Anoka County history: How city of Nowthen got its name

The name Minnesota comes from a word for “sky-tinted water.”

The name Anoka was derived from two Indian words, the Dakota word A-NO-KA-TAN-HAN meaning on both sides of the river, and the Ojibwa word ON-O-KAY, meaning working waters. Fridley was once named Manomin, a variant spelling of manoomin, the word for wild rice.

Now, we come to Nowthen. This area, in the northwestern part of Anoka County, was established in 1869.

James Hare, born in New York, moved to the area in 1851. He served in Company A of Minnesota’s Fourth Regiment in the Civil War and was an investor in James J. Hill’s railroad.

About 1870, he purchased 360 acres and began farming.  Over the years, Hare sold portions of his land to others and the community grew along the old state highway.

This road was used for the loggers, bringing timber from northern Minnesota, down the Rum River and on to sawmills.

By 1878, it was decided the area known as Burns should have its own post office.  Hare was the community’s first city clerk and postmaster.

He was charged with securing the first post office and determining a name for it.

Here the story varies, but is still quite humorous.

According to an article  about street names in the Nowthen file at the Anoka County History Center, some people suggested naming the post office Gibbsville after the man who operated the creamery, Hare considered the name Burns, but was informed that name was already taken.  He submitted Hare’s corners, which was also rejected.

He then wrote a list of names for postal officials to pick from on a penny postcard, and added signed off with a phrase he often used, “Now then!”

The Postmaster General chose, Nowthen.  According to old-timer Erick Sparre, who knew Hare very well, Hare nearly died laughing when he got the news of the accepted name.

When Burns Township incorporated in 2007 it took the name Nowthen.

Nowthen boasted a one-cell jail. You can see this jail cell at the Old Farm Place at the Anoka County Fairgrounds.

A road side tavern was built. Happy Corner was established in 1938 and is still there serving patrons after nearly 75 years.

Next to the town hall is the Nowthen baseball field, which the Nowthen Pioneers baseball team called home for many years before moving to Elk River. It fielded many successful teams, qualifying for the state amateur tournament in 1937, 1938, 1943, and 1971-1974.

The Nowthen Threshing Show boasts a parade where, according to an article in the Anoka County Union, “the town shuts down and people in the area get on their tractors and drive through town.

There are more than 300 tractors, including restored antique Allis Chalmers’ ” stated Jeff Christensen, head of the parade registration.

Albin Greenberg worked on his father’s farm in Burns and did mechanical repairs for friends and neighbors on the side. He at one point he opened a garage and gas station in Nowthen.

Eventually, his sons, Donald and Harvey, took over the business and expanded it. It is still in existence today, known as Greenberg Implement Inc.

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

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