Neighborhood House was established on the West Side Flats in 1897 to provide needed services to Russian Jewish immigrants. Women from the Mount Zion synagogue formed an association to found a service organization for the new immigrants who had fled persecution in Europe. These Jewish immigrants followed earlier communities who had settled on the West Side and had come from other European countries, including France, Ireland, and Germany.
Initially an industrial school, by the late 1890s the organization had expanded to provide a number of social services such as broader education opportunities and resettlement assistance among others.
As the population of the West Side expanded rapidly into the 1910s the area became a crowded neighborhood of modest frame houses without any city services such as water or sewer lines, and most of the streets weren’t paved.
Frequent flooding of the West Side flats along the Mississippi River created hazardous living and transportation situations.
By 1903 it was clear that the need for a full-service settlement house was great, and the organization became non-sectarian. As the need for services continued to expand Neighborhood House raised funds for construction of a new building in 1923.
In the early 1910s the association’s educational activities included children’s camps, a pre-kindergarten school, child care facilities, and in 1937 a nursery school. By the 1960s the need for affordable housing became acute. The city of St. Paul began to demolish the houses between Wabasha Avenue and the river as a result of the constant flood menace; the land was filled in and became a variety of industrial sites.
Given the continued need for Neighborhood House’s services, the organization moved to new site at 1979 Robie E. Robie Street, and in 2014 the current building was constructed on the same site and renamed the Paul and Sheila Wellstone Center (after the Senator and his wife’s work on behalf of social needs in the community.)