Anoka County History: Woodburys of Anoka, St. Francis

In July, I was one of the hosts at the Weaver/Woodbury House on Ferry Street during the Anoka County Historical Society’s Home and Garden Tour.

The Saturday after Christmas I took three of my granddaughters to tea at the Mad Hatter’s Teahouse in Anoka. We were served the Duchess Tea. It was an elegant affair, but bittersweet, for it was the last day they would be serving tea in that old post office location.

So—what do these two events have in common?  I’m happy to report that the Mad Hatter is renovating that historic house on Ferry Street. It will open as a restaurant when it is ready, sometime this spring.

Built just prior to the Civil War by Dwight Woodbury, that stately home, soon to be a restaurant is an historic landmark.  One of the oldest buildings in Anoka, it was preceded by an even older structure built in St. Francis by that very same man — Dwight Woodbury.

Dwight Woodbury was born in Massachusetts in 1800. First a store clerk; then store owner; then jobber and wholesaler in the dry goods business in Georgia, Ohio, and New York City, he was very much the entrepreneur.

In 1855 Dwight Woodbury came west to Anoka to join his son, Albert, who had preceded him, and he bought large tracts of land in Otona or St. Jonathan.

Soon this “new town” would be known as St. Francis.  Literally, its founding father, Woodbury platted the new town-to-be, built a dam on the Rum River in St. Francis, and constructed grist mills and sawmills on the banks of the river.

Lumbering was big business in the north woods, especially around Lake Mille Lacs, and numerous lumber companies were striving to cut down as many of the stately white pine that once dominated that part of the state as fast as they could.

The Rum River provided convenient transportation and with the spring breakup, thousands of logs from trees cut during the winter were floated down that river highway to the nearest town, St. Francis, where Woodbury had established his sawmill.

Around 1856 Dwight Woodbury built himself a large house in St. Francis to accommodate his family. Then, a few years later he moved to Anoka, building another large house, known first as the Woodbury House, and later as the Weaver House, on Ferry Street.

If St. Francis was a dress rehearsal, then Anoka was a repeat performance for again Woodbury platted the town and constructed dams and sawmills on the Rum River, thus expanding his two-town empire.

After Dwight Woodbury’s death in 1884 his son, John Woodbury, became manager of the St. Francis Milling Company and took up residence in St. Francis.

In 1891 John built a large mill in St. Francis to mill all types of flour, turning out Best Patent Snowdrift and Favorite Flour; to accommodate the men, mostly bachelors, employed in the Woodbury Mills in St. Francis, Woodbury expanded his home in that town into a hotel, naming it the Riverside Inn. It housed mill workers and seasonal workers until 1923 when the mill was closed.

With the closing of the mill, the Riverside Inn has, to coin a phrase, worn many hats — a butcher shop, school, and house of ill repute. Its latest and current incarnation probably best represents its true calling. It is now the Rum River Inn.

Although Dwight Woodbury probably wouldn’t recognize its interior, the food is good and pictures of early St. Francis hanging on the walls evoke nostalgic images of the past.

Like his historic house on Ferry Street in Anoka, Woodbury’s hotel still stands — an historic landmark, the Rum River Inn, in St Francis. And like its counterpart in St. Francis, the Woodbury/Weaver house in Anoka will soon become a dining establishment.

The Riverside Hotel/Rum River Inn was entered on the National Register of Historic Places in February, 1980.

Of special significance is the fact that it is the only existing commercial building directly associated with St. Francis’s settlement and subsequent boom period as a lumbering town. Of added significance is its association with Anoka’s and St. Francis’s founding family, the Woodburys.

Editor’s note: June Anderson is a member of and volunteer for the Anoka County Historical Society. She is also a member of the Coon Rapids Writers Group.

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