New immigrants' first priority once they arrived in Minnesota was to find a place to live.

Their shelter ranged in type from sod houses and crude homesteads to rented apartments, boarding rooms, and company housing. It all depended on where in the state they chose to live.

Rural Settlements

One of the main draws for immigrants to come to Minnesota in the 1800s was the opportunity to own land. Immigrants poured into land opened by treaty and began to build basic, often crude shelters. Thanks to the Homestead Act of 1862, these immigrant settlers could claim up to 160 acres as long as they built a dwelling, improved the land, and stayed there for five continuous years.

In 1894, Lee H. Johnson was born in a sod house, a typical shelter for homesteading families in Minnesota. In this interview, he describes how his Danish father first settled on a Cottonwood County homestead in the 1880s.

Interview with Lee H. Johnson, 1973

As they grew more secure in home and land ownership, rural immigrants improved their farmhouses and built many other farm buildings. Often these improvements were done by second generation immigrants, who enlarged or completely built over their parents' original homesteads.

Towns and Cities

Rather than settling the land, many immigrants moved directly to towns and cities for job opportunities. They found shelter in boarding houses, apartments, rental houses, and more. Often certain sections of these towns became havens for groups of immigrants, like Bohemian Flats in Minneapolis and St. Croix Avenue in Duluth.

Company Housing

When immigrants arrived in Minnesota under contract to work for specific companies or industries, they frequently lived in company housing units. Many laborers were single men who lodged in barracks-style camps. Some companies built boarding houses or provided single apartments for clerical and technical workers, too. When workers needed shelter for their whole families, companies put them up in individual houses.

To see what immigrants did once they arrived in Minnesota and found shelter, use the page links below.