Anoka County history: Sanitary sewer system in Anoka

I live at the Walker Plaza in downtown Anoka.

I park in an indoor garage that I enter on Second Avenue, in the very spot where Ward Transfer’s horse-drawn freight wagons entered the barn located there from 1905 to 1911, until the first trucks replaced those horses and wagons.

I park in the very spot where my uncle, John Ward, installed a restroom after World War II. That’s right, biffies and outhouses is what this column is about.

In June 1886, Dr. A. W. Giddings, health inspector for the city of Anoka, reported his findings to Dr. Hewitt, the secretary of the State Board of Health.

His report was published in the March 31, 1896 edition of the Anoka Union, as seen in the photograph. In it, he lists his findings about the number of wells, privies, and more within the city.

In 1929, when I was five years old, my dad took me to work one day in the Ward Studebaker garage, which was located on the backside of Ward Transfer.

Needless to say, Mother Nature called and my dad took my hand and we headed two blocks to the public restroom in the Fire Station on Main Street.

When we got to the corner of Second and Main there was a lady running up the street.

I asked my dad why she was running and he said she is heading to the Fire Barn.

I asked if there was a fire. He told me she was headed the same place we were going. She beat us, so I had to wait a bit longer.

My dad told me that she was a customer of a downtown store that did not have a restroom.

I think now about my aunt Irene and my cousin Betty who worked in the office at Ward Transfer and didn’t have the use of a restroom for a nearly two more decades after this memory.

Back in the 1880s and 1890s, Anoka installed a direct sewer line to the Rum River.

At that time, the Jackson Hotel was proud to announce that it now had a direct hookup for their sewage.

Russ Zastrow, the present engineer for the city of Anoka’s water and sewer department informs me that the same sewer line is still a part of the city’s system, though it no longer dumps into the Rum River.

Our first water tower looked like a big silo, which was on north Ferry Street, just north of the railroad tracks. The pump house for that first tower still remains there.

Today, Anoka has a total of five water towers and several wells.

Editor’s note: Tom Ward is a member of the Anoka County Historical Society’s board of directors. 

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