Column: The church that was on the Caribou corner

The First Baptist Church stood on the Caribou corner for 65 years.

Bob Kirchner

Bob Kirchner

If dropped into place today, it would stand wall to wall east of Caribou and extend over the right-turn lane in expanded Ferry Street.

When it was dedicated on Sunday, Jan. 27, 1901, the Anoka Herald called it “one of the best church edifices in the State… magnificent… a most encouraging symptom of the stability of the town.”

It was constructed of red brick with stone trimmings and featured a breathtaking 75-foot high steeple.

The sanctuary’s inclined floor was lined with antique oak and gothic designed pews seating 600.

In front, to the left of the pulpit, was the baptistery and to the right was the pastor’s study. Behind the pulpit was seating for a large choir.

Electric chandeliers graciously lit the sanctuary.

Storied stained glass windows bathed the sanctuary in sunlit colors.

At the morning dedication, the Herald reporter observed that “the sun shone through the large east window and cast its varied hues over the interior, the scene was one of beauty.” And at the afternoon service “the west window was illuminated by the declining sun and cast a mystical halo on the walls” as the choir sang, “There is sunshine in my soul today.”

One speaker proclaimed the powerful “influence of a beautiful church on the young, … even a street urchin coming into that edifice would tread more softly, speak more gently and have a more reverent feeling for God’s sanctuary because of its interior beauty.”

The church stood on the most prominent corner in Anoka. Originally earmarked by the founding family as a prime commercial site, it was used commercially before and after the church was here.

In 1938, when Dr. Oliver A. Look, began his 32-year pastorate here, his first sermon was “The church on the corner.”

And what a corner. It was the hub of four highways – US 10, 169, 52 and 56 (later known as 47) – all officially designated between 1926 and 1934.

Once recognized as the busiest intersection in the state, it was conclusive evidence of Anoka’s promotional claim in the 1950’s to be the “Gateway to the Great Northwest.”

The church became a traveler’s landmark.

But it was more than that.

It was also a positive first impression on newcomers to Anoka seeking a place to live and do business.

Further, in the spirit of evangelistic enterprise, the church took advantage of this corner.

In 1930 an attractive neon sign was installed in front of the church facing the corner.

Its illuminated red letters announced, “Christ Died for You.”

Over the years the church received many testimonials from passing travelers bearing witness to the effectiveness of that sign shining out in the night.

Marjorie L. Buyse, daughter of Dr. Look, tells one humorous story about a truck driver and his companion who drove through this intersection.

Looking at the sign, his companion said, “Chris died for you.” The driver responded, “It’s Christ, can’t you read?” Later, the driver testified before the church that the sign led to his salvation.

Over the years an attached tabernacle came (1924) and went (1942) and a classroom building was added on the north end (1953) to accommodate the growing congregation.

So this magnificent edifice, its tall steeple, the provocative sign, all spoke to the traveling public, local residents and those “street urchins” in need of refuge.

But in October 1964 the congregation moved to a new and larger facility on Park Street. A few months later US Highway 10 moved from Main Street to the bypass bored through the city’s north side.

The historic edifice was demolished and a service station constructed. The Sunday school addition was moved to expand a Brooklyn Park church.

So for 65 years this church on the corner was a guidepost to wayfaring travelers and a landmark beckoning newcomers to Anoka. And for the lost it was a lighthouse shining forth salvation from that red neon sign.

Bob Kirchner is a local historian, seminary student and recently retired as the city of Anoka’s community development director.

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