Meat-Packing History in South St. Paul

Down the RiverFor the Twin Citizens in the audience curious about local history (how’s that for scaring away most of my audience?), the Pioneer Press has a lengthy story this morning about the history of Armour and the meat-packing industry in South St. Paul. It’s not clear what prompted the story (Anniversary? Slow news weekend?), but it does include some interesting nuggets:

For many years, [author and local historian Lois] Glewwe said, “Every sixth-grade class in South St. Paul was forced to tour the slaughterhouse. The little girls would be throwing up, screaming.”

I sense the beginnings of a new city slogan.

The hard-working, tough-as-nails demeanor described in the article is still part of the ethos in South St. Paul (though perhaps not reflected in the font choices of the community newsletter). The article doesn’t spend much time on it, but the city has been trying for years to fill the void left by the meat-packing industry. The city’s woes may be best exemplified in this MPR story, focusing on how Governor Tim Pawlenty’s budget cuts will adversely affect his hometown, a city heavily relient on state aid. If that doesn’t sound depressing enough, the city’s own mayor is unemployed (apparently the mayoral position isn’t a fulltime gig).

Remnants of the meat-packing industry can still be found, including the Armour gates and the stockyard exchange building (now a restaurant). The South St. Paul Riverfront Trail gives a good view of the river and the site of the former stockyard and the Makings of a City mural by Robert Zins gives an impressive visual overview of South St. Paul.

Perhaps my favorite icon in South St. Paul is the stone plaque for a missing sculpture. The sculpture is called “Legacy.”

8 thoughts on “Meat-Packing History in South St. Paul”

  1. I grew up in South St, Paul and my family is all still there. In fact. Lois Glewwe, the town historian mentioned in your post, is my aunt.

    I just wanted to fill you in on the mystery behind the missing sculpture. Many years ago the city in it’s wisdom commissioned a very expensive sculpture that was attached to the retaining wall at Wakota Arena.
    If I remember right, it consisted of steel I-beams sticking out and up from the wall like a well intended construction project gone horribly wrong

    The town, in general, hated it. The artist must’ve been ashamed also as he didn’t show up at the dedication ceremony. We were there, if only to witness the boondoggle, and a few officials but that was it.

    Years later it disappeared, perhaps sold for scrap and melted down. I guess we will never know.

  2. Awesome update, Barbara! Thanks. I’ve been wondering about the fate of that sculpture for a while. It was mentioned in Monumental Minnesota: A Guide to Outdoor Sculpture (though they note that it was privately funded) and a description of it sounded pretty interesting:

    “Fifteen beams project skyward from pilings and a retaining wall. The movable beams are vertical and at obtuse angles, interlaced at the top with cables. Three stones, one of which bears a commemorative plaque, stand nearby. The sculpture represents a community whose common base unites its members.”

    Though it does sound like something that could easily be under-appreciated. According to that site it was still around in 1993, but no update as to when it disappeared.

  3. If it weren’t for the words “obtuse angles”, I would’ve thought they were describing the fence on top of the retaining wall..

  4. Armour & Company along with Swift & Company is what made South St. Paul what it is. I had the oppertunity to go through the Armour Plant many times in my youth between 1980 and 1988. It is a shame that no one purchaised the plant and made it into some kind hotel and resturant complex. South St. Paul has become a sleepy bedroom community, too bad this plant is gone.

  5. My great grandfather worked at the swift&co meat packing plant in the 1920s till the stock market crash in 1929. He ended up being a supervisor. His name was Charles Wilmar. His son Malvern worked there too.

  6. My Great Grandfather was the bookkeeper in 1917 according to his WWI draft card. Albert Glen Tillman

  7. My Father, Leslie J. Heimkes, worked for the Haas Commission Company in the Stockyards from about 1933 to his death on 26Nov1955. Their office was in the Stockyards Exchange Building. The company received hogs from the Farmers and Ranchers and sold them to the packing plants, Swift and Armour. He worked with a good group of people that became his friends during his time off work. I remember one name, Earl Jenney. He wanted me to follow in his footsteps, so between my Junior and Senior High School year, got me a full time job in the summer to work with him. Turned out I didn’t like it at all, and went my own way after graduation.

  8. An entity often left out of the So. St. Paul meatpacking history is the Cudahy Packing Plant across the river in Newport. It ws a major competitor to Swift and Armour. My father was a salesman for Cudahy until the end of WWll and he would tell you he outperformed many Swift and most Armour competitors ! But I think Cudahy was an important member of the So. St. Paul stockyard industry and should be mentioned in its history.

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