The historic neighborhoods of northeast Anoka

by Bob Kirchner

Cutterville, Swede Town and Upper Town were the historic neighborhoods east of the Rum River and north of Main Street.

Bob Kirchner
Bob Kirchner

Cutterville was located west of Fourth Avenue and south of the railroad tracks. Named after mill-owner Ammi Cutter, it included his sawmill, lumber yards and a few residential structures.

By some accounts it was a rough neighborhood. In 1872 the Anoka County Union reported twice on efforts to eject occupants of a building in Cutterville being run as a house of ill repute.

Today, the most prominent feature in this area is the Old Milk Factory at Fourth Avenue and Pleasant Street.

In June 1870 the Anoka County Union reported that “nearly every day last week, the cars were filled with Swede Emigrants, most of them got off at the Anoka depot.”

Many settled in the vicinity of the railroad depot on Tyler, Polk, Taylor, North, Pierce and Johnson streets.

An Anoka County Union item in 1937 recalled that “in the seventies and eighties, when Scandinavian immigration was strong, many families of Swedish origin settled in what is now the third ward of the city and that portion of the section near the depots, and westward, was known as Swede Town.”

Some of the larger homes in the neighborhood acted as settlement houses accommodating several families until they could either rent a home or build one.

Most were loggers and mill workers. In winter they went north to the Rum River pineries to cut timber. In spring they drove the logs downriver to Anoka. In summer they cut the logs in the mills. They earned modest wages.

In the neighborhood, each family kept a cow, pig and some chickens to keep food on their tables. In those early days there were five or six grocery stores and meat shops along North Street. Residents would go from shop to shop searching out the best prices to sell their produce and buy food and dry goods.

There were so many Swedish immigrants that they founded three churches: Lutheran, Baptist and Mission.

The commercial section of Swede Town grew near the railroad depots and became known as North Town, and later as Upper Town. The larger neighborhood extended from the Rum River on the west to Seventh Avenue on the east and included businesses on both sides of the railroad tracks.

An 1893 Anoka County Union article reported that “if building and improvements keep on, we’ll have a double city, as Anoka is showing a rapid and prosperous growth near the two depots. An organ factory, several stores, feed mill, blacksmith shop, and the granite works of Theodore Veit are located there and demand for houses has increased faster than the supply.”

It might be said that together Upper Town and Swede Town formed Anoka’s first suburb.

But as years passed it suffered assault from outside forces.

The 1939 tornado destroyed or damaged many homes and businesses killing four people at North Street and Seventh Avenue.

In later years the business district declined when railroad services bypassed Anoka.

In the early 1960s about 25 homes and businesses were uprooted when U.S. Highway10 bisected the neighborhood. The heart of business was gone including three grocery stores (Knodt’s, Alex Johnson’s, Jensen’s), a service station and the Anoka Granite and Marble Works.

In 1976, construction of the Edward F. Fields railroad underpass took more businesses including Pearl’s Food & Dairy at Lincoln Street and Seventh Avenue.

And as Anoka grew, Swede Town churches expanded or moved.

In 1954 the Swedish Lutherans built a new building on Fourth Avenue South that we know as Zion. Their old building on Fourth Avenue North is now home to the Knights of Columbus.

In 1964 the Swedish Mission congregation moved to a new building on Grant Street and is now known as Anoka Covenant.

Today the remnants of this neighborhood are Elim Baptist (formerly Swedish Baptist) and the old immigrant homes, some of which form a historic district.

So Anoka’s first suburb was reduced to a residential neighborhood. Little evidence remains of the days when Swede Town enjoyed its own identity, economy and Swedish culture.

But you can still find it in the memories of some local residents.

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

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