Anoka County History: St. Francis in the boom town days

Like his father, Dwight Woodbury, John Woodbury also proved to be a mover and shaker as explained in this seventh grade essay written by Doug Steinke in 1953.

“After Anoka built its sawmill and lumber industry, the St. Francis sawmill became less and less important so the water power was used to run the flour mill, which was also built by Woodbury,” Steinke wrote.

With an industry established, St. Francis was on the move. The first store was built in 1860 by C. C. Streetly. Then in 1870, Streetly built a new store across the street which he sold to Rev. R. A. Shadick, first pastor of the St. Francis Baptist Church. The store was later sold to C. H. Shaw and then, in 1947 to the descendants of Henry Leathers who had opened a general store in 1882, selling everything from soup to blasting powder and later cars. The merchants of the St. Francis markets received more produce than the merchants of Anoka as the store keepers took produce of all kinds, paying the farmer good cash prices to boot.

Doug Steinke picks up the narrative. “In 1888 things began booming around St. Francis when a large and better equipped flour mill capable of greater production was put up. From then on and with the help of John Woodbury, who was a natural born promoter, the town began to grow and many businesses and industries were being built there. Soon St. Francis had a canning factory, a creamery and a starch factory in addition to the flour mill.”

And indeed, business was booming. Goodrich and Jennings of Anoka opened a branch drugstore in St. Francis. One of their ads read, “Soap – Why not buy it at G&J’s Drug Shop. We have just received some good values. Mention this ad and get three 5 cent cakes for 20 cents. Pure Castile 5 cents a cake. If you are out of cash and really need soap we’ll give you a cake. As the poet says, ‘Tis hope that keeps our spirits up ‘tis soap that keeps us clean. We cherish the hope that we’ll sell the soap; ‘tis fit for a king or queen.’ We have good pills, too.”

Andrew and Martin Mitchell had the meat market, and by 1875 H.T. Miller was manufacturing wagons and sleighs. Silas W. Clements and Bud Sawyer were the blacksmiths, working out of shops built by the Woodburys, and there was also a livery and harness shop.

In 1893 the St. Francis Potato Factory was incorporated in a building that was later used for meetings, dances, and a garage. Like the flour mill and Leathers’ store, it was to meet with a firey end in the next century. Mrs. William P. Boobar (Eva) ran the millinery shop and also sold dresses. Many old timers remember going there as young girls for flower trims and ribbons for their hats. S.A. Blanchett’s Sample Room Beer Parlour opened in the early 1890s where the gentlemen could refresh themselves after a hard day in town, or maybe while waiting for the ladies to finish up their business at Eva Boobar’s millinery shop.  And, of course, on the banks of the Rum River was the Woodbury Inn, a hotel for working men.

Almost from the beginning St. Francis was an important enough place to have a post office. In 1867 it was in the Streetly Store and later passed on to Leather’s General Store with a succession of Leathers serving as postmaster. Again, Doug Steinke explains, “The mail was carried up from Anoka by stagecoach every other day. Stopping briefly at St. Francis it would continue up to Cambridge. From there the mail carriers would ride on horseback to deliver the mail.” Somewhere back in 1896 and 1897 Leather’s store also housed the first telephone to come to town.

In addition, this up and coming town that was once a contender for the state capital boasted three doctors and two churches; the Baptist church built originally at Norris Corners but moved to town in 1894 to enlarge and repair; and the Methodist Church, the first in town, built in 1890. Dwight and John Woodbury donated the land for the churches. Interestingly enough, this town, named for a Catholic saint housed no Catholic church.

By the turn of the century St. Francis was the center of the region and supplied the people from miles around with the goods they needed in life. According to old-time residents, way back then St. Francis was crowded with rigs in the afternoon as people drove into town to make a day of it shopping, trading, visiting, and maybe – just hanging out.

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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