Settled along a beautiful piece of property along the Rum River in Anoka, MN, were twelve “Cottages” arranged in a circle around a green grassy park.
The Anoka Asylum, later renamed Anoka State Hospital, operated for 99 years, housing and later treating mentally ill patients. Built in 1898 in the cottage style, the hospital opened in March 1900 to admit patients from other state asylums that had become too crowded. During the next century, thousands of male and female patients lived at the site, later renamed the Anoka State Hospital and then the Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center. Its mission and practices evolved as medicine and society’s perception of mental illness changed.
In 1985, the hospital underwent its final name change to the current Anoka-Metro Regional Treatment Center.
The hospital also played an important role in the city’s history, as a major employer for many years. It operated until 1999, when residents were transferred to a new facility nearby.
The building and property were then given to Anoka County to use for offices and to house the county workhouse. The remainder of the buildings were closed and boarded up.
The buildings were in a state of extreme disrepair. Information released on September 30, 2014, indicated that the Anoka County Board hoped to use three of the buildings as locations to house homeless veterans. But with the condition of the buildings, and the extremely high bids submitted by well-intended companies, these buildings were slated for demolition in 2016.
The Anoka City Council was not going to let these beautiful buildings be demolished and carried on the hope and dream of using them for something amazing.
At this time, Senator Jim Abeler met with a couple of members of the County Board and convinced them to allow the City of Anoka to lease the buildings to house veterans in need. Abeler was counting on the fact that the community would come together for such a task.
On September 28, 2017, the city held a rally to announce the idea with the theme, “Saving Veteran’s Lives While Saving Our History.” This moment in history was like something right out of a Norman Rockwell picture. There was a band, burgers and hotdogs on the grills, veterans on motorcycles, happy faces, excited voices, and a beautiful evening as a gift. It was a perfect storm. The coming together of an entity out of Sauk Centre to start the programming and the community coming together for the huge task ahead –making these old, abandoned, supposedly haunted buildings, livable.
And did the community EVER come together. The goal set by Sen. Abeler, turned lead contractor, was to get the men’s Cottage 2, ready by December 1, 2017. That gave 57 days to complete the task!
Over 400 volunteers stepped up. There were veterans from all over the state who came--skilled union workers gave up evenings with their own families, or came out of retirement to help. Welders, pipefitters, electricians, fire sprinkling engineers, plumbers, painters, glass fitters, cement workers, plasterers all worked in synchrony. Major companies came forward with donations of glass, paint, beds, electrical, pipes, a boiler, washers, dryers, furniture, the My Pillow guy, and so much more. The city of Anoka staff and employees were a huge key in making this happen. Volunteers from everywhere came forward, excited to be a part of something so significant.
It was obvious to many, that God loves our veterans. Multiple times when a need arose, before a prayer could even be uttered, the person or thing was provided.
Speaking of which, while many think these cottages were haunted and indeed it did seem eerie at first, multiple groups came through singing worship songs, praying through each floor and room to clear out the darkness, and invite in the peace and light that only God can give.
On December 1, 2017, the first 4 veterans moved in. While many things remained to be done, it was a welcoming, and cozy home for these veterans in need of a warm bed. This was a Merry Christmas for all!
A wonderful celebration of this miracle was held on December 16, 2017. Tours of Cottage 2 were given as the old mahogany piano was tuned up for Christmas carols. A celebration in the Auditorium with food, coffee, and the most glorious rendition of our National Anthem ever!
In November of 2017, as things were finishing up at Cottage 2, work began on Cottage 4 to house women veterans. Housing for women veterans and their children is scarce to non-existent. The first residents moved in on June 11, 2018.
December of 2018 brought a change in operations, as Sauk Centre was a long commute. So a group of Anoka community leaders transitioned operations, rewrote the lease with the city of Anoka, and Haven for Heroes, was born. Honor, Hope, and Home for our Heroes.
Haven for Heroes Celebration
On December 15, 2018, an informational meeting was held in the Community Room at Anoka City Hall. Over 125 people came to be part of Haven for Heroes. There was an opportunity to sign up on VAC (Veterans Allied with the Community) Teams to engage everyone’s gifts and talents and an initial volunteer training was held.
Strong representation by 8 area veterans groups, led by the Anoka Legion, give the new organization a very stable base of committed, experienced leaders and volunteers.
The next project will be to fix up the Auditorium, built in 1916. This is a beautiful structure that could hold many events into the future.