment by President Calvin Coolidge as minister to Liberia. While there, Francis did important work investigating the use of forced labor in that country. Other investigators confirmed Francis’s findings, but by the time the League of Nations acted on this, Francis had died in July 1929 of yellow fever.
PDF of Nelson article

Peoples Church, the Reverend Samuel G. Smith, and St. Paul
Author: Philip J. Ramstad
Peoples Church was founded in St. Paul in 1888 by a group of Methodist men and women who wanted to keep their minister, Rev. Dr. Samuel G. Smith, when the Methodist hierarchy wanted him to move to a different church in another city. Defying the strictures of ecclesiastical polity, Smith and the church broke away and became an independent congregation led by a thoughtful and inspiring leader. Under Smith, Peoples Church thrived and grew while espousing a doctrine of primitive simplicity, great truths, and working to ameliorate the problems of the city. Then in 1915 Smith died suddenly, and the church was never the same under his successors. In 1939 Peoples Church merged with the Highland Park Community Congregational Church and its worship services were held in the Highland Park building. A fire in 1940 destroyed the former Peoples Church building, which was a massive structure, and today Interstate 35E covers that site.
PDF of Ramstad article

The U.S. Army’s Air Service Mechanics School in St. Paul’s Midway, 1917–1918
Author: Roger Bergerson
When the United States entered World War I in April 1917, it pledged to develop an air force that would sweep German planes from the skies over Europe. Aircraft manufacture and pilot training began immediately after the U.S. declared war, but only later did the army establish training facilities for aviation support personnel such as mechanics. One of those training facilities was installed in January 1918 in the former Willys-Overland Building in the Midway neighborhood. Local political and business leaders were enthusiastic supporters of the school. They were patriots who wanted to win the war. They also expected the inflow of federal money represented by the building lease, the payroll for the soldiers, and the supplies that would be purchased would give a boost to the local economy. This article tells the story of the Aviation Mechanics School, which flourished throughout 1918 with expectations that it would grow ever bigger, but all that ended suddenly in November with the signing of the Armistice.
PDF of Bergerson article

Book Review
Heart of St. Paul: A History of the Pioneer and Endicott Buildings
by Larry Millett
Minnesota Museum of American Art, 2016
96 pages; photos; $39.95 hardcover
Reviewed by Scott Rohr
PDF of Book Review