A History of the Alano Society and the original owners
The architect of the original building was William Channing Whitney. It was built by William C. Pike, at a cost of $6,000. The owner was John Washburn, vice-president of Washburn-Crosby, forerunner of what is now General Mills. This was one of several homes of the Washburn family. The original structures were the main building and a carriage house in 1887, followed by a barn in 1888 (which was taken down in 1916). There have been improvements, repairs and additions with a major addition of the auditorium and meeting rooms directly above it in 1949 - 1952.
Here are some of the main events in the saga of the Washburn family. There were two Washburn brothers who were rivals and at some points partners, in the development of Minnesota during the decades from the 1850's into the early years of the Twentieth Century. In the early 1850's Cadwallader Washburn, father of John Washburn, began a flour milling company, which in later years became General Mills. His brother William became a catalyst in the build-up of the lumber industry. His sawmill was located outside Anoka.
There were two main groups of wealthy men in the Twin Cities at this time. The Washburns controlled the interests along the West Bank of the Mississippi River and another group of wealthy men controlled interests along the East Bank. A rival of the Washburns (named Eastman,) built an underwater tunnel to divert the water of St. Anthony falls. The tunnel collapsed in 1869, and the federal government was called in to the rescue. The federal government spent $615,000 to stop the erosion of St. Anthony falls, which was quite a chunk of money for those days.
By the 1870's the primary investors in the flour industry had gained control of the railroads. In 1870 the Soo Line was formed to transport flour products across country. Pillsbury was a rival of the Washburns in the late 1870's. His mill suffered a grain dust explosion‚ killing 18 people. This event prompted the millers to clean up conditions in the mills.
As the 1890s approached, the chamber of commerce was made up entirely by members of the Grain Exchange. The Washburn family had control of the major industries of their day. In 1908‚ due to the over-speculation in the Grain Market, the stock market plummeted and the prominent families lost huge amounts of money. In the 1920's‚ the water rights were sold to what was to become NSP. John Washburn, who was by this time heading what was called the Washburn-Crosby Company, essentially pointed the company in a more diverse and successful direction.
The labor riots of the early 1930's finally brought these wealthy families down. The Washburn family opposed the formation of unions, but eventually labor unions were formed and the wealthy investors lost huge amounts of money. In the late 1930s, the Washburn family was no longer able to afford to run the mansion and they deeded the mansion to the Minneapolis Historical Society while servants remained there to live.
In March of 1942, the Alano Society was incorporated into a holding society by the members of The Minneapolis Group of AA, in order to legally acquire and own real estate. It was reincorporated in 1951. In April 1942, property at 2218 First Avenue South was purchased from the John Washburn family for $19,000, even though other parties were interested in buying this excellently located mansion and had offered $30,000.
One of the stipulations of this deed was that part of 2218 was to be kept in its original form. This meeting place has spun off countless A.A. meetings in all corners of Minnesota and the upper Midwest, as well as Canada. Many of the members who first embraced the A.A. program here have carried the message outside the fellowship, to the hospitals, the courts and treatment centers. These in turn have been sending the still suffering alcoholic back to us so that we may continue to maintain our own sobriety by working with newcomers. There are 33 A.A. weekly meetings held here and one of the Al-Anon Family Groups.
If pride has any place in the A.A. program, it should be enjoyed by those members that support A.A. and the Mother Club. In this way, we can ensure that this meeting place is still here and available for the newcomer and those who continue to struggle in putting together continuous, lifetime sobriety.
*Historical research on the Washburn family was done by Jeanne F. Squad 25.