Anoka County history: Anoka firsts from Goodrich book

For today’s column I’m going to tap into some of Albert Goodrich’s list of firsts in his book, “History of Anoka County.”

June Anderson
June Anderson

The first white men to visit this region were two French fur traders, Medart des Groselliers and his brother-in-law, Pierre Radisson in 1662.

They were followed a few years later in 1680 by the first explorer, Father Louis Hennepin.

Taken captive by the Isanti Sioux near Lake Pepin, he explored the region as they spirited him up the Rum River to their home on the shores of Mille Lacs.

Actually, the river wasn’t known as the Rum at that time. Father Hennepin called it the “River of St. Francis.”

The first mention of the Rum River was by Jonathan Carver, who, traveling with Zebulon Pike, visited the area 86 years later in 1766.

Fast forward another 80 years to the next century.

The first white residents in Anoka were Joseph Belanger and his associates in the fur trading business.

In 1844 they built a trading post for William Aitkin, a prominent fur trader, at the mouth of the Rum River where it empties into the Mississippi.

The first road in the area was the Red River Trail, known for the oxcart trains that noisily traveled its length from the fur-trapping regions of Canada, through the Dakotas into Minnesota, along what is now Main Street Anoka and Coon Rapids Boulevard to East River Road which became Marshall Street in Minneapolis; then followed the Mississippi to its destination, Fort Snelling and the fur trading post at Mendota.

The first ferry across the Rum River began transporting passengers and goods in 1851.

It was soon replaced by the first bridge across the Rum built by Orin W. Rice in 1853.

The first ferry across the Mississippi River in Anoka County was in use at Rice Creek by about 1854, while the first ferry across the Mississippi at Anoka was launched Sept. 11, 1855.

It would be almost 30 years before it was replaced by the first Anoka bridge across the Mississippi built by Horace Horton in 1885.

The first dam on the Rum River was constructed about Aug. 1, 1853.

Made of earth and logs, it washed away in the spring floods the next year and was replaced by a more substantial structure that same year.

The dam was important to the development of Anoka for it powered the first saw mill along the banks of the Rum River which began running in August 1854; and the first flour mill, the building of which began about June 1, 1854.

The flour mill was completed in January of 1855 and burned the next month on Feb. 24, 1855.

These first mills were followed by a long succession of lumber and grist mills, for they were the lifeblood of the new city that was to become Anoka

Next week: Some more Anoka firsts

Editor’s note: June Anderson is a volunteer/member of the Anoka County Historical Society.

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