The historic neighborhoods of northwest Anoka

by Robert Kirchner

The area west of the Rum River and north of Main Street were neighborhoods known as Martinville (later as Slab Town) and the mysterious Frog Town.

Robert Kirchner
Robert Kirchner

Martinville emerged on the west bank of the Rum River just south of the railroad tracks. In 1868 A. and B. Martin subdivided this area and established a steam saw mill. Later, the St. Paul Lumber Company operated the mill and still later it was purchased by Reed and Sherwood.

Newspaper items track some of the goings on in this neighborhood.

An Aug. 26, 1873 tidbit read: “the fellows who keep a saloon in Martinsville, were tried before Justice Church, last Saturday, and fined $40 and costs for selling liquor.”

A few months later on Dec. 9 this appeared: “Complaints are numerous of the water in the wells giving out in Martinsville. Fixing the dam is the cause.”

The Martin name faded and the area became known as Slab Town because of the great piles of pine slab produced by the mill. Slab is the outside piece first cut from a log to square it off. It was often used for firewood, furniture making and reinforcing the riverbank.

A woman living there in the 1880s later wrote:

“In the days when three saw mills (St. Paul, Washburn and Page’s) were busy and the lumber yards took much space, there was a portion of the City in the vicinity of the St. Paul Mill where the Reed and Sherwood Lumber Yards were, that was called Slab Town.

Horses were always dragging dump carts filled with slabs away for fuel and still acres and acres of them remained making the name very appropriate.

The naturally fine scenery along the Rum and stretching westward was marred with the river full of logs, and the piles of lumber and slabs but the skies were blue, the trees leafed and the river ran, and Nature talked to us even in Slab Town.”

She explained that “our neighbors in Slab Town were mostly from Maine or other eastern parts. They were dependent upon the lumber industry and chiefly upon Reed and Sherwood. Most of them owned their homes and lived decently on wages we would think too small today.”

“My father worked for 90 cents a day our first winter in Anoka, when the days were too short for full time or ten hours. Later for more skilled work he received $2.50 and maybe $3.00 some of the year. He always had a garden and had some dairying besides.”

She revealed that Slab Town residents enjoyed neighborhood gatherings, such as card parties and surprise birthday parties. Most belonged to one of the churches or lodges in the city. They were Baptists, Methodists, Roman Catholics, Universalists and a few Spiritualists, who told fortunes to amuse their neighbors for money.

Adjacent to Slab Town, near the present golf course, was a tiny neighborhood called Frog Town. It was situated on a low marsh-like tract of land inhabited by many frogs. Nearby a small subdivision of residences was occupied by a few French families.

This coincidence and the historic link between the French and frogs was not missed by the newspaper.

On May 20, 1873 the Anoka County Union reported a sad lumber yard accident which occurred in Martinville and resulted in injury to a Frenchman “with an unpronounceable name.”

The same issue reported “the organization of the various frog choirs for this seasons campaign has been completed. One of their number, evidently the bass singer, was heard clearing his throat the other night.”

It is unclear whether it was the frogs or the Frenchmen that inspired the name of Frog Town.

Although the mills and slab piles are gone, many of the homes built in those early years remain. The neighborhood is now bisected by Highway 10 and bordered on the west by Green Haven Golf Course. The former mill site near the railroad tracks now accommodates Anoka-Hennepin school facilities which will soon become district headquarters.

So life goes on in Slab Town, where the skies are blue, the trees leaf, the river runs and nature still talks to the residents.

Bob Kirchner is a local historian, seminary student and city of Anoka’s part-time community development director.

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