Anoka County history: Where have all the steeples gone?

The other day I was on my way to Blaine — on Highway 10 where you cross over University Avenue.

The former steeple on St. Stephen’s Catholic Church in Anoka. Photo: Anoka County Historical Society.
The former steeple on St. Stephen’s Catholic Church in Anoka. Photo: Anoka County Historical Society.

It is a nice high place with a great view of the downtown skyline in Minneapolis.

It is quite different than it was in 1936 when I was 12 years old.

Back then, the highest place in Anoka was the bell tower steeple at St. Stephen’s Catholic Church.

Two of the neighborhood boys, Harold and Warren Blair, were altar boys there and knew the secret way behind the pipe organ to get into the bell tower.

We and several other boys could go all the way to the top in a level above the big bell where there were windows.

From this very “High Place” we could see the Foshay Tower in Minneapolis, which we young boys thought was spectacular.

The big bell is one of four bells in the present church. It is the second largest one.

Last month, Leslie Plummer wrote a nice history of St. Stephen’s. I will tell you a couple of other things later.

Anoka was really connected to the Foshay Tower in another way.

High atop the city, inside of the state’s tallest building, were the offices of Mr. Charles Horn, the CEO of Anoka’s Federal Cartridge.

Another “High Place” which, however, is across the river in Hennepin County, south of the old downtown Dayton is a hill on the old Dalheimer farm.

On the north side of the North Diamond Lake Road there is a hill where you could see eight Catholic church steeples – Anoka, Dayton, Elk River, Osseo, Albertville, St. Michael, Fletcher – and three Lutheran steeples.

Talk about “high places.”

The steeple in Osseo is now nicely done as part of the senior housing called Steeple Place.

Now there is no steeple on St. Stephen’s or on Zion Lutheran in Anoka.

Most new churches do not have the tall steeples. I wonder why?

Here are the other stories about St. Stephen’s I told you I would tell you.

Very often when there was a strong wind or a storm, my cousin Jimmy Ward, Chuck Hall, Harold and Warren Blair and I would go up to the top of the tower, above the bell and ride the tower.

It swayed a little and the ride was a thrill.

Of course, we never told our parents. We were all 10 to 14 years old.

The other thing Leslie Plummer did not, and probably would not have told you anyway, but I will.

Behind the church was the largest outhouse in town. It was two three-holers — side by side.

There was one for the ladies and one for the men.

Maybe this should be in a column called “low places.” That’s enough. Now I have to go.

Editor: Tom Ward is a board member with the Anoka County Historical Society.

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