Column: Exploring the mysteries of Kings Island

Anoka will construct a trail across King’s Island along with two pedestrian bridges connecting it with the Mississippi River trail system.

King’s Island has been a secluded mystery explored by generations of Anokans.

Bob Kirchner
Bob Kirchner

Hidden across Highway 10 from Anoka Technical College, it is a 57-acre lowland hugging the east bank of the Mississippi formed by a small creek that meanders off the river and then twists and turns back to the river.

It is not in the channel of the river like most islands.

Historical references called it “Big Island.”

For a short time a trading post stood nearby doing business with local Winnebago Indians.

It has an unusual legal geography. Under the Northwest Ordinance land was subdivided into rectangles, disregarding geography.

This pattern split King’s Island in two, a 38-acre tract on the northerly or upper island in Section 35 of Ramsey Township and a 19-acre tract on the southerly or lower island in Section 2 of Anoka Township.

At settlement, the entire island and all of the surrounding upland was owned by William Larned, one of the founding families of Anoka.

In 1854 Charles and Serena King, Yankees from Worcester, Massachusetts, purchased this land.

When they arrived “the land had not been touched by an ax, and everything was as nature had made it,” according to an account in the Anoka County Union.

They constructed buildings and farmed this land, hence, the source of the name “King’s Island.”

In 1859 they sold the upper two-thirds of the island and adjacent land in Section 35 to Caleb and William Woodbury.

In 1869 the King’s sold the lower one-third of the island and adjacent land in Section 2 to a family named Alexander.

Thereafter followed a long chain of parallel owners of the upper and lower island as the adjacent farms changed hands.

Some family names associated with the upper island were Edgarton, Pipenhagen and Dickenson.

Phillip “Micky” Pipenhagen recalled as kids they waded across the creek and found old stone fire pits constructed by previous owners who cooked down maple syrup drawn from trees on the island.

He said people hunted mushrooms, snapping turtles and game on the island and fished the creek.

In winter kids skied and tobogganed down the high bank and across the creek to the island.

Some family names associated with the lower island were Russell, Legg and Cutter.

Marc Cutter said his family owned the original King farmstead since before 1920.

The neighboring Wilson and Porter farms grazed cattle, sheep and horses on the island.

Animals crossed the creek through deep mud.

In the mid 1940s Pipenhagens sold the upper island and Highway 10 frontage to Dickenson.

By the 1960s a sand and gravel business operated here. Two land bridges with culverts were constructed across the creek to access the island.

In 1969 Harbor Developers obtained permits from Ramsey Township to expand the sand and gravel operation. They planned to excavate material for sale and turn this area into a marina with access to the Mississippi River.

Then, in 1974, the island was annexed into Anoka. Harbor Developers revised their plan, excluded the marina, and proposed a lake on the island and a campground along the river.

But environmental laws intervened. Eventually, operations ceased, the upper island went tax forfeit and the city acquired it.

The lower island came to the city as parkland dedication in 1985 when the Cutter family sold their farm to Programmed Land Inc., which subdivided it for residential and commercial development.

The city of Anoka has owned the entire island since 1996. It had not been in single ownership for 137 years, not since the King family owned it in 1859.

King’s Island was a Huck Finn-like adventure land of water, woods and wildlife for past generations.

Now it will be publicly accessible by trail and bridges so its hidden mysteries can be explored by generations to come.

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

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