Anoka council agrees to buy historic home from HRA

The Anoka City Council has agreed to buy one of the most well-known homes in Anoka.

The Anoka City Council has approved a purchase agreement for 1632 S. Ferry St, to buy the property from the city’s HRA.Photo by Sue Austreng
The Anoka City Council has approved a purchase agreement for 1632 S. Ferry St, to buy the property from the city’s HRA.Photo by Sue Austreng

Three members of the council agreed to buy the Woodbury House at 1632 S. Ferry St.

The purchase agreement to buy the historic home for $330,000 from the Anoka Housing and Redevelopment Authority was approved 3-0 by Mayor Phil Rice and Councilmembers Steve Schmidt and Mark Freeburg. Councilmember Jeff Weaver abstained from the vote, as Weaver owns property in the area. Councilmember Carl Anderson was absent from Monday’s meeting.

At odds with the HRA over whether or not a public trail should be added to the property, after acquiring the Woodbury House the council will look more closely at this option as part of the planning process.

The HRA will consider the purchase agreement at its March 11 meeting.

The housing authority bought the foreclosed property back in August, before it went to auction.

According to HRA Chairman Carl Youngquist, he supported buying the house as a service to the community.

After giving it some thought, the HRA recommended there should not be a public trail put through the property. Youngquist said he felt it would devalue the site as a single-family home.

But the council wasn’t ready to let that option go just yet, said Rice.

The HRA had decided to put the house up for sale March 15, but agreed to offer it to the city first.

Following a work session last week, Rice said he felt there was a lot of history that came with that property, and that history belonged to the people of Anoka.

According to Rice, he feels the best future use of the property would be as a single-family home once again.

He did acknowledge the property might sell for less than the $330,000 the city plans to pay for it once a trail easement is in place.

The city will pay for the house from revenues generated by the Enterprise Park TIF District.

The South Ferry Street corridor has been an ongoing concern for the city, particularly back in the early 2000s.

“The significance is that this item came before the council at least 33 times since 2001,” City Manager Tim Cruikshank said. “This was a big deal for the city and for the council. It still is, but it especially was back then.”

He said making improvements to the corridor quickly became a goal for the council and the city’s boards and commissions.

To date, South Ferry improvements include the stabilization of the stone house, the removal of the house at 1900 S. Ferry St., the acquisition of the Carpenter’s Hall, the purchase and demolition of buildings at the corner of South Ferry and Benton streets as well as upgrades at Peninsula Point Park.

According to Cruikshank, the city has a history of acquiring property for future upgrades, citing examples like Rivers Pointe Town Homes as well as the North Central Business District (where the municipal ramp and new condos are located) and the Greens of Anoka.

Cruikshank outlined a potential trail system for the west side of the Rum River that could incorporate the Woodbury House property.

“This is a concept that has been around for a long time,” he said.

It has the potential to connect with a trail system on the east side, much of which is already in place, perhaps even with a future foot bridge at Peninsula Point Park.

And the potential of a Rum River trail loop is what had Schmidt supporting the purchase of the Woodbury House.

He cited information from Anoka County that predicts the population of the county is expected to grow by 100,000 people by 2030.

“All of those people are going to want to be tied together by what we can do here (with a trail),” said Schmidt.

Because the council has identified upgrades to South Ferry Street as a priority, the city’s planning department and commission are leading a planning process that will put together a long-term vision for the area as well drafting a zoning ordinance specific to the corridor.

The Woodbury House is on the National Register of Historic Places and there is an easement in place that puts specific limits on what can be done with the exterior of the house. That easement is both held and enforced by the HRA.

History of the property

The Woodbury House was built in 1858 by Dr. Samuel Shaw, who later sold the house to Dwight Woodbury in 1860.

In 1884, the house was willed to Woodbury’s daughter and son-in-law, Mary and Irving Caswell. Caswell owned and published the Anoka Herald, served as the Anoka postmaster from 1901 to 190 and held the position of clerk for the Minnesota Supreme Court from 1909 to 1919.

Planning Director Carolyn Braun said the Woodbury House is known for the number of important people who have visited the property over the years.

“It probably has the most history of any single property in Anoka,” she said.

According to Mary Caswell’s writings, the house has been visited by a long list of prominent people, including Bishop Whipple, the first Episcopal Bishop in Minnesota and advocate for Native Americans; U.S. Congressman and writer Ignatius Donnelly; William Windom, U.S. representative and senator, and also the great grandfather of the late actor William Windom; along with W.D. Washburn, the owner of the Washburn mill in Anoka; former Minnesota Gov. Cushman Davis and Native American Chiefs Kagadosia and Mazomanie.

The home was later purchased by Charles Kiewell, president of Grain Belt Brewery, in 1936. Dr. and Mrs. Victor Johnson owned the house from 1957 to 1985, when it was purchased by Mr. and Mrs. John Weaver. There have been a few different short-term owners in the last several years.

Mandy Moran Froemming is at [email protected]