Anoka County history: St. Francis, from a village to a city

Today the city of St. Francis is 12 miles long and two miles wide, totaling 15,560 acres.

It lies along the county line, bordered by Isanti County on the north, and Sherburne County to the west. Oak Grove and Nowthen are on the south and Bethel and East Bethel to the east.

Until Blaine and Andover high schools were built, St. Francis High School was the only high school north of Anoka and south of Cambridge.

From its beginnings in the mid-1800s, St. Francis has changed dramatically and continues to evolve from a rural farm community into a modern suburb.

Father Hennepin named the Rum River after St. Francis in 1681 so the surrounding area, although nebulous and unbordered, shared that name.

The first name given to the settlement was Otona, which may have caused some confusion because of its similarity with the fledgling community of Anoka.

For a while it was called St. Jonathan, perhaps contributed by Jonathan Carver when he explored the Rum River Valley in 1766.

At any rate, by 1855, when the homesteads of the first settlers, George Armsby, E. Fowler and Ezra Randall,were claimed, their deeds specify the area as “St. Francis Township”.

Governmentally speaking, St. Francis was both a township and a village.

The business area of the township was the unincorporated village of St. Francis in the township of St. Francis, which was somewhat smaller then.

In the early 1900’s there was a petition to incorporate, but it was defeated.

Due to population growth in the 50’s and 60’s, the desire to incorporate became stronger and the first efforts to accomplish that goal began at a meeting, held in the high school in April of 1961.

A majority of the people were in favor, so the town board,encouraged by County Commissioner Merle Gaslin, pursued the idea.

By November of 1961, the needed 204 signatures had been collected and residents filed a petition for incorporation with the Minnesota Municipal Commission.

The next step was a hearing in December before the commission, along with various county officials including the county attorney and the county auditor.

The commission ruled on March 30, 1962, to approve the incorporation.

The residents still had the power to reject the idea, so an election was ordered for May of 1962.

In drawing the lines, St. Francis took a 380-acre chunk of Oak Grove and lost 480 acres that became the village of Bethel.

Residents voted 141 to 52 to incorporate and St Francis was officially declared a village May 16, 1962. (Notice that less than 200 people voted!)

The first mayor was Robert Leathers.

St. Francis remained a village until 1974, when the Minnesota Legislature removed “villages” as a governmental subdivision, so St. Francis became a city of the fourth class, called a statutory city.

Throughout the 1970’s, St. Francis added more and more city amenities – sewer, water, a planning staff, a full time police chief, volunteer fire department, maintenance/utilities department, etc.

It continues to grow in population as more and more housing is built.

The last 10 years especially have seen the building of multiple unit apartment houses, helping to turn this once rural landscape into an urban setting.

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

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