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Jewish Immigrants in Brook Park

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Black and white photograph of Warren and Mary Amanda Braman, ca. 1880s–1890s. From the collection of CarrieJo Cowler.

Warren and Mary Amanda Braman, ca. 1880s–1890s.

The village of Brook Park supported a small but vital Jewish community for a brief period in the mid-1890s. That community dispersed after the Great Hinckley Fire destroyed the village on September 1, 1894, just months after many of the immigrants had arrived.

Starting in 1893, the Kelsey-Markham Land Company recruited immigrants to Pokegama, the site of a former lumber camp. The company sold land for eight dollars per acre. Its co-owner, Chauncey Almer Kelsey, was a doctor, businessman, entrepreneur, and land speculator who envisioned developing the township into an idyllic village.

Kelsey was instrumental in changing the township’s name from Pokegama to Brook Park—a name that he thought would attract more buyers. He then moved to recruit new residents, including Jewish families he met while attending the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. Kelsey himself arrived in Brook Park with his family in the summer of 1894.

Jewish families started arriving in Brook Park in 1893, some via indirect routes. Samuel and Anna Misel left Russia in 1892 for Argentina, where their daughter, Lily, was born. They then moved on to the United States, where their son, Henry, was born in St. Paul on May 15, 1894. Samuel Misel was nineteen years old and Anna eighteen, making them the youngest of the new Jewish residents of Brook Park.

Anna shared a mother’s maiden name, Reznick, with Sophie Finer, indicating a possible familial relationship. Ben and Sophie Finer had emigrated from Courland, Latvia, around 1885. They resided in New Jersey and Illinois before moving to Minnesota in 1893. Their third son, Sollie, was born in Brook Park on May 19, 1894.

By 1894, the Jewish enclave at Brook Park consisted of eighteen adults and seventeen children (thirty-four Russian immigrants and one German American). The village was described as having “no police court, jail or saloon, or abominations known in modern crowded city life.” By the fall of 1894, its total population was approximately 135.

The Jewish families’ next-door neighbors included Mary Amanda Braman and Warren Braman, a Civil War veteran and cooper who had come to Brook Park from Ashland, Minnesota, in 1893. Along with Kelsey and others, Braman was an investor in Brook Park’s newly constructed boarding house.

On the morning of September 1, 1894, a fire flared up to the south of Brook Park—part of what became known as the Great Hinckley Fire. By 2 pm, it had reached the village. Braman saved many of the villagers by leading them to a pond next to a lumber mill by Pokegama Creek, where they stood in a pool of water out of reach of the flames. According to Finer family oral history, Sophie Finer and her two youngest sons, David and Sollie, were among those who sought refuge in the pond. David, age three, drowned while Sophie clutched Sollie to her chest. Ben and Louis Finer, age five, survived in another location, though Louis received burns on his legs.

A total of twenty-six Brook Park residents died in the fire—many of them because they failed to reach Pokegama Creek. Warren Braman’s twenty-seven-year-old son, Jay, was among the dead. Rescuers identified his body by his new pair of boots.

The surviving villagers spent two days sheltering in train cars before being transported to Mora and from there to St. Paul. Governor Knute Nelson’s Commission for Relief of Fire Sufferers assisted survivors with food, shelter, clothing, and transportation.

Five single Jewish men stayed in or near Brook Park after the fire, and four of them rebuilt their homes. Both Joe Coblin and native New Yorker Jake Greenberg received materials to rebuild. Joseph Chipris is identified in the 1895 Minnesota census as a resident of Duluth and an employee of Bloom’s Furniture store. Abe Chapman and Reuben Osterneck leased land north of Hinckley but left after two years. Jake Greenberg, age twenty-five and single, replied with one word when asked what property he had left: "nothing." Greenberg hoped to remain on his farm and obtain a shanty and furniture.

By 1897, all of Pokegama’s Jewish families had dispersed. The Finers, Misels, Shapiros, and Raphaels, who had come from Chicago, returned to their home city one month after the fire. The Israel Rosenberg and Charles Smith families became permanent residents of St. Paul's West Side.

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“At Pokegema.” Minneapolis Tribune, September 5, 1894.
https://newspapers.mnhs.org/jsp/viewer.jsp?doc_id=mnhi0005%2F1DFC5F59%2F94090501&init_width=600&recoffset=0&collection_filter=4a0c6900-28ec-40e6-bafa-8705a70f68f8&collection_name=4a0c6900-28ec-40e6-bafa-8705a70f68f8&sort_col=publication%20date&CurSearchNum=-1&recOffset=0

“Destitute Hebrews.” St. Paul Globe, September 5, 1894.
https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn90059522/1894-09-05/ed-1/seq-2/

Eckman, James. History of Medicine in Dodge County. Minnesota: N.p., 1944.

P1193-3
The Hinckley Fire
Manuscript Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
Description: A reminiscent account (typed, carbon copy) of Alice Nelson Wilcox’s experiences as a Pokegema, Minnesota, girl during the 1894 Hinckley forest fire.

Kelsey, Carleton G. “Brook Park Before There Was A Brook Park.” Hinckley News, August 30, 1979.

Kelsey, Lucy. The September Holocaust. Minneapolis: A. Roper 1894.

McGriff, Marilyn. “Mora was Lauded for Relief Role in 1894 Fire.” Kanabec Times, August 11, 1994.

Records, 1894–1895
Minnesota State Commission for the Relief of Fire Sufferers
State Archives Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul http://www2.mnhs.org/library/findaids/gr01044.xml
Description: Records of a commission created to provide relief for victims of the Hinckley fire, and of fires near New York Mills and Milaca, and in Carlton, Cass, Itasca, Kanabec, and Todd counties. They include ledgers of accounts for the goods or other aid provided to individuals; relief registrations (application forms); vouchers, orders, order stubs, receipt stubs, and requisition stubs; a register of vouchers and orders; correspondence, vouchers and receipts, and a ledger of the commission's Duluth agent; treasurer's cashbook and correspondence; journal of supplies (donations) received; and minutes and cashbook of the General Relief Committee of St. Paul, which was formed by citizens of St. Paul to aid the fire victims.

“Nothing Left of the Village of Pokegema.” Minneapolis Tribune, September 4, 1894.

Pine County Assessment Rolls, 1874–1981
Pine County Assessor
State Archives Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
http://www2.mnhs.org/library/findaids/gr00709.xml
Description: Assessment rolls for the years 1874–1901 (early years incomplete), 1910–1911, 1920–1921, 1930–1931, 1940–1941, 1950–1951, 1960–1961, 1970–1971, and 1981.

Pine County Historical Society. One Hundred Years in Pine County. Askov, MN: Pine County Historical Society, 1949.

Plaut, Gunther. The Jews in Minnesota: The First Seventy-five Years. New York: American Jewish Historical Society, 1959.

Wilkinson, Reverend William. Memorials of the Minnesota Forest Fires in the Year 1894: With a Chapter on the Forest Fires in Wisconsin the Same Year. Minneapolis: Norman E. Wilkinson, 1895.

Related Images

Black and white photograph of Warren and Mary Amanda Braman, ca. 1880s–1890s. From the collection of CarrieJo Cowler.
Black and white photograph of Warren and Mary Amanda Braman, ca. 1880s–1890s. From the collection of CarrieJo Cowler.
Dr. Chauncey Almer Kelsey
Dr. Chauncey Almer Kelsey
Black and white photograph of Ben and Sophie Finer, mid-to-late 1920s. From the collection of Brad Feinner.
Black and white photograph of Ben and Sophie Finer, mid-to-late 1920s. From the collection of Brad Feinner.
Black and white photograph of Brook Park (Pokegama) after a catastrophic fire, ca. 1894.
Black and white photograph of Brook Park (Pokegama) after a catastrophic fire, ca. 1894.
Jake Greenberg's relief registration form
Jake Greenberg's relief registration form
Map of Brook Park (Pokegama) as it appeared ca. 1894. Published in Kelsey, Lucy, The September Holocaust (Minneapolis: A. Roper, 1894), 73.
Map of Brook Park (Pokegama) as it appeared ca. 1894. Published in Kelsey, Lucy, The September Holocaust (Minneapolis: A. Roper, 1894), 73.
Color image of the intersection of State Street and Monument Road, Brook Park, August 7, 2017. Photograph by Alan W. Slacter.
Color image of the intersection of State Street and Monument Road, Brook Park, August 7, 2017. Photograph by Alan W. Slacter.
Color image of the obelisk monument in Brook Park Cemetery commemorating the victims of the 1894 fire, August 7, 2017. Photograph by Alan W. Slacter.
Color image of the obelisk monument in Brook Park Cemetery commemorating the victims of the 1894 fire, August 7, 2017. Photograph by Alan W. Slacter.
Color image of the base of an obelisk monument in Brook Park commemorating the victims of the 1894 fire, August 7, 2017. Photograph by Alan W. Slacter.
Color image of the base of an obelisk monument in Brook Park commemorating the victims of the 1894 fire, August 7, 2017. Photograph by Alan W. Slacter.

Turning Point

The Great Hinckley Fire roars through Brook Park starting at approximately 2 PM on September 1, 1894.

Chronology

1893

Dr. Chauncey Almer Kelsey, along with his brother Byron and George and James Markham, form the Kelsey-Markham Land Company. Pokegama Township’s name is changed to Brook Park.

1894

The Great Hinckley Fire starts south of Brook Park on September 1 and destroys the village as it travels north.

1894

In October, the four families from Chicago receive travel vouchers from the Relief Commission and return home. Warren and Mary Amanda Braman join their two remaining children in Watertown, South Dakota.

1895–1896

Brook Park is rebuilt; new immigrants move in and purchase land.

1897

The Jewish immigrants who started arriving in Brook Park in the fall of 1893 have all dispersed.

1906

Kelsey relocates to Boyero, Colorado, where he attempts to start another colony.

1917

Warren Braman dies in Watertown, South Dakota, on December 19.

April 22, 1918

Kelsey dies in Long Beach, California, from carcinoma of the liver.

April 1, 1985

Sollie Finer, who survived the fire while being held in his mother’s arms, dies in Peoria, Illinois, at the age of ninety.

2010

The total population of Brook Park, Minnesota, is 139.