Eugene V. Debs House

  • This site was the home of labor leader Eugene V. Debs from 1874 to 1893
  • Location: 1015 Milwaukee Avenue East Mankato, Minnesota
  • Elevation: 829′
  • Date of construction: 1876

Architectural style: Not applicable as this is a single-family home. It is likely a Greek Revival or Italianate style with some Victorian-era embellishments. Still, those styles are not fully understood by the average person, and both were popular during the era in which the house was built. More research is needed to determine what architectural style(s) would have been appropriate for a small, rural home at that time in history.

However, the house does have significant architectural components such as a cupola and two bay windows.

A HouseEugene V. Debs was an American labor organizer, Socialist politician, and advocate of industrial unionism who has been referred to as “one of America’s most effective and innovative labor leaders” and “a founder of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).” As early as 1887, he was considered vice president of the United States on the ticket headed by labor reformer and former President Grover Cleveland. In 1905 he founded Socialist Party USA after splitting from another party with which he had been elected to Congress. While many other socialist parties preferred to distance themselves from communism, bs vocally supported socialism in Russia upon that country’s revolution as well as in WWI. Debs ran for president five times during his career, receiving more than 900,000 votes (6%) of the popular vote in 1920.

Debs was imprisoned for “reading the Declaration of Independence” and giving a speech to an unemployed group during the 1894 Pullman labor strike after defying a court order barring him from supporting labor militancy or speaking publicly about the issue. He served six months in prison following his conviction for conspiracy to obstruct the draft during World War I under the Espionage Act of 1917, which turned one-year sentences into ten-year sentences at hard labor. He received just over one million votes (3.4% of the total) while jailed, presumably by write-in votes. Vladimir Lenin himself awarded Debs the prestigious Order of Lenin in 1920, and the Eugene V. Debs Foundation was established in 1949 by his family to honor him.

The house includes:

  • Four bedrooms.
  • Two bathrooms.
  • A living room.
  • The enclosed porch-type area at the front entryway (now storage).
  • Dining room.
  • Kitchen with pantry off it.
  • Half-bathroom on the upper floor (adjacent to master bedroom) inside cupola housing circular staircase to the upper floor.
  • The exterior features include a cedar shake roof; historic windows; original hardwood floors; baseboards; doors; hardware; fireplace; an outbuilding that appears to be older than the main house (and may pred it).

When listed on the National Register in 1985, the house was owned by Ralph D. Helstein (1913-1990), president of the United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA) from 1946 to 1968 and chairman of the Democratic Socialists for America.

Before its NRHP listing in 1985, it sat abandoned on farmland outside Mankato for decades, having been moved at least once with no known builder/architect involved with any move. As a result, the foundation appears to be original (despite apparent moving). Still, some studs appear to date only to the early-to-mid 20th century when additions were made, so it’s possible that this home had several incarnations for its location before being placed where it is now.

A book about Eugene Debs and Victorian-era socialism is available (see Sources). The house was once painted with red, white, and blue stripes (which remain on the dome) and an American flag that no longer exists. A historical society claims to have located it in Des Moines during its history; however, there is no documentation to support that claim.

The Mankato History Center and Depot Museum have a shirt worn by Debs with bloodstains from his arrest for reading the Declaration of Independence during the Pullman Strike.