Anoka County history: Early St. Francis schools, churches

by Maria King

The first school in St. Francis was started in 1857 and was taught by Miss Hattie Waterhouse in the home of Mr. Fowler.

Small schools popped up and were abandoned as the children grew or families moved.

In 1911 the Minnesota Legislature amended the law to allow small school districts to consolidate to pool their resources.

St. Francis was the first in the area to take advantage, joining seven school districts together that had been scattered across the rural areas of northern Anoka County and collecting resources adequate to building and staffing a high school.

Miss Edith Patch was the supervisor of county schools from 1922 to 1958, during which time there were up to 52 unconsolidated country schools in Anoka County.

St. Francis High School was built in 1914 for $20,000. (A bond issue for $25,000 had been defeated.)

It’s the building that is now the old part of the Middle School.

By 1952 the elementary school enrollment was 465 and the junior and senior high school held 286 pupils.

The entire state was reorganized in 1952 and this area became the Anoka-Isanti Independent School District 212.

Then in 1957, each district in the state was issued a new number, at which time St. Francis became District 15.

The new district included parts of northern Anoka County, including Bethel and East Bethel, St. Francis, Burns (now called Nowthen), parts of Grow (now called Andover) and Cedar in Oak Grove.

It also included several sites in Isanti County including Stanford and Crown.

In other words, the county lines were ignored when carving districts from the many tiny schools across the state.

At that time a $75,000 bond issue was passed to expand the high school because it serviced all that area, and the population was growing rapidly.

During the next 10 years, additional space was needed at both elementary and secondary levels, causing three additions to the high school, construction of a new elementary school at St. Francis, three additions to Cedar School and two additions to Bethel School.

By 1965 there were 812 elementary students and 630 high school students.

St. Francis has several historic churches, but identifying the first is difficult.

The first church building would be the Baptist Church organized apparently in 1864.

It was started by N. E. Norris and his mother, Mrs. Alden Norris, and Mr. and Mrs. Joe Gaslin.

Services were held in the Gaslin home, located on the campus of what is now the Bar None Ranch.

Prior to the establishment of the Baptist church, Methodist ministers and itinerant preachers had crisscrossed the area infrequently, offering baptisms, marriages and the occasional sermon to those who would gather for the occasion.

Therefore, some say the Methodists have a longer history in St. Francis, even though their church was organized in 1890.

Two years later, largely through the efforts of Mrs. H.G. Leathers and Mrs. William Streetly, the Methodist church building was erected and the first minister, Rev. Stevens, installed.

Worship and education are the cornerstones of any community and always have been.

St. Francis is no exception.

Editor’s note: Maria King is a volunteer for the Anoka County Historical Society.

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