by Bob Kirchner
Topography figures big in Anoka’s southeast neighborhoods.
Immediately south of downtown and moving easterly from the river the terrain changes from a river canyon, to a steep hill, to a deep ravine respectively called the flats, the bluff and the pond.
Along the top of the bluff was the posh neighborhood known as Christian Hill.
How did Christian Hill get its name?
A July 14, 1911 account in the Anoka County Union explained that “when white people first came to Anoka there was a large knoll, the center of which was about where the court house stands. On this were four or five churches and the remark of a prominent jeweler of those times, who had a home near Bee Hive block, that he lived on the Christian Hill gave it that name. Most of the hill has been graded down to the level of the streets.”
Later the Sept. 29, 1937 issue of the Union reported that “Christian Hill was on the east side of the business section of the village. There is where the Congregational church originally was built and all of the other early churches were its near neighbors.”
In fact, by 1869, five churches were located here — Catholic, Congregational, Episcopal, Methodist and Universalist.
Three moved to other Anoka locations. One, the Universalist, ceased to exist. Only the Congregational Church remains on its original site.
The others were replaced by modern developments such as Wells Fargo Bank, TCF Bank and the Anoka County Government Center.
But Christian Hill also extended south down Third Avenue for several blocks.
This was the most fashionable neighborhood in the city during the first few decades after settlement. Residents included officials, merchants and mill managers.
One of them, Heman L. Ticknor, a downtown druggist, built his home off Jefferson Street on the bluff overlooking the flats and Rum River. Later, desiring the prestigious Third Avenue address, he remodeled the home placing its grand entrance facing Third Avenue. Today, it is the Ticknor Hill Bed & Breakfast.
One block east of Third Avenue was a low marshy area known as Campbell’s Pond, then Powell’s Pond, then McCauley’s Pond and now as Goodrich Field.
The southeast part of town has suffered its share of disasters.
The 1939 tornado ripped up Christian Hill demolishing or damaging several homes which accounts for the random blend of 1870’s and in-filled post 1940’s styles.
Although the flats was home to about 40 families, this area had a history of flooding from Mississippi River backwater caused by periodic ice jams. Floods occurred about every 10 years.
Before expected floods, the city would pump water into some basements to equalize pressure to prevent damage and then cordon off the area for a few weeks during those high water springs.
There are stories and photographs of people commuting to and from their homes in small boats. When the floodwaters receded, they returned to clean up.
The record high water of 1965 damaged several houses and resulted in demolition of seven.
This spurred the creation of the city Housing and Redevelopment Authority and designation of the flats as a redevelopment area.
Subsequently, 33 additional homes were acquired by the city during the 1980’s and 90’s.
In 2001 this area was raised eight feet with fill to eliminate flooding. This new town home neighborhood is known as RiversPointe.
Today, historic Christian Hill and modern RiversPointe lie side by side just south of downtown separated only by the almost hidden bluff.
But a grand bluff it is. In years past local children dared the thrilling slide down the bluff on their toboggans and sleds.
To replicate their experience today, drive or, better yet, bike between 3rd and 2nd avenues on Jefferson, Adams, or Washington Street.
In fact, the steepest street in Anoka is Adams between 2nd and 3rd avenues. Washington Street is a close second. Jefferson is not far behind.
And Christian Hill boasts one of the highest points in the City near Third Avenue and Madison Street.
In this area is the Christian Hill Historic District. Drive through and enjoy the finest homes of Anoka’s settlement era.
In both elevation and architecture, Christian Hill still stands tall among Anoka’s historic neighborhoods.
Bob Kirchner is a local historian, seminary student and city of Anoka’s part-time community development director.