Column: A brief history of Anoka’s Caribou Coffee corner

Ground was broken May 9 at the northwest corner of Main and Ferry streets in Anoka for Caribou Coffee.

Bob Kirchner
Bob Kirchner

This is a history packed corner.

At settlement, in the early 1850s, this small block contained mostly two-story wood frame homes. Over the decades, through several generations of redevelopment, it has emerged as a commercial block responding to changing economics.

So what was on this corner over the years?

The first lot, on the immediate northwest corner, was originally occupied by a two-story structure used for a variety of commercial uses. In 1899 the main floor was a barber shop and the owner, Mrs. Robert Mahany, lived upstairs. That year she donated this property to the First Baptist Church.

In 1900 the Baptists demolished this building and constructed a new church seating 500. It was an architecturally impressive edifice with a 75-foot high steeple. In 1964 the church relocated to Park Street and Shell Oil bought the corner.

In 1965 the old church building was demolished and a service station constructed. It operated under the names of Boyds (1965-70), Hanks (1971-73) and Anoka Shell (1974-78). During 1972-78 a car wash was part of this business.

Then, after a two-year vacancy, the car wash was removed and the building converted to a Western Station Store which operated until the mid 1980s. A Conoco Station followed.

In 1996 this building was remodeled again for Blimpie Subs and Bridgeman’s Ice Cream.

But in 2002 this property was acquired by the Minnesota Department of Transportation, the building demolished and the intersection expanded. Later, the city purchased the remaining lot from MnDOT.

Today, most of this original corner lot is the right-turn lane of the intersection. Only a small remnant is part of the Caribou Coffee site.

On the second lot to the west stood a two-story wood frame building constructed in 1854 by Edward P. Shaw. Here he operated the first general store in Anoka County. Later it became known as the Shuler Building. It was the location of many other firsts, including the site of the first Union Civil War volunteer in the nation, but that is another story.

In 1910 it was purchased by the adjacent Baptist Church and demolished. In 1924 the church constructed a 600-seat tabernacle here, but it was gone by 1942. In 1966 this lot also became part of the service station mentioned above and is now part of the Caribou Coffee site.

The third lot westerly was first occupied by the infamous and short-lived Empire Saloon. Here, in May 1858, the Dark Lantern Purifying Committee, at night and in disguise, entered the establishment, restrained the proprietor, smashed the containers and poured the liquor on the ground. On May 11, 1859 the saloon burned down under suspicious circumstances.

This lot remained vacant for many years. In 1941 Oswald’s Coffee Shop was constructed. Then, in 1966, the coffee shop was demolished. This land also became part of the adjacent Shell Station.

On the fourth lot was a house until 1926 when Fred Neuman opened an auto service garage which later became a Chrysler auto business. In 1955 Tom Ward acquired this business and continued until 1968. Later he sold the property for redevelopment.

In 1973 a Burger King restaurant was constructed here on a ground lease. It operated until 2002. Then the building remained vacant for six years while Burger King paid the lease but did not operate the restaurant.

In 2007 another developer acquired the property and obtained approval for a redevelopment plan. But it did not go forward. Under pressure from the city, the building was finally demolished in 2008.

Fortunately, US Bank acquired the property and constructed its new bank which opened in 2012.

So the Empire Saloon and Shuler Building are ancient history, the stately church and coffee shop a pleasant memory and the service station a forgotten convenience.

You see, the Caribou Coffee Shop will rest on these historic grounds and coffee will once again be poured for people here.

And soon you will be able to drive through, collect your cash and coffee and cruise on. Or you can take a seat in Caribou and contemplate all this cool history. More about that next time.

Bob Kirchner is a local historian, seminary student and city of Anoka’s part-time community development director.

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