Anoka County history: Business, industry in early St. Francis

The history of St. Francis starts with the loggers, who cleared the forests leaving land suitable for the farmers.

The farmers were successful enough to keep the gristmill busy grinding flour.

By the close of the 1800’s, the thriving little community had a factory, a creamery, a post office, a cannery, and a store, in addition to the gristmill and the saw mill.

History loves to record “firsts,” even though the very first person to do something is often lost in the business of actually doing it!

The first settlers in the St. Francis area were George Armsby, E. Fowler and Ezra Randall in 1855.

Ezra Randall is credited with building the first house in town. It was still standing in 1964, and was owned by Fred Gillman.

They were joined by Patrick Mc Donald, about 1866, who allegedly spent two weeks chopping a trail to get to his homestead. His was the only house between St. Francis and Elk River.

In 1866 the first creamery was started and the first buttermaker was A. S. Tapin. This is according to Mrs. Merle Gaslin, who wrote a history of St. Francis in 1964.

At some point the creamery was sold to Rev. R.A. Shadick, the first pastor of the St. Francis Baptist Church.

Rev. Shadick was involved in several businesses in the area, including the store.

Behind the creamery was a huge barn that housed 18 horses used to deliver and to pick up milk all over the county.

St. Francis Starch Manufacturing Co. was founded in 1895.

The first year the company made 600 tons of starch, most of which was shipped to Chicago and Boston.

Albert Goodrich writes in his “History of Anoka County, “The average run per annum since has been about 300 tons, varying with the character of the season and the price of potatoes.”

The factory was bulldozed when footings were needed for the new bridge in 1964.

Goodrich goes on to tell us that the St. Francis Canning Factory, incorporated in 1900, canned corn only, but in quantities exceeding 2500 cases a year.

“In a good year the factory should turn out double that amount.”

It was incorporated at a value of $20,000 raised by selling 400 shares of stock for $50.00 each.

(According to the book of deeds housed at the Anoka County History Center.)

Riverside Hotel was built along the banks of the Rum River. It still stands today as the Rum River Inn, a favorite among locals.

Its unique architecture makes it a convenient reference point in old photos of the town.

Other local businesses included the Streetly Livery Stable, a blacksmith shop owned by Silas E. Clements, the Goodrich and Jennings Drug Store, a millinery shop run by Eva Boobar, and T. H. Miller’s place where wagons and sleighs were manufactured.

Blanchette’s Sample Room Beer Parlour opened in 1890, but when the school was built, no liquor was allowed near the area, so it turned into an ice cream parlor, doing business until Blanchette’s death in 1933.

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

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