The settlement of Anoka began in the early 1850s. It first appeared with the construction of several buildings at the intersection of Main Street and Ferry Street. When a bridge was built across the Rum River in 1853, development spread to the east side of the river.
At first the modest settlement was simply known as “Rum River.” But in the spring of 1853 Neal D. Shaw christened the new settlement Anoka after consultations with L. M. Ford, the agricultural editor for the St. Paul Press. They found this Dakota word meaning “on both sides” and it fit the situation.
While the naming of the town is an often told story, the naming of its historic neighborhoods is lesser known. This and several future articles will explore these names and places.
In the years following settlement, the new town expanded in all directions as residential districts emerged with ethnic, economic and religious differences.
These neighborhoods were segregated into the quadrants of the city created by the intersection of Main Street and the Rum River.
They were known by names such as Whiskey Flats, Slab Town, Swede Town and Christian Hill.
Each area took on its own unique identity. Residents in each area established close social networks and developed intra-city rivalries with other neighborhoods. They fielded competing athletic teams whose exploits provided summer entertainment and winter arguments about which neighborhood was superior.
These rivalries were personal. Westbank Slab Town kids and eastbank Swede Town kids would holler taunts and challenges to each other across the Rum River.
This first article focuses upon the southwest quadrant, the area west of the Rum River and South of Main Street. Several historic locations developed here.
Whiskey Flats was the area west of State Street and south of Park Street. Its name was derived from the fact that in the 1870s some of the local residents distilled their own liquor there along the Mississippi River.
It was said that early settlers in this section “were much given to indulgence in the cup that cheers.” Since this neighborhood was close to the ferry boat dock, whiskey making may have also been a business enterprise strategically located in the path of thirsty travelers.
This was also during the height of the temperance movement when efforts were made to close downtown saloons.
Another famous spot, Firemen’s Grove, was that area between Ferry Street and the Rum River now occupied by the Pierce Motel and Apartments, formerly Kline Sanitarium.
But before any of these developments, this area was open land and a popular community gathering place. In this partially wooded and pasture area, the fire department grazed horses used to convey their firefighting equipment.
In its earliest days, Anoka already boasted of a very efficient fire department and members took an active part in public celebrations. Many July 4th orations were delivered at Firemen’s Grove before large crowds of people.
Just beyond Firemen’s Grove was The Point, low land at the confluence of the Rum and Mississippi Rivers. It was, in the words of one early explorer to the area, “a charming site” and became an informal retreat where Anokans sought rest and recreation.
But The Point wasn’t always restful. An amusing report in the Anoka County Union in 1868 read: “we think those boys who were in swimming near The Point last Sunday afternoon, and shouting as loud as their lungs would admit, might find some better way in which to spend their Sabbaths. Boys, it is a disgrace.”
Today this area is called Peninsula Point Two Rivers Historical Park or simply Point Park. It includes a park shelter building, playground, seasonal fishing docks and trails with historical markers.
To get there turn off Ferry Street at the signal light just north of the Mississippi Bridge and wind your way past the historic Kline Sanitarium (Pierce Apartments) and residence (Shiloh House Ministries) to the soon to be expanded parking lot.
For a pleasant and educational stroll strut the promenade along the rivers and read the historical markers that tell the story of the first explorers in this area. You might be surprised who set foot on this “charming site” before you.
Bob Kirchner is a local historian, seminary student and city of Anoka’s part-time community development director.