Anoka County history: Banfill-Locke – 165-year history

In its beginnings, Banfill-Locke was a summer home for the John Banfill family.

It was expanded to become an inn for travelers on the military and fur trade route.

Today, it is listed on the National Register of Historical Places, serves as an arts workshop, offers art openings, musical performances and literary readings.

John Banfill, a retired colonel and Minnesota’s first State Auditor, purchased the land about 1847, at the confluence of Rice Creek and the Mississippi River, when the area known as Manomin.

He built the summer home in the Greek revival style, popular at the time.

Nearby was a military and fur trade route from St. Paul through the Minnesota Territory to the Dakota Territory and into Canada.

This rough trail was used to transport furs to the south and supplies to the settlers in the northern territory.

The nearby Mississippi River was used to float timber from northern Minnesota Territory to saw mills in Minneapolis.

Arthur Larsen, in a 1940 article in Minnesota History titled “Roads and the Settlement of Minnesota” described the development of the Military Road that helped turn the location into an important location on a thriving trade route.

“When Henry Hastings Sibley went to Washington in the fall of 1848 as the representative of Wisconsin Territory, he was urged to speak to Congress to appropriate funds for a system of roads in the new territory.

“Sibley was unable to persuade Congress to appropriate the funds for roads in Minnesota during the first session.

“When he returned in the fall of 1849, pressured by the people on the frontier, Sibley’s own persuasiveness, and the substantial support he received from western Senators and Congressmen won the initial appropriation for government roads in Minnesota.

“The government roads formed a network over the whole area of Minnesota, supplementing the navigable rivers.”

With the new Territorial Road improvements in 1852, Banfill saw the need for a place for travelers and workers to stop and rest.

He added on to the home and opened the Banfill Wayside Inn.

It became a popular stop for visitors from St Paul, rumored to be the first resort hotel, catering to socialites on the Metropolitan Trail.

Further expansion added a post office and a general store.

During the ensuing years, Banfill sold the property to Alexander Ramsey.

During the 1870s, part of the property was owned by dairy farmers William Brown and Laura Locke.

In 1912, Cassius Locke purchased some of the property, giving a portion to the Girl Scouts, for their camp currently known as Lockslea.

In 1967, Anoka County purchased the property and operated as the North Suburban Center for the Arts, offering classes, art exhibits and literary readings.

In 1988, Banfill-Locke Center for the Arts was placed on the National Register of Historical Places.

Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, this is a National Parks Services, established a program to identify Americas historic and archeological sties.

The Territorial Road, now know as Anoka County Highway One or East River Road, curves past Rice Creek and the Banfill-Locke Building.

The park is lovely and peaceful spot in the middle of an urban area.

It offers arts, programs and picnic areas, walking paths and fishing.

Today, the Banfill-Locke Center for Arts “supports and encourages the work of developing and established artists and provides resources and opportunities in the arts for individuals of all ages, backgrounds, and skill levels.

“BLCA recognizes art to be a powerful tool for the cultivation of strong, healthy, harmonious community life.”

It is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Support your local history!

Editor’s note: Leslie Plummer is a volunteer with the Anoka County Historical Society.

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